The Chamber's legislative priorities affecting your business
Here is an update the legislative activities of the Government Affairs Committee and the Chamber’s lobbying firm, Sulloway & Hollis, on behalf of the greater Concord business community. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Tim Sink at (603) 224-2508.
The Budget Edition - March 5, 2013
By Martin P. Honigberg and Jay Surdukowski
The most high-profile work of this year’s legislative session has begun in earnest: the 2014-2015 budget. This alert focuses on the highlights, examines a high-profile debate on state revenues from gambling, and outlines how you can get involved in the budget process so your priorities are made known to the decision makers. We also present a very special edition of G & C Watch, which chronicles the latest front in the battle over Northern Pass – the New Hampshire Executive Council.
I. The Governor’s Budget
Governor Hassan recently unveiled a lean 2014-2015 budget proposal that keeps spending below 2008 levels but also restores various cuts of the last legislature. Among the highlights, the Governor’s proposed budget:
- Doubles the Research and Development Tax Credit, provides technical support to businesses, and funds incubators for new businesses.
- Provides significant new funding to the community mental health system (a significant olive branch to the plaintiffs in a thorny lawsuit pending in federal court).
- Restores cuts at state colleges and universities in exchange for a two-year tuition freeze and modestly increases the Community College budget. According to the Governor’s Office, “the University System will receive an increase of $20 million in fiscal year ’14 with an additional increase of $15 million in fiscal year ’15, bringing the system back to 90 percent of where it was before the cuts.” Funding for the Community College System is fully restored in the first year, and increases by $3 million in the second year.
- Accepts $2.5 billion in Medicaid funds for Medicaid expansion to cover low-income people without health insurance.
- Restores funding to the Children in Need of Services (CHINS) program.
- Adds two more judges to a chronically short-staffed judiciary.
- Adds fifteen more state troopers.
- Keeps three drug task force teams in operation.
Most dramatically, Governor Hassan, as she had promised while running for the office, broke ranks with her predecessor Governor John Lynch and endorsed one “high-end, highly regulated casino” to bring in a quick infusion of $80 million dollars from a licensing fee to support pressing budgetary needs. Hassan reiterated her strong opposition to a sales and income tax in her budget address and the casino option has suddenly become more attractive to many than it historically has been with a full-court press from the corner office. “I know expanded gambling has been an on-going and difficult debate, but I ask that you keep an open mind as we all work together to advance the priorities that will help us build a more innovative economic future,” Governor Hassan stated in a press release. “Because the true risk we all face is the risk of letting our economy fall behind and allowing the good jobs and growing businesses of the innovation economy to develop elsewhere,” she continued.
While a casino has ample support in the State Senate where budget and finance gurus Lou D’Alessandro, D-Manchester, and Chuck Morse, R-Salem, have teamed up on a gambling bill, the Democratically-controlled House is the wild card. Hassan’s budget signals she is willing to be a risk taker for big results, perhaps more so than her predecessor. Interestingly, a lot will hinge not just on support or opposition to gambling as a matter or morality or economics, but where such a high-end casino might land, and how many casinos will we allow as a State. For instance, will North Country House members oppose a casino if it is going to be in Salem? And what about the long-term prospects of charity gaming in New Hampshire? We will watch this debate closely and report to you.
II. How Do I Get Involved?
This being New Hampshire, citizen participation in the budget process is welcomed and encouraged by State House leaders. The House Finance Committee, led by Concord’s Mary Jane Wallner, will be visiting communities throughout New Hampshire to hold hearings on the budget. House Speaker Terri Norelli, D-Portsmouth, stated in a press advisory, “these meetings allow us to directly engage the communities throughout the state and receive valuable feedback as we proceed through the budget process. Citizen participation is the foundation of New Hampshire
governance.” The hearings will actually kick-off in Concord with a session focused exclusively on Medicaid expansion and then a general hearing later in the day.
The full schedule is as follows:
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Concord Medicaid Expansion Presentation and Hearing
1:00 PM to 3:00 PM
Representatives Hall of the State House
107 North Main Street, Concord 03301
Concord Budget Hearing
4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Representatives Hall of the State House
107 North Main Street, Concord 03301
Monday, March 11, 2013
5:00 PM to 8:00 PM
White Mountain Regional High School
127 Regional Rd, Whitefield, NH 03598
Nashua Budget Hearing
5:00 PM to 8:00 PM
NH Community Technical College
505 Amherst Street, Nashua 03063
Monday, March 18, 2013
Claremont Budget Hearing
5:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center
111 South St, Claremont, NH 03743
Rochester Budget Hearing
5:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Rochester Community Center
150 Wakefield Street, Rochester, NH 03867
Be sure to attend a hearing if you want your elected leaders to hear from you on what priorities you believe are important for the state.
If you are unable to attend one of the public hearings, there are other ways to make your priorities known. Among the things you can do:
1. Contact members of the House and Senate Finance Committees directly.
The members and e-mails for the members of the Senate Committee are:
Chuck Morse - Chairman (email@example.com)
Jeanie Forrester - Vice Chair (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Peter Bragdon - (email@example.com)
Lou D'Allesandro - (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sylvia Larsen - (email@example.com)
Bob Odell - ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
The House has a large finance committee divided into three “divisions” which work on particular aspects of the budget. As noted above, Concord’s own Rep. Mary Jane Wallner is the chair. The division chairs are Representatives Peter Leishman, Cindy Rosenwald, and Dan Eaton. Contact information for members of all three divisions may be found here: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/house/committees/committeedetails.aspx?code=H34
2. Participate in Senate Budget Hearings.
The Senate, too, will have its own round of budget consideration to be announced. You may participate in that forum as well. You do want to be mindful, though, that the earlier you make your issues known, the better – and that militates towards participating in the House Budget process as much and as soon as possible.
Lobbyists are people who advocate for the views of individuals and organizations in Concord. They can be invaluable in helping you weigh-in on legislation or getting bills introduced or amended. They can be especially useful if legislative action is going to have a direct impact on your bottom line. When you get sick, you call a doctor. When you have a legal issue, you call a lawyer. When you have an important legislative matter, you call a lobbyist.
4. Join a Group Effort.
Many organizations like the Chamber and the Business and Industry Association (BIA) include State House advocacy as a part of their mission. The BIA, for example, has a lobbyist who ensures that the interests of the business community are known and understood at the State House. Becoming active in a group that does advocacy is a way for many organizations to share the costs of lobbying. Groups like the Chamber will often have a committee dedicated to monitoring activities at the State House. The Chamber has an active Government Affairs Committee which looks out for the members with monthly meetings and coordination of these legislative alerts, among other measures. This is yet another good way to make your issues and concerns heard during the budget process.
III. G & C Watch
Last week the new Executive Council had its first public hearing on a major nominee and it was, in the words of WMUR political reporter James Pindell, “one of the most fascinating nights in New Hampshire politics in years.” Therefore we bring you detailed coverage of what went down.
First, the scene: The three Democrats sat at the big table left over from colonial times in person, with Councilor Sununu, R-Newfields absent. Legendary North Country Councilor Ray Burton was not physically present for only the second such meeting or hearing in his thirty-five years on the Council, but participated in a feisty manner by phone from his home in Bath where he is recuperating from medical treatment. A large crowd sat or stood through over four hours of questioning by councilors and testimony by Jeff Rose, the governor’s Republican nominee to be commissioner of the Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) – a key position in state government, especially for a new governor that has made innovation and economic development her number one priority.
Rose was questioned for ninety minutes by all four executive councilors who participated and in full view of about 20 or so Northern Pass opponents who turned out to the standing-room only hearing and who had rallied against the nomination in recent weeks due to Rose’s percieved favorable comments about the project in the media. As commissioner, Rose would sit on a key state panel that would have a say on the project proceeding. Thus, the nomination became the latest battle ground over the hydroelectric power line project and even Nashua Councilor Deb Pignatelli – whose district lies far away from the proposed towers – expressed reservations about inconsistencies between Rose’s public comments as a BAE Systems employee and his claim at the hearing that he had no position and would be impartial. She was also troubled when Rose stated he didn’t know very much about the project.
