Legislative Update: January 5, 2018

Legislative Update: January 5, 2018

 

Merry Christmas.  Happy New Year.  Okay, let’s get to work.

The holidays are over, the decorations have been put away, and the legislature has returned to Concord.  It’s time to get serious.  Lawmakers got to work this week on the bills that were retained from the 2017 session, while just ahead are more than 1,000 new bills for 2018.  The budget that will keep state government functioning until June 30, 2019, passed last session, so lawmakers do not have that challenge this year.  But there are many other issues to be decided.  The clock is already ticking, and with legislative leaders posting an aggressive schedule that envisions them finishing all work by the end of May, the pace of the session promises to be hectic.

It’s still 2017 in the chambers.

The House and Senate took action on a number of 2017 bills that were retained for further work following the end of the regular session last June. The House passed a controversial bill providing for some measure of school choice and got a thumbs-up from Governor Chris Sununu.  The Senate passed an equally controversial election reform bill, but the governor has expressed some concerns about that measure.  The House was scheduled to meet Thursday, but deferred action on many bills until next Tuesday due to the snow storm.

What lies ahead.

Medicaid expansion.  Those two words are almost enough said.  The program that provides health care coverage to some 50,000 residents is due for reconsideration.  Most Democrats are on board, while conservative Republicans have historically opposed it due to what they fear will be overly heavy financial costs in the future.  Support from moderate Republicans has been the key to the program’s survival up to now.  They say the program brings in much-needed funding for the opioid fight and provides health care coverage to low-income residents at a much lower cost than when they had to rely on hospital emergency rooms and uncompensated care.  A Republican proposal for a five-year reauthorization under a less expensive managed care model may win support from fiscal conservatives, but reauthorization will likely be a fight.  Many of the bills that are “new” for 2018 have actually been through the legislative process several times before: a repeal of the death penalty, a bill to regulate drones, worker’s compensation reform, road toll fees and raising the minimum wage.

What lies beneath.

Much of what will happen in the 2018 session will take place with legislators and voters aware of the swift undercurrent of politics carrying us toward November, when the governor, the five executive councilors, all 24 senators and all 400 state representatives face elections.  What will the mood of the electorate be come November?  Will there be a “Trump effect,” and if so, what will it be?  Republican Governor Sununu, after his first year in office, enjoys strong popularity.  Republicans also currently hold majorities on the Executive Council, in the Senate and in the House.  Will they be able to hold them?  Democrats have been buoyed by victories in a majority of the special state elections here to replace legislators who resigned or, sadly, passed away.  The Democrats have also seen some successes on the national level, in Virginia and Alabama.  On the other hand, New Hampshire is nothing if not a bit contrarian when it comes to what the rest of America does.   The rest of winter and the spring, summer and early fall are still ahead, but November is already looming large.

The House will meet in session next Tuesday, Jan. 9.  The Senate has scheduled its next session for Thursday, Jan, 18.