Legislative Update: May 4, 2018

Legislative Update: May 4, 2018

The House and Senate held sessions on Wednesday and Thursday, meeting their deadline to act on remaining legislation.  Final action is still required on bills that are awaiting concurrence or are in committee of conference, where differences between the chambers’ versions need to be reconciled.  The legislature has scheduled May 24 as the last day to act on committee of conference reports.

We’ve got you covered

The Medicaid expansion program will continue for at least the next five years, pending federal approval of some waivers, after the House adopted the measure by a voice vote on Thursday.  The Senate is expected to concur with the changes the House made, clearing the way for the bill to go to Governor Chris Sununu, who is expected to sign it.  The program that provides health insurance to some 50,000 low-income New Hampshire residents has a new name, a work requirement and changes to the funding mechanism.  The Medicaid bill was initially seen as “the issue” of the 2018 legislative session, but it ended up sharing the spotlight with a number of other measures.

What is dead may never die

Late Thursday evening the Senate revived a much-debated school choice bill the House had sent to study by a margin of 11 votes on the previous day.  The Senate attached their version of the bill, which would create an education savings account that parents could use for a variety of educational choices, to another measure.  The House will now have to consider the bill again.  Advocates say the issue has been studied enough, that it helps low-income families make education choices that are right for their children and that it does not pose a threat to public school funding.  Opponents counter that the bill downshifts educational costs to municipalities and is unfair to special education students.  The school choice bill has the support of Governor Sununu.

Bio power to the people

The House approved an amended bill that would give the Burgess Biomass plant in Berlin three years of extended operations once it hits the cap on above-market charges from subsidies funded by ratepayers.  The original version required the Public Utilities Commission to change the evaluation process in the order keeping the plant open, with a new requirement to look at regional economic factors and considerations other than rate impacts.  Debate on the bill during the session centered on the importance to the North Country economy of the wood industry and biomass power production versus the impact on ratepayers statewide of subsidizing the operation.  The amended bill will need concurrence from the Senate.

Easy come, easy go

Preliminary figures for the month of April show the state flush with approximately $99 million thus far in surplus revenues for the fiscal year.  The Office of the Legislative Budget Assistant (LBA) reported to the House Ways and Means Committee that the surge likely is the result of the business community bringing more revenue home from overseas in response to changes in federal tax laws.  But almost in the same breath, the LBA reported that pending state legislation could eat up much of the surplus, although some of those measures may get pared down before the end of the session.  Among the debits, the state just reached a tentative agreement with four state employee unions on new contracts worth $13.5 million. Additionally, $10 million each could be going to school safety programs and the Rainy Day Fund, about $20 million is earmarked for repair of red-listed bridges and there are several more items in the hopper.  Late Thursday, the state may have found a way to avoid having to come up with $38 million this month in payments to hospitals for uncompensated care.  A measure passed by the Senate would appropriate more than $220 million in each of the next two fiscal years as part of a seven-year deal to settle a legal dispute over the hospital payments.  The deal is tentative at this point, as attorneys need to vet the language and a committee of conference will be formed to look more closely at the proposal.

Family comes first

After 18 years in the legislature, Democratic state Sen. Bette Lasky of Nashua announced this week that she will retire, citing a desire to spend more time with her family. Sen. Lasky served five terms in the House and four terms in the Senate.  She has been a staunch commuter rail advocate and is well known for her interest in women’s equality and health access issues.

There’ll be a new deputy in town

Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice is retiring in June after 28 years at the Justice Department.  Rice served in several different roles at the department before becoming deputy in 2011.  She has been a respected fixture at the legislature, testifying for the department on a plethora of issues.  Her successor has yet to be named.

The insurance man

Governor Sununu nominated Assistant Commissioner John Elias to replace Roger Sevigny as commissioner of the state Insurance Department.  Elias was appointed assistant commissioner in 2016 after many years in the private sector.  Commissioner Sevigny served in the top spot for 16 years and will retire in mid-June.

RIP Rep. Hawkins

Former state Rep. Ken Hawkins Jr. of Bedford passed away on April 26 at the age of 75.  Rep. Hawkins had served in the House for ten years and was an active public servant in his community.

The House and Senate will meet next week to consider concurrences with bills amended by the other chamber and finish designating members for committees of conference on remaining bills.