Freshman councilors Colin Van Ostern, D-Concord, and Chris Pappas, D-Manchester, surprised some with their tough questioning of the governor’s nominee. Van Ostern and Pappas may have been signaling that they will not be "rubber stamp councilors" nor will they accept answers they perceive to be evasive on key issues facing New Hampshire. Van Ostern and Pappas, 34 and 32 respectively, and both businessman, appeared to signal as well that despite their youth they have no intention of deferring to anyone and plan to make good on campaign promises to focus on the economy. Councilor Van Ostern grew frustrated at some of Rose’s answers on economic issues like Right to Work and raising the minimum wage, and whether Rose supported former North Country Senator Gallus’s view that certain conservation lands should be used to facilitate a path for Northern Pass.
Rose’s nomination was opposed mainly by Northern Pass foes. Despite tough questions and some unfriendly glances from Northern Pass critics, speakers in Rose’s favor out-numbered opponents and many prominent Republicans and some Democrats spoke in his favor, including beloved former DRED Commissioner George Bald, Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, Senator Peggy Gilmour, D-Nashua, BIA President Jim Roche, and Nashua Chamber of Commerce President Chris Williams, as well as a variety of people who had worked with Rose on Republican congressional and senatorial staffs.
The hearing demonstrated that Northern Pass continues to be a controversial issue in the state and the Executive Council is yet another arena where the politics are playing out. The hearing is also a reminder that New Hampshire is a small state and citizen participation and “calling your councilor” can still make a difference. Stay tuned to see how it ends.
* * *
This legislative alert was prepared by Martin Honigberg and Jay Surdukowski of Sulloway & Hollis, PLLC, at (603) 224-2341.
Legislative Alert – February 13, 2013
The New Hampshire legislature is back to work in earnest. This legislative alert kicks off our dispatches on the 2013 session – a session that will be dominated by debate and eventual adoption of the next two-year state budget. In addition, both the House and Senate will address hundreds of other bills which have been introduced in the Democratically-controlled House and the Republican-held Senate. In this edition, we bring you an update on Medicaid expansion in New Hampshire; the proposal to double New Hampshire's Research and Development Tax Credit; a New Hampshire angle on the national gun debate spurred by the recent massacre in Newtown, Connecticut; and finally, a new feature of these alerts we call "G&C Watch." Many Chamber members responded favorably to last year's "Gov Watch" feature, which tracked the wide-open race for governor. In G & C Watch, we will bring timely news to you of significant developments from the Executive Council and the Governor's Office.
I. To Expand or Not to Expand? Should New Hampshire Expand Medicaid?
Legislators and members of the public clashed at a recent hearing before the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee, which is considering a bill proposed by former House Speaker William O'Brien, R-Mt. Vernon, to bar the State of New Hampshire from participating in an expanded Medicaid program. By way of background, part of the Affordable Care Act sought to expand insurance coverage to low income working people by funding expansion of state Medicaid programs. New Hampshire currently has 170,000 uninsured residents. 58,000 would become eligible over seven years under the Affordable Care Act’s expansion, with the federal government providing $2.5 billion to pay for it. The state would have to budget to spend approximately $85 million (the actual consequence to state budgeting has been estimated at closer to $18 million due to cost-savings in other areas). If New Hampshire accepts expanded Medicaid, the federal government will pay 100% of the cost to new recipients during the first three years and then incrementally decrease payments to 90% by the seventh year.
Proponents of Medicaid expansion cite to a study commissioned by the State Department of Health and Human Services, penned by the Lewin Group (prominent health care consultants). The Lewin Group estimates that 5,100 jobs will be added to the healthcare industry with Medicaid expansion and 700 fewer than that number if the state does not expand Medicaid. Proponents also believe hospitals would reduce the amount of care provided to the poor for free which in turn would minimize cost-shifting that currently occurs. That cost-shifting and drives up premiums for employee health insurance – an issue of great concern to many Chamber members.
Representative O'Brien and other opponents of Medicaid expansion, which include the Republican House leadership, believe that expanding Medicaid is an effort by the federal government to intrude into state finances and begin an "addiction" to federal money which may or may not continue to be appropriated after the year 2020. Representative O'Brien stated: "It is like any other government program: It doesn't go away. You put the Medicaid needle into your arm…that addiction is not going to go away." On behalf of the GOP leadership, Representative John Hunt, R-Rindge, also spoke in favor of O'Brien's bill to bar the expansion of Medicaid, noting that expansion should only be considered when the economy has improved and the state has more money to spend.
Governor Maggie Hassan, an Exeter Democrat, is widely expected to address Medicaid expansion as part of her budget address on February 14, 2013 before a joint session of the House and Senate. Due to the significant potential impact to New Hampshire's economy (estimated to be an addition of $2.8 billion) we will monitor this debate closely in coming months and keep you informed.
II. R & D Tax Credit Likely to be Doubled
Senator Bob O'Dell, R-Lempster, has sheparded through the upper chamber Senate Bill 1 to increase the pool of money available for the Research and Development Tax Credit to state businesses from $1 million to $2 million. The bill allows a credit against state business taxes for companies that invest in research and development initiatives. In 2012, 111 businesses shared the $1 million available for the tax credit. Majorities in both chambers in the last legislature supported doubling the tax credit, but it failed to become law when the House added an abortion-related amendment to the bill. The Senate had already voted against the House’s amendment as a stand-alone bill and refused to allow it to piggy-back on the popular tax credit legislation, so neither the tax credit increase nor the abortion bill became law.
Governor Hassan campaigned on doubling the R&D tax credit and Senate O'Dell expects the bill to easily pass both Houses and to be signed by Governor Hassan. Who says bipartisanship is dead?
III. Gun Debate, New Hampshire Style
With the tragic images of the December 2012 Newtown Elementary School shooting still fresh in many people's minds, the New Hampshire legislature is engaged in two emotionally-charged debates relative to guns.
One of the first acts of the Democratically-controlled House was to reinstate the ban on guns in the state capitol. The House Rules Committee split on this issue, with the minority opposing the renewal of the long-time ban, which the Republican legislature lifted as its first act upon gaining power in 2010.
Prompting even more public outcry and debate is the effort by Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Penacook, who seeks to repeal the last legislature's changes to the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law.
The 2011 Stand Your Ground law extended the so-called "Castle Doctrine," which states that a person does not have to retreat from intruders at home before using deadly force in self defense. The last legislature expanded the definition to public places where people have a “right to be.” In other words, one could use deadly force anywhere one has a "right to be" without first retreating in an act of self defense. Representative Shurtleff, a long time law enforcement officer, believes it is reasonable to require people to formally retreat in public if it is safe to do so and only then resort to violence. The other two parts of the bill would reverse the definition relative to displaying a weapon as non deadly force (enter “Free Ward Bird” into your favorite search engine for further information) and repeal civil immunity for the use of force under the Stand Your Ground law. This provision is sought to protect "innocent bystanders" who might be maimed or killed in any shootouts ensuing in the "Live Free or Die corral."
On January 22, approximately 200 people crowded into Representatives Hall (by far the largest room in the State House) to provide over five hours of testimony, mostly in opposition to rolling-back the Stand Your Ground provisions enacted last session. About 300 opponents of Rep. Shurtleff’s bill held a rally at the State House on January 31st. Gun lovers, tea party enthusiasts, and others have been very successful in mobilizing public opinion. One Durham legislator was quoted as noting that he had received well over 500 e-mail messages on the bill with the vast majority not constituents of his. Stay tuned for the outcome of this heated debate.
IV. G & C Watch
In this new feature, we will present select executive branch activities of note. You may have noticed Governor Maggie Hassan's state-issued van parked in front of the State House well after closing time in recent weeks. That is because she and her staff are hard at work on the budget proposal which will be unveiled on Valentine's Day. Right now, all of the departments have heart-shaped boxes for the Governor. Like NECCO candy heart messages which can be a mixed bag, the Governor’s budget will show us whom she loves and whom she loves less. We will bring you a special edition of "From the Dome" on the budget address and how you can participate in the budget process.
Firmly signaling that she intends to make good on her campaign vow to govern in a bipartisan and "Lynch-like" manner, Governor Hassan made a prominent Republican her first major appointment. Goffstown resident Jeff Rose, a BAE Systems spokesperson and former staffer to various GOP high officeholders, has been nominated to lead the State's Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED). Both Democrats and Republicans embraced the nomination with junior United States Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-Nashua) tweeting within minutes of the announcement her enthusiasm for the nomination with multiple exclamation points: "@KellyAyotte: Congratulations to Jeff Rose for his nomination as DRED Commissioner by our Governor – he will do a great job for NH!!!"
Finally, the Executive Council, by a 4-1 vote, reversed a 2012 Council decision to reject close to $4 million in federal funds to conduct a study of passenger rail possibilities from Boston to Concord. This initiative is very popular with the southern commuter population of the state and the three Democrats who were elected to replace the 5-0 Republican Council majority all emphatically campaigned in favor of supporting the passenger rail study. Councilor Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, was the only councilor to vote against the passenger rail study. Councilor Sununu stated that he did not believe New Hampshire could afford rail at this time. Of interest, the matching state portion of the study was approximately $140,000, which was raised entirely with private donations through an effort primarily led by former Democratic State Senator Peter Burling of Cornish. Last year's rail vote is believed to have at least in part de-railed Senator David Wheeler's re-election with rail-enthusiastic Nashua being the largest city in Council District 5. Indeed, Councilor Debra Pignatelli of Nashua stated in the aftermath of the February 6 rail vote that last year's vote to not study rail services was the reason that she sought to reclaim her seat on the council.
This legislative alert was prepared by Martin Honigberg and Jay Surdukowski of Sulloway & Hollis, PLLC, at (603) 224-2341.
November 15, 2012
New Hampshire voters demonstrated their famous independence yet again by overwhelmingly sending Democrats to Concord and Washington a mere two years after Republicans seized super-majorities in the state Legislature and sent three Republicans to Congress. New Hampshire is a swing state, filled with thousands of voters unaligned with either party. In 2010, the voters headed right. In 2012, they swung to the left. This legislative alert provides a recap on some key races and an analysis of the likely leadership at the State House for the next two years.
I. Top of the Ticket Results
President Barrack Obama took 52% of the vote in New Hampshire in his successful bid for reelection. President Obama had 368,529 votes to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s 327,870 votes, a 46% share. Libertarian Gary Johnson drew 1% of the vote with 8,319 votes. President Obama’s “scientific” turn-out machine is at least in part being credited for his win both locally and nationally. NBC Chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd joked on the air that Obama won because the Democrat had used a “secret document” – the Census; his point being that Obama’s campaign people knew where their voters were and turned them out. Former GOP Speaker Newt Gingrich remarked in the aftermath of the election that he was “shell shocked” that Romney received fewer votes than Senator John McCain in 2008.
Locally, in a stunning reversal of expectations, Manchester Attorney Ovide Lamontagne was defeated by former State Senator Maggie Hassan of Exeter by a 55% to 43% margin. Commentators from both parties had long held Lamontagne to be the favorite for the governor’s chair after his narrow loss to become Republican nominee for the United States Senate in 2010. Many lauded Lamontagne’s gracious decision not to seek a recount in that race against now-Senator Kelly Ayotte, and he early-on consolidated support from practically all wings of the Republican Party. When Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley and popular Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas both passed on the race, Lamontagne was viewed in many business and political circles as all but governor, needing only to go through the electoral motions to make it official. He was campaigning all over New Hampshire for more than a year and he raised more money than he historically had raised for his previous races. In September, Lamontagne easily batted off a challenge from conservative lobbyist Kevin Smith and had many hundreds of thousands of dollars on-hand compared to Hassan who nearly spent everything she had raised on defeating former Senator Jackie Cilley in the Democratic primary. So what happened?
Hassan appeared to ride the wave of support in a nationalized election which galvanized female voters’ support of contraception and reproductive rights – all the more so after a series of indelicate gaffes relative to rape and pregnancy made by losing Republican U.S. Senate candidates in Missouri and Indiana. Hassan and her allies were able to define socially- conservative Lamontagne early and often. Lamontagne never seemed to be able to pivot away from controversial social issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and contraception which prevented him from focusing on the economy. Hassan likely also benefited from Lynch’s endorsement – the imprimatur of the man some, like Josh Rogers of New Hampshire Public Radio, have called “one of the most popular governors in New Hampshire history” doesn’t hurt, and her opposition to a sales or income tax appears to have effectively neutered the traditional Republican line of attack against Democratic candidates for governor.
This election marks Lamontagne’s fourth loss for major office in 20 years – including his second for the governorship (he lost to Shaheen in 1996). Lamontagne has not publicly stated whether this will be his last bid for public office. Only in his 50s, time will tell if Lamontagne tries again.
Hassan has pledged to govern in the Lynch-mold—she promised to be a workhorse and a competent manager who will govern from the middle. Pamela Walsh of Concord, Governor John Lynch’s deputy chief of staff, has been named director of Governor-elect Hassan’s transition team. This column will bring you news of the policy stances of the first new governor of New Hampshire in eight years as developments happen.
Voters in the State’s two congressional districts pressed the “redo” button on their picks for congress two years ago. Voters in Concord and elsewhere in the western half of the state gave Concord Attorney Ann McLane Kuster 50% of the vote to incumbent Charlie Bass’ 45% of the vote. Libertarian Hardy Macia may have acted as a spoiler by drawing a robust 5% of the vote in the state’s more left-leaning congressional district, which is home to liberal enclaves Concord, Hanover, and Keene. Bass had enjoyed 4 years of forced retirement when Paul Hodes beat him in 2006. Bass returned to congress for the last two years only to be beaten by the woman he narrowly defeated in 2010. In Bass’ concession speech, he offered sober congratulations and a pledge to work for a smooth transition. Despite the animosity of the race perhaps best captured by Congressman Bass’ ads of a frumpy Ann Kuster look-alike dancing and running all over the screen, the Bass and McLane families have known each other for generations. Indeed, Bass had squared off with Congresswoman-elect Kuster’s mother as long as three decades ago when they both ran for Congress in 1982 in a Republican primary. Will the dynastic competition continue in 2014? Stay tuned.
In the first congressional district, former Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter may have made history by being the first New Hampshire citizen to unseat two different incumbent members of Congress. Whereas the Bass-Kuster race maintained some degree of collegiality between the candidates personally, it has been widely reported that Congresswoman-elect Shea-Porter and Congressman Guinta personally dislike each other. Watchers of their sharp-elbowed debates would certainly have gotten that impression. Shea-Porter’s victory was perhaps the biggest upset of election evening. Rightly or wrongly, political commentators, some even within the Democratic Party, have long criticized Shea-Porter’s personal campaign style which is high on enthusiasm and volunteer efforts and occasionally short on fundraising prowess. Shea-Porter bested Congressman Guinta 50% to 46%. Libertarian Brendon Kelly drew 4% of the vote.
II. The Executive Council Goes Blue
The state’s little-understood Executive Council became a high-profile battleground in this election. A vestige of colonial suspicion of a tyrannical executive, the Council approves most state contracts and confirms the governor’s choices for judgeships and department heads, among other duties. In essence, it acts like a board of directors for the governor.
In 2010, voters ousted all three Democrats on the Council and replaced them with a 5-0 GOP majority. In the spring of 2011, the Council voted to reject Planned Parenthood’s contract with the State of New Hampshire. The Council also rejected a significant federal grant to study passenger rail in the southern tier of the state. Democratic business manager Colin Van Ostern of Concord was first to announce a bid for the Council. Van Ostern raised over $200,000 for his race and was credited by many for raising the profile of the Council and supporting the electorally more difficult bids of his fellow Councilors-elect restaurateur Chris Pappas of Manchester and former Councilor Debora Pignatelli of Nashua.
The Democratic majority is expected to support Governor Hassan’s political and judicial appointments. And in an interesting footnote to the Planned Parenthood vote which raised the Council’s profile; according to that organization, all five of the new Councilors support its work in New Hampshire.
III. The State Legislature
The blue tidal wave swept Speaker William O’Brien of Mont Vernon out of the speaker’s chair, giving the Democrats 222 seats to the Republicans 178, although the final count won’t be known until after a handful of recounts are completed. Readers of this column or any state newspaper know that O’Brien of Mont Vernon was a lightning rod of public opinion in the last two years. The controversial speaker narrowly held his own seat – by a margin small enough that it is being recounted – and subsequently announced that he would not seek a leadership position with the Republicans now in the minority.
The Republicans appear to have held onto the Senate by a slim margin. Official tallies from election day reveal a 13-11 edge for Republicans. Two of the races are subject to a recount. State Senator David Boutin of Hooksett bested two-time challenger Kathy Kelley of Manchester by 413 votes. In deeply Republican District 9, Democratic trial lawyer Lee Nyquist was defeated by former State Senator Andy Sanborn by a mere 253 votes. Former Senator Sanborn had resigned from the Senate and moved from Henniker to Bedford in order to run in the newly redrawn District 9 rather than run against Concord’s Senator Sylvia Larsen. Following a recount, Sanborn held on to his win, albeit by a smaller margin. The Boutin-Kelley recount is still pending.
Former House Speaker Terie Norelli of Portsmouth is widely expected to reclaim the speaker’s gavel. However, State Representative David Campbell of Nashua is mounting an insurgent challenge to her leadership. The Democrats will caucus to pick a Speaker nominee on Saturday, November 17th. On the Republican side, Speaker O’Brien’s decision not to seek the leadership has opened the doors to a full-fledged leadership contest. Former Speaker Gene Chandler of Bartlett was the first declared. Representative Chandler was defeated by O’Brien for the speakership nomination in 2010. Representative Chandler is so far being challenged by Deputy Speaker Pam Tucker and former and future Senator Sanborn’s wife, Representative Laurie Sanborn of Bedford. The Republicans will caucus on Wednesday, November 15th.
2012 marked the fifth “wave” election in recent New Hampshire history. It is almost impossible to imagine that a mere two years ago the state’s voters rebuked the Democrats with a 3-1 margin in the State House and no members of the Executive Council and a 75% GOP delegation in Washington. Has New Hampshire truly become a “purple” state after over 150 years of rock-solid Republican control? Are seismic shifts the new norm in a state which holds elections for almost all offices every two years? Time will tell. This column will follow gubernatorial, council, and legislative initiatives and happenings when the session kicks off in earnest in January. Stay tuned and stay in touch.
This legislative alert was prepared by Martin Honigberg and Jay Surdukowski of Sulloway & Hollis, PLLC. (603) 224-2341.
Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce | 49 South Main Street, Suite 104 | Concord, NH 03301 | (603) 224-2508
Final legislative alert of the season – July 11, 2012
This legislative alert updates you on the outcome of “Veto Day” and the legislature’s attempts to enact into law bills Gov. Lynch vetoed; the top 10 issues of the 2012 legislative session of interest to the Chamber; and the latest installment of Gov. Watch, which analyzes each candidate’s financial status, endorsements, and who might be emerging from the pack.
I. Veto Day
The Republican-controlled legislature was able to declare victory after their session ended on Wednesday, June 27. Both the House and Senate used their supermajorities to override six of Governor Lynch’s vetoes. Other vetoes were sustained. The highlights are summarized below.
Veto overridden and the bill becomes law
Partial Birth Abortion Ban - HB 1679
Attaches both criminal and civil penalties for certain parties who knowingly and intentionally take part in a partial-birth abortion.
Voting Rights Legislation
SB 289 requires that a voter present a valid photo identification to vote. Voters without photo ID may execute a qualified voter affidavit and will have their picture taken at a later date. The bill also establishes minimum sentences for certain voter fraud violations. SB 318 mandates that voter registration requirements are the same as those necessary to register and obtain a license from the Dept. of Motor Vehicles. The attorney general is mandated to investigate possible voter fraud and report the results of their investigation to the legislature if a follow up letter from the Secretary of State to the voter’s registered address is returned undeliverable.
Elimination of Trust Tax – SB 326
Eliminates certain taxation of trusts under the interest and dividends tax in an attempt to encourage more trust formation.
School Choice / Voucher Bill - SB 372
Establishes an education tax credit against the business profits tax and/or the business enterprise tax for business organizations and business enterprises that contribute to scholarship organizations which award scholarships to be used by students to defray educational expenses.
“Early Offer” Bill - SB 406
Creates a voluntary program in which patients who are injured by medical providers would agree not to go to court in exchange for getting compensated for their medical expenses and lost wages. Those who accept a so-called "early offer" would not be paid for lost earning capacity, pain, suffering or other damages.
Fetal Homicide – HB 217
Would have included a fetus in the definition of “another” for the purpose of first and second degree murder, manslaughter, negligent homicide, and causing or aiding suicide.
Approval of Collective Bargaining Agreements - HB 1666
Would have required approval by the legislative fiscal committee of all collective bargaining agreements entered into by the state.
J.D. Salinger Bill - SB 175
Would have extended the state's "common law right to control the commercial use of one's identity" for 70 years beyond someone's death. It was sponsored at the request of Salinger's heirs, who said they were offended by the use of "The Catcher in the Rye" author's image and name on items such as coffee mugs.
Medical Marijuana - SB 409
Would have permitted the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
II. The Top 10
In no particular order, the top 10 issues of the 2012 Legislative Session of interest to Chamber members.
Codified into law
Modernizing New Hampshire LLC Act – SB 203
Provides a standard set of operating rules for the popular business model in an effort to make operations easier, reduce litigation between business partners and provide an easier path for corporations to move to NH. NH’s LLC statutes had not been comprehensively updated in 20 years.
Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) – HB 1490
Diverts RGGI revenue from the state Public Utilities Commission to utility-run energy efficiency programs and returns some money that would have been used for energy efficiency to ratepayers in the form of rebates.
Telecommunications Deregulation – SB 48
Declares that the state has no regulatory authority over Voice over IP (“VOIP”) services. The bill also deregulates certain aspects of FairPoint Communications' business because it will not have to face regulators at the Public Utilities Commission for oversight on anything that is not related to basic phone service.
Mandatory Attorney and Court Fees - SB 359
Eliminates a mandate requiring attorney fees and court costs to the plaintiff in lawsuits brought forth by the Disabilities Rights Center. SB 359 limits the occasions when a court may award fees and costs in these cases.
Abolition of the Certificate of Need Board – HB 1617
Sets in motion a repeal of the Certificate of Need (CON) program in three years. A date of three years was chosen to provide stakeholders sufficient time to reform a system that exists to lower healthcare costs by avoiding unnecessary construction of new facilities or purchases of expensive equipment.
State Health Care Exchanges – HB 1297
Prohibits New Hampshire from planning, creating or participating in a state health care exchange under the 2010 federal health care reform law. The bill, however, has little substantive consequence. If a state doesn’t set up its own exchange, the federal government will set one up in that state under the federal law.
Educational Constitutional Amendment - CACR 12
CACR 12 failed to attract the 3/5ths vote required to move out of the House after the attachment of a Senate amendment. In response to the Claremont Supreme Court Decisions declaring that the state must pay for “an adequate education” for every child, regardless of a communities capacity to raise the money locally, CACR 12 would have given the Legislature the power to distribute education funding as it sees fit.
Gambling and Casinos – HB 593
In what has become a trend, the House dashed gamblers’ hopes again this year, this time by killing HB 593. The bill would have legalized four casinos licensed to install up to 14,000 video slot machines and 420 table games.
Repealing the State Art Fund - HB 1285
HB 1285 was originally designed to do as the title suggests: defund the State Art Fund. The House effectively killed the bill by referring it to interim study in the second year of a legislative session. A representative or senator will have to file new legislation for this issue to be considered next session.
Right to Work – HB 1677
The Senate tabled this year’s right-to-work legislation, effectively killing the bill that would prohibit collective-bargaining agreements from including provisions requiring all employees in a workplace to pay union fees.
III. Gov Watch
Since our last installment of Gov Watch, the filing period for governor came and went. and five major candidates have emerged from the dust: Kevin Smith and Ovide Lamontagne on the Republican side, and Jackie Cilley, Maggie Hassan, and Bill Kennedy on the Democratic side. The first big test of the race was the financial filings of three of the major candidates (the other two will file in August). Ovide Lamontagne and Maggie Hassan both reported record-breaking hauls – over $900,000 for Lamontagne and close to $700,000 for Hassan. Cilley, the third candidate reporting, had raised $127,000 and had about $65,000 left in the bank. Because of a difference in the way Smith and Kennedy chose to structure their campaign, both will not have to file a report until later in the summer. In a development that surely will make the Republican contenders nervous, the Democratic Governor’s Association has already pledged $1.8 million to the party’s nominee. We’ll see what corresponding firepower the Republican Governor’s Association brings to bear on this competitive open seat.
While Hassan and Lamontagne continue to occupy front-runner status with their staggering war chests, Cilley and Smith keep stirring the party faithful with their own dramatic announcements. Smith earned the endorsement of former Congressman and two-time Lamontagne foe Bill Zellif, former party chair Wayne Semprini, and “America’s Mayor” Rudy Guiliani, in recent weeks. Meanwhile Cilley landed the support of the largest union in the state – the 12,000 member State Employees' Association. The money and endorsement game is not all and retail politics also has its place as the dog days of summer begin. One indicator of this was that four of the five leading candidates hit the Tilton-Northfield Parade on a recent Saturday, showing that no town or city is not in contention, no matter the size (Tilton and Northfield have a combined population of less than 9,000). Smith wore a red shirt and handed out candy; Cilley marched alongside a large army of supporters after ditching an antique truck that broke down; Lamontagne marched astride a large model ship with the New Hampshire Seal and Romney signs taped to the masts; and Bill Kennedy walked with his “running mate” – a chocolate lab who had just run a road race with him before the parade started.
This legislative alert is prepared by Martin Honigberg, Jay Surdukowski, and Greg Silverman of Sulloway & Hollis, PLLC at (603) 224-2341.
[May 11, 2012]
This legislative alert updates you on recent tensions between the House and Senate, which have frustrated passage of certain bills that are important to the business community; the passage of LLC and Interest and Dividends tax reforms despite the adversarial maneuvers between the two chambers; and the latest installment of Gov. Watch, which analyzes the reaction to the first Granite State Poll showing the two major Democratic candidates leading the two Republican prospects.
I.Some Business Bills Held Hostage by the House
In a development betraying end-of-session tensions, the House retaliated against the Senate’s sidelining of several of its bills last week. The House’s tactic was to tack the same bills on as non-related amendments to certain Senate bills that are dear to the business community.
The principal example is Governor John Lynch’s proposal to double the Research and Development (R & D) Tax Credit, which sailed through the Senate unanimously, but is now a political pawn in the House. The House attached the bill requiring a woman to wait 24 hours before an abortion onto the R & D bill, which will complicate final enactment.
Also held hostage is SB 155, which concerns certain business depreciation deductions under the Business Profits Tax. SB 155 would allow companies with lots of equipment to write off depreciation in the first year, instead of having spread the depreciation over several years. The House tacked on an amendment to SB 155 which is in essence the House Bill that would have created a 1-year moratorium on refugee resettlement.
Business and Industry Association President Jim Roche did not mince words in his statement after the House stopped the R & D tax credit in its tracks: “The action by the full House to add controversial, non-germane language that has already been turned down by the Senate puts a bill that is critical to New Hampshire’s advanced manufacturing and high technology companies in jeopardy.” As the LobbyNH’s mysterious “Mr. Snitch” column stated last week, “Bottom line: The biz folks ain’t happy. They’re just plain not happy.”
Senate President Peter Bragdon also made his displeasure known, releasing a statement after watching the House proceedings personally from the House gallery: “At a time when we should be focused on helping New Hampshire employers and supporting hard-working families, the House’s actions today will ensure the defeat of critical legislative initiatives. We are appalled the House has chosen to play political games with legislation widely recognized as being important to the state’s economy and job creation.”
Stay tuned to see how this high stakes maneuvering between the two chambers resolves itself in the next month or so.
II. Interest and Dividends Tax Reform Passes
Despite the House-Senate brinksmanship, an Interest and Dividends (I & D) tax rewrite passed the Senate as an amendment to HB 1221 which provide guidance on applying a credit for the Business Enterprise Tax in a business’s Business Profits Tax.
The I & D update would greatly simplify tax reporting by aligning the state law and the state I & D tax form with the federal form and definitions. The reform is the same language the Senate passed last year in the form of SB 168 but which the House tabled. The vote on SB 168 was unanimous in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro explained the practical benefits of the bill to the LobbyNH.com: “By piggy-backing the federal rules it'll end the troubling practice of converting business income or capital gain income into taxable dividends income.” Senator Bradley noted that the old system “discriminates against small business owners who operate their businesses through S Corporations. It would end discrimination against small business owners who operate real businesses employing New Hampshire residents.”
III. Gov. Watch
Since our last update, no new candidates have jumped in the race, but a shock wave of sorts was sent by the latest Granite State Poll, a respected election survey conducted by the Survey Center of the University of New Hampshire. Conventional wisdom that Ovide Lamontagne is the inevitable next governor was turned on its head last week when the poll found that both Democratic candidates – former senators Jackie Cilley and Maggie Hassan – lead Lamontagne and his Republican primary opponent, activist Kevin Smith, in head-to-head match-ups. Hassan leads Lamontagne and Smith by 5 points. Cilley leads Lamontagne by 1 point and Smith by 7.
What really sent political tongues wagging was the seemingly inexplicable data point that Lamontagne, according to the poll, is known by half of State voters yet is being bested in this early poll by two challengers with little name recognition in the State at-large. Of course, any early poll should be taken with a grain of salt and once the candidates go on the air with television ads and radio spots that will introduce the candidates more, the data will likely be a little more meaningful. Nonetheless, Democrats were taking the poll’s results to the bank in a string of press releases and talking points. Not surprisingly, even Kevin Smith touted the poll as good news in his primary match-up with Lamontagne– his message being, ‘give the new guy a shot.’ Lamontagne is making his fourth bid for major elective office since he was roughly Kevin Smith’s age running for Congress in a GOP Primary in 1992 against then-Congressman Bill Zellif. The third declared Democratic candidate, Bill Kennedy of Danbury, was not tested in the poll.
Unfortunately, for those salivating over any hard data about the parties’ closely-watched intramural fights, the poll did not match up Smith and Lamontagne or Cilley and Hassan. Perhaps another day.
[May 2, 2012]
This legislative alert updates you on the fate of the sweeping business reforms which have moved over to the House from the Senate, the unexpected, “polite death” of Right-to-Work, the skinny on internet taxation, possible new life for interest and dividends tax reform, and the latest installment of “Gov Watch” – news and notes on the evolving race for governor.
I. The House Slows Down Business Act Changes but is Poised to Pass LLC Reform
As we reported two weeks ago, the State Senate passed changes to the state’s primary business laws by sweeping margins. SB 205 revises the State’s Business Corporation Act. SB 203 updates the laws controlling Limited Liability Companies, popularly-known as LLCs. LLC changes passed on a 22-2 vote. Changes to the outdated Business Corporation Act passed on a unanimous 24-0 vote.
Despite the unanimous vote of confidence in the Senate, the amendments to the Business Corporation Act have been sent to more study by the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee on an equally unanimous vote of 15-0.
Members of the House Commerce panel lamented the fact that the voluminous bill was not easy to study and compare with the current law, which has not been overhauled in close to 20 years. The Study Committee recommended by the Commerce Committee is to be comprised solely of legislators, in contrast to the working group which assembled the business act reforms which included knowledgeable representatives of the Business and Industry Association and prominent New Hampshire attorneys.
II. Right to Work
In an interesting turn of events, the State Senate has tabled Right to Work Round II. Readers will recall that a new Right to Work Bill was introduced this session after a similar bill failed last year when the House majority was unable to muster the necessary two-thirds vote to override the Governor’s veto. The new bill was narrower, aiming to relieve public employees of the obligation to pay dues or “agency” fees to a union to cover the costs of the benefits that unions negotiate for all employees, regardless of whether they are members of a union or not. Republican Senator James Forsythe of Strafford, who is retiring after one term, made the motion to table. Senator Forsythe explained to the Concord Monitor that with the threat of a second veto battle, the Senate “didn’t feel a need to re-establish our position on the bill.” Tabling a bill in this manner is a nice way of killing it. As Nashua Telegraph reporter Kevin Landrigan described in a web video on the LobbyNH.com, Right to Work is on the “ash heap of political history.”
But not so fast, the House leadership may still want a vote. Will they leverage their power over some beloved Senate bills to coax the Senate into going through the fight again? Nothing like a labor fight to stir up election year politics. Stay tuned. Funny things can happen at the end of a session…
III. Interest in Interest and Dividends Reform?
The State Senate unanimously adopted an amendment to an unrelated House Bill to usher in a rewrite of the state’s interest and dividends tax law. The amendment would update a tax that was instituted in 1923. The update would greatly simplify tax reporting by aligning the state law and the I & D tax form with the federal form and definitions.
The reform is the same language the Senate passed last year in the form of SB 168 but which the House tabled. The vote on SB 168 was also unanimous in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro explained the practical benefits of the bill to the LobbyNH.com: “By piggy-backing the federal rules it'll end the troubling practice of converting business income or capital gain income into taxable dividends income.” Senator Bradley noted that the old system “discriminates against small business owners who operate their businesses through S Corporations. It would end discrimination against small business owners who operate real businesses employing New Hampshire residents.”
The amendment (and the underlying bill relative to the Business Enterprise Tax) will now be considered by the Senate Finance Committee.
With this reform and the effort to modernize the State’s corporate and LLC governance laws (bills which passed unanimously and nearly unanimously as well), the State Senate steadily but quietly continues to make a bipartisan case for its focus on building a better business climate in New Hampshire. It will be interesting to see if the House tables the I & D reforms again or decides to follow the Senate’s lead the second time around.
IV. To Tax or Not to Tax the Internet
Senator Chuck Morse, Republican of Salem, is working on a bill to ban taxation of internet access. The impetus for the bill is recent audit activity by the Department of Revenue Administration (DRA) which is attempting to aggressively tax communications made utilizing so-called “Smart Phones,” which tap into wireless networks to provide access to the internet.
Supporters of the bill believe that information technology and communication should not be burdened by tax uncertainty. Prominent conservative think tank analysts Charlie Arlinghaus and Grant Bosse have both editorialized against internet taxation in recent days. The bill will be taken up by the Senate Finance Committee on April 26th. Expect to see the internet tax ban gain steam in coming weeks in both chambers of the State House.
V. Gov. Watch
Since our last update, a new Democratic candidate for Governor has declared his intention to file for the State’s highest office. Democrat Bill Kennedy, a recently retired veteran, businessman, and self-described moderate who lives in Danbury proclaimed on April 4th, “I am the people,” as Concord Monitor reporter AnnMarie Timmins tweeted after landing one of the first interviews with him. Kennedy immediately refused to take The Pledge–the perennial promise by most candidates to veto a sales or income tax. Kennedy’s only reported run for office was an unsuccessful bid for Sheriff in Rockingham County ten years ago. Mr. Kennedy justified his rejection of the Pledge in an interview with James Pindell of Channel 9 by stating that New Hampshire needs to fix the property tax system He called the State’s reliance on property taxes “antiquated and almost bordering on criminal.” Strong words from this plain-speaking and earnest political newcomer. Mr. Kennedy also told Pindell that he believes his candidacy will be attractive to independents because he is a “bridge between the two sides.”
Kennedy joins former State Senators Jackie Cilley and Maggie Hassan in the race for the Democratic nod. Attorney Ovide Lamontagne of Manchester and conservative activist and lobbyist Kevin Smith round out the Republican field so far.
[March 22, 2012]
This legislative alert focuses on the unusual fate of the Health Service Planning and Review Board (popularly known as the “Certificate of Need Board”) in the House, Right to Work’s new lease on life, insurance exchange politics, and the latest installment of Gov Watch.
I. House Overrides Committee on Certificate of Need; Votes to Abolish CON Board
In a dramatic turn of events, the New Hampshire House of Representatives reversed a unanimous 18-0 committee vote and voted to abolish the Certificate of Need Board. The Board is charged with reviewing all applications by health care providers for purchases of major medical equipment or significant new hospital construction. The purpose of the Board is to ensure that consumers are protected by controlling the supply of health care facilities in the State.
Both opponents and proponents of the Board concede that the current board has problems. One issue is that the Board is made up for the most part by members of the very healthcare organizations the Board is charged with regulating. Another criticism is that the Board lack meaningful participation by consumers of healthcare services. Three seats for members of the public currently sit vacant. Critics of the current Board configuration note that it is difficult to attract members for the Board which can have a heavy docket and doesn’t pay its members.
The House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee had voted unanimously for a bipartisan proposal to preserve and reform the Board which was authored by Representatives Neal Kurk, Republican of Weare, and Cindy Rosenwald, Democrat of Nashua. It didn’t help those who sought to save the Board that one of the Board’s chief critics and supporters of abolishing it is the current Chair, Nick Vailles, an owner of ambulatory surgery centers and a former State Health and Human Services Commissioner.
Proponents of abolishing the Board see it is a needless intrusion on free market principles and would prefer a system where hospitals and other health care facilities are freely permitted to grow and expand their businesses in ways that other, less-regulated industries are able to do.
In the background of the Certificate of Need debate is the effort of Republican leaders to court a “luxury” cancer hospital which would be sited near the Manchester airport and would be advertised as a premiere facility in order to attract a majority of out-of-state patients. A separate bill in the Legislature which passed today would exempt the proposed cancer hospital from the Certificate of Need process. Cancer Treatment Centers of America promises to create 500 jobs in New Hampshire and pump 5 million into the economy within five years.
II. Right to Work Gets a New Lease on Life
The House recently passed a second Right to Work bill in as many years.
Regular readers of these alerts know that New Hampshire narrowly missed becoming the 23rd “Right to Work” state in the nation in December of 2011. Briefly, Right to Work laws excuse non-union members from paying dues or “agency” fees to a union to cover the costs of the benefits that unions negotiate for all employees, regardless of whether they are members of a union or not.
Governor Lynch vetoed the 2011 Right to Work bill and House Speaker Bill O’Brien waited months for the right moment to try to override the Governor’s veto. His effort fell short by twelve votes in December, thanks, in no small measure, to Republican union members or sympathizers and a handful of Democrats who had been elected to replace Republicans in special elections.
Typically, when a bill is killed in the first year of a session it cannot be considered again. But Right to Work is back for a vote in the House tomorrow. How? The bill is different enough that the legislature may consider it afresh. HB 1677 – “The Employee Freedom of Choice Act” would affect only public sector workers at the State and local level, instead of all workers. The proposed law contains a “Statement of Public Policy” which reads: “It is hereby declared to be the public policy of this state in order to maximize individual freedom of choice in the pursuit of employment and to encourage an employment climate conducive to economic growth, that all persons shall have, and shall be protected in the exercise of, the right freely, and without fear of penalty or reprise, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, or to refrain from any such activity.” This Statement of Policy unambiguously focuses on the “liberty” aspect of the debate – that individuals should not be forced to pay for union activities if they do not want to do so. Why such a broad policy should then be applied only to those who work in the public sector is not explained in the bill.
After a raucous hearing last month where opponents once again filled Representatives Hall to the rafters, the bill passed the House Labor, Industrial, and Rehabilitative Services Committee on an 11-6 vote. The margin in the full House in favor of passage was 198 -139.
Right to Work has been a very high priority for House Leadership – it will be interesting to see how the bill fares in the Senate where last-time it enjoyed a veto-proof majority.
III. No Insurance Exchange for New Hampshire?
After unsuccessful attempts to force the State’s Attorney General to sue the federal government over the constitutionality of health care reform, the House approved a new line of attack against health care reform recently: HB 1297 prohibits the State of New Hampshire from setting up the health insurance exchange that is mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the Act). In a nutshell, insurance exchanges are organizations that will be established in each state to organize the market for health insurance and provide certifications and consumer information to individuals and small companies seeking to purchase health plans. Such exchanges are meant to bring down health care costs.
Critics of a state health exchange see it as a highly-intrusive layer of regulation over a significant private industry. Proponents of the bill also note that the constitutionality of the Act is currently pending before the United States Supreme Court in to a lawsuit filed by 28 States. In addition, backers of HB 1297 note that only a handful of states are actively setting-up exchanges, and even those states aren’t likely to meet the 2014 deadline. Finally, opponents of setting up an exchange believe it is an unfunded mandate that will cost New Hampshire anywhere from $10 million to $30 million to establish and maintain.
Supporters of setting up an exchange believe HB 1297 is an irresponsible abdication of the State’s authority. They note that the federal government intends to establish exchanges if states fail to do so, thus creating the potential for a loss of local control. Opponents of HB 1297 also note that with the outcome of the Supreme Court fight uncertain, it would be imprudent not to be prepared should health care reform proceed as congress and the president intended when the Act passed in 2009.
Love it or hate it, health care reform is an issue that has dominated the airwaves of the still unsettled Republican presidential contest, where Mitt Romney and his three remaining foes have tussled over to what degree Romney opened the door to “Obamacare” with Massachusetts health reform which Romney presided over. Accordingly, with health care reform a hot button issue nationally, it should be no surprise that the GOP supermajority at the State House continues to brainstorm legislative ways to block the Act’s implementation in the Granite State. The House has not been entirely unsuccessful, a State Insurance Department spokesperson noted this week in The Lobby that “it’s pretty clear that New Hampshire has decided not to adopt its own exchange.” The comments were made in response to an Executive Council vote last spring turning down $660,000 in federal planning funds and another House bill which would forgo additional planning funds from the federal government to create an exchange. Utah is the only other state thus far that has affirmatively rejected such money.
IV. Gov. Watch
Since our last alert, two potential gubernatorial candidates have taken themselves out of the running for the corner office. A few weeks ago Chuck Rolecek, the Republican proprietor of Hanover Street Chophouse and a leading gambling proponent announced to WMUR Political Reporter James Pindell that he would not toss his hat in the ring for Governor. Mayor Ted Gatsas also declined to make a bid for the corner office in a move that stunned many political observers. His path to the nomination would have been to the left of the hard-line conservative candidates already in the race: Manchester Attorney Ovide Lamontagne and conservative lobbyist Kevin Smith, formally of the conservative think tank Cornerstone Action.
So at present the number of declared candidates remains at four: Lamontagne and Smith for the Republicans; former State Senators Jackie Cilley and Maggie Hassan for the Democrats. Activists on both sides will be watching closely to see if any other big names emerge. Remember, Governor John Lynch didn’t jump in to challenge Craig Benson until May of 2004. Unlike the current crop of declared candidates, however, Lynch had the ability to self-fund his race in a dramatic way, pumping millions of his own fortune into television ads to introduce himself to the voters of New Hampshire.
One new name that is making the rounds like wildfire in the wake of Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas’ decision not to run is Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Morse of Salem. Another name, perhaps less serious but no less newsworthy is Kevin Clayton – the longtime author of the Union Leader’s In the City column and a host of New Hampshire Crossroads. Mr. Clayton is being recruited by Democrats. Stay tuned to see if either Morse or Clayton – or another candidate – takes the plunge.
[February 22, 2012]
This week’s alert focuses on significant constitutional amendments which may be on the ballot this fall, the debate over abolishing the Health Services Planning and Review Board and the “certificate of need process,” the newest Republican efforts to withdraw New Hampshire from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (“RGGI”), and the latest installment in “Gov. Watch” – your guide to developments in the wide-open race for Governor.
I. Constitutional Amendment Round Up: Amendments Coming to a Ballot Near You?
The New Hampshire Legislature is currently considering three significant constitutional amendments which could change the State for decades to come should they muster the requisite 3/5s majorities in the Legislature and the blessing of two-thirds of New Hampshire’s voters at the polls in November of 2012. Not surprisingly, these three high-profile amendments concern taxes and education funding – two electoral hot button issues which perennially dominate political campaigns and legislative sessions.
Perhaps the most high-profile of the proposed amendments is CACR 12, which is directed at education funding. This amendment is the latest in a long-series of amendments proposed in recent memory by Republican leaders at the State House and Governor John Lynch, Democrat from Hopkinton. The impetus of an educational funding amendment is to reorder the state’s obligation to provide significant taxpayer dollars to schools. The current system that sends hundreds of millions of dollars to local communities for schools exists due to a string of New Hampshire Supreme Court decisions in the 1990s that generally are known as the Claremont decisions. The high court’s school funding decisions in essence found that the State of New Hampshire had an obligation pay for public schools by spending sufficient State funds so as to deliver an “adequate” education to all of the State’s students. Critics of the Claremont decisions have long criticized the Court’s interpretation and expressed preferences for a system that would allow the State to target state aid to communities with the greatest need.
Last Wednesday, the New Hampshire Senate voted 17 to 7 to advance an amendment that has the support of both the Senate leadership and Governor Lynch. This latest iteration of an education funding amendment would target school funding to needy communities while preserving language that the State has a “responsibility” for education funding. Sixteen Republicans and one Democrat voted for the amendment, while three Republicans and four Democrats voted “no.”
A similar amendment proposed by Gov. Lynch was voted down by the House in November, because it contained language House leaders do not like about the State having a “responsibility” to fund education. House leadership would prefer that the Legislature have complete discretion to decide levels of State funding, including no aid at all if that is what the Legislature thinks is best. Stay tuned to see how the Senate amendment fares when it goes to the House.
CACR 6 – The House-passed constitutional amendment which would require three-fifths vote of the Legislature to increase any taxes or fees met with an unexpected late-night fate in the State Senate on February 15th when the Senate overwhelmingly voted to scrap the House’s tax cap amendment and replace it with a state spending cap. The Senate language requires three-fifths majority of the Legislature to increase the state budget over inflation, as opposed to restricting the Legislature from raising taxes and fees without a supermajority vote. The Senate’s action did not meet with the approval of some in House leadership. One member said that the Senate’s decision to replace the tax limitation with a spending limitation could affect the House’s deliberations on the Senate’s education funding amendment.
The last of the three constitutional amendments pending before the Legislature this year, CACR 13, is one that would outright ban an income tax in New Hampshire. The amendment states very simply: “No new tax shall be levied upon a person’s income, from whatever source it is derived.” The political fall-out if such an amendment were to land on the ballot this fall is far from clear. Some commentators have noted that adoption of this amendment would actually hurt Republican politics because Republicans would be robbed of one of their most effective electoral “clubs” - that Democrats will always seek to impose an income tax once elected. Others believe having this amendment on the ballot would drive up Republican votes and lead to heavy Democratic losses considering the historic unpopularity of an income tax. Of note, according to the latest UNH Survey Center poll, a narrow plurality of New Hampshire residents would oppose a constitutional amendment banning an income tax. 41% of residents stated they would vote against it and 39% were in favor. 20% were remarkably undecided on an issue which has polarized politics in the state for many years.
Stay tuned to see where these amendments go and which, if any, pass the State House and ultimately end up on the ballot.
II. Do We Need “Certificates of Need”?
House Bill 1617 pending before the legislature would abolish the State’s Health Facilities Planning and Review Board, popularly known as the “Certificate of Need” Board. For over 20 years, the Board has reviewed all proposals for large new hospital construction, expansions, and the purchase of pricey medical equipment such as MRI machines. The rationale for having such a board is that it controls healthcare costs by making sure the healthcare marketplace doesn’t contain needless duplication in facilities and services.
Opponents of the Board believe that market forces should control and that healthcare spending on big ticket items like expensive machinery and new facilities should not be rationed by the State. Even supporters of the Board find fault with its current composition. The ten member, all-volunteer Board is dominated by representatives of the healthcare industry including its chair who owns ambulatory surgery centers. Representatives of the consuming public are under-represented in that the Board currently has vacancies for the three “consumer” members.
Representative Cindy Rosenwald, a Democrat of Nashua, and Neal Kurk, a conservative Weare Republican, are proposing amendments to not abolish the board and to rather change the membership and expand the healthcare facilities it reviews. The Rosenwald/Kurk amendment was approved in committee and will be on its way to the floor of the House for future action.
The debate over the fate of this Board is timely because concurrently the House Republican leadership is trying to steer through a Bill that would allow a new cancer care hospital to be exempt from the Board’s stringent requirements.
Two interesting twists to the debate: First, Nick Vailas, the chair of the Board and a former Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, was the Certificate of Need Board’s biggest critic at the hearing to abolish it. Second, as AnnMarie Timmins of the Concord Monitor recently tweeted, Representative Kurk’s perspective is also interesting considering he tends to be more of a dyed-in-the-wool free market conservative; not the kind of legislator who typically embraces regulation.
III. RGGI Redux
Readers of these alerts will recall that one of the priorities of the Republican supermajority elected in 2010 was to withdraw New Hampshire from the Regional Green House Gas Initiative (RGGI), a multi-state coalition working to reduce carbon emissions by 10% by the year 2018. The House passed a bill in 2010 to immediately withdraw New Hampshire from RGGI. The Bill could not draw a veto-proof majority in the State Senate and therefore it did not become law.
A new bill was recently considered by the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee. The new bill would still withdraw New Hampshire from the program but not until January 1, 2015. Proponents of the bill to withdraw from RGGI believe that increased costs are passed along to consumers in high electric rates. They also believe that the market in carbon credits allows certain state businesses to inordinately profit. The opponents of withdrawal from RGGI believe that there are intrinsic benefits both for the environment, due to a decrease in emissions, as well as for the economy. RGGI’s fans turned out in force at last week’s hearing to make the case that RGGI has pumped $17 million into the local economy and created 458 jobs.
IV. Gov. Watch
Since the last installment of “Gov. Watch” we’ve seen quite a bit of action – or rather inaction, in the race to succeed Governor Lynch. First, Mark Connolly, Democrat of New Castle and former Securities Bureau Chief, took himself out of the running for Governor. Connolly stated that he believed he could be most effective at this time in advocating for consumer protection reforms by doing so in a bipartisan manner. Several days later, former Health and Human Services Commissioner and 2010 Republican gubernatorial nominee John A. Stephen also took himself out of the race. Mr. Stephen cited business and family concerns. Mr. Stephen, three time unsuccessful candidate for major office in New Hampshire, expressed a wish to grow his lucrative consulting business and spend time with his teenage daughters.
Perhaps the biggest name who remains undecided in the “shadow race” for either party’s nomination is Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas. Mr. Gatsas, popular two-time Mayor and former Senate President, is headed to Aruba where he will give a run some thought. Recently Senator John Gallus of Berlin provided some very public encouragement to Mayor Gatsas, his former Senate colleague, by putting a Gatsas for Governor sticker on his SUV and visiting the Mayor in Manchester. The stickers contained the phrase “√G4G12”. The subtle bumper stickers are not so subtle when one realizes that the bold blue and yellow coloration and dramatic check mark are trademarks or Mr. Gatsas’ brand. In news reports, Mayor Gatsas stated he was humbled by Senator Gallus’ encouragement.
[February 9, 2012]
This week’s alert focuses on Governor John Lynch’s last State of the State address, provides an update on the pair of arts bills of interest to the Chamber which we reported on two weeks ago, and an analyzes the politics of energy. We also add a new feature, “Gov Watch” – with the 2012 New Hampshire Primary just a memory now, all eyes turn to the imminent vacancy in the corner office. As of yesterday, both major parties now have spirited primaries for governor. We give you the low-down.
I. Governor Lynch’s Final State of the State: No Coasting to Retirement Here
Last week Democratic Governor John Lynch delivered his last State of the State address. The speech was a mix of valedictory, with reflections on his achievements including the NH Working program which has contributed to New Hampshire’s unusually low unemployment rate compared to the rest of the nation; and policy, with proposals and challenges to the Legislature, whose composition is 75% Republican. The speech signaled that although Lynch is retiring, he doesn’t intend to do so quietly.
Of note, Governor Lynch urged lawmakers to take the high road and come together for the common good the way highway workers did after Hurricane Irene and a broad coalition worked to save the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard – just two examples of what Lynch believes is a good representation of the New Hampshire spirit. In an exceptionally rare show of public dissatisfaction, the typically mild-mannered governor commented on the atmosphere at the State House of late by saying, “There’s a harshness in the air, in the tone and nature of our communication, and particularly within this building, that’s not healthy for our people or our democracy.” Governor Lynch urged the audience to recognize that “[w]e can disagree, without demonizing one another.”
Among the key proposals and points the governor made in the State of the State:
- Jobs must remain the focus.
- The legislature should pass a bipartisan education funding amendment that targets aid to needy communities.
- Building aid for schools should be reformed to prevent crumbling schools and allocate the aid more rationally.
- The Research and Development Tax Credit should be doubled.
- The 50% University System cuts last year were a bad idea.
- The tobacco tax cut was another bad idea, which should be reversed because the revenue is needed and last year’s cut was “short-sighted.”
- New Hampshire should create a health insurance exchange or risk the federal government designing one for us.
- Interstate 93 should be widened between Salem and Manchester, a $365 million project which should happen now while costs are lower.
- The attorney general should be given the power to combat abusive mortgage practices.
- Northern Pass in theory is a good idea, but proponents of the project need to “listen better” and the project “cannot happen without local support.” The Governor also announced opposition to the use of eminent domain for Northern Pass.
- Casino gambling will be vetoed if it passes.
- The raft of high profile gun bills should be rejected for the sake of New Hampshire’s safety.
The governor also seemed to signal that he would veto a bill to overturn gay marriage.
The speech telegraphed that the governor does not intend to coast in his final year in office. Coming alerts will track how this Democratic governor and powerful Republican supermajority navigate the points and goals outlined above.
II. Arts Update – a Split Decision so Far…
Recall in the last update that the New Hampshire House was considering two bills which would impact the “Creative Economy” initiative here in greater Concord: HB 1274 and HB 1285. Both bills received “ought to pass” votes from the full House but are now off to the House Finance Committee for more consideration.
HB 1274 would eliminate the State’s Department of Cultural Resources. The Bill proposed to shuffle the State Library and the Division of Historical Resources over to the Department of State. The Film and Television Office (which promotes New Hampshire as a filming location by attracting and assisting motion picture, television, commercial, photography and multimedia projects, among other things) would be absorbed by the Department of Resources and Economic Development. The House Executive Departments and Administration Committee (ED & A Committee) amended the bill to make it the vehicle for privatization of the McAuliffe Shepard Discovery Center – the planetarium located on the campus of the New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord. The committee completely removed the language abolishing the Department of Cultural Resources. The bill is now going to House Finance for more work before it is sent on to the Senate. Observers believe that the bill’s sponsor, Representative Steve Vallaincourt of Manchester, will ask the Finance Committee to restore his original language in the bill that would abolish the Department of Cultural Resources.
HB1285 – Representative Dan McGuire’s bill to eliminate the State Art Fund, a.k.a. the Percent for Art Program, passed 214 – 108. This lopsided vote occurred after the House ED&A Committee recommended its passage by a single vote. This program stipulates that .05% of any state building’s price tag must be dedicated to commissioning or purchasing works of art for that building. Critics of the Fund noted on the House floor that the dedicated nature of the fund was problematic. Representative Spec Bowers, Republican of Georges Mills and a member of the ED&A Committee criticized the automatic nature of the spending and noted “We should be making a conscious decision about when to spend something.” Republican Representative Randall Whitehead of Nashua, another committee member, invoked the State Constitution’s command to “cherish” the arts when defending the bill. Representative Whitehead also cited economic benefits of supporting the arts in New Hampshire, such as tourism revenue. Stay tuned for more deliberation on these bills in the House.
III. It’s Electric – PSNH Generation Facilities Divestment Debated
The state’s electricity market lit up the State House last week as proponents and opponents of HB 1238 packed Representative’s Hall for a public hearing on whether Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSNH) must sell-off its power plants by 2013.
By way of background, New Hampshire “deregulated” parts of its electric industry in 2002, which meant that consumers got the freedom to buy power from a supplier of choice rather than the utility which served them automatically. But New Hampshire did not go as far as a number of states. In a hybrid move, PSNH was allowed to continue to distribute electricity, but also to make it – at one of a number of power plants across New Hampshire. These plants generate electricity using a variety of fuels including water, wood chips, and coal. One of those plants is the coal-fired plant in Bow.
HB 1238 would require PSNH to sell its generating facilities. Proponents of the bill – environmentalists and competing power companies – argue that consumers will benefit if PSNH is forced to compete on level footing with other suppliers. The competition would lead to savings for consumers. According to the Nashua Telegraph’s coverage of the hearing, former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member Williams Massey stated that “divesting the company’s remaining generation assets is a necessary foundation for a competitive retail market and improving customer choice in New Hampshire.”
On the other hand, PSNH and its supporters praised the hybrid model of deregulation, which in essence allows PSNH-generated electricity to serve as a “backstop” for the unpredictability of the energy market. PSNH believes that consumers benefit because they can get power from PSNH’s facilities when the market is high, and buy from other suppliers when the market is low. PSNH spokespeople claim that consumers have saved $700,000,000 in the last ten years due to PSNH’s ability to generate its own electricity.
PSNH also presented a jobs and budgetary angle: that it employs 320 people at its 12 plants and the company pays more than $9 million a year in local property taxes for these facilities. PSNH believes the generation plants would be sold at a significant loss which would be passed along to consumers in the form of higher rates.
The Mayors of Manchester and Nashua – Ted Gatsas and Donnalea Lozeau, respectively – are among the most prominent opponents of HB 1238. PSNH has rallied not only political leaders and plant employees for its cause, but in a sign of the times it also has a Facebook Page “SAVE PSNH plants.”
IV. “Gov. Watch”
With four-term Governor John Lynch stepping down, four candidates have announced their intentions to run for governor. Still others may be waiting in the wings. Here’s the complete round-up on the current state of play:
Republicans at this point have a choice between Manchester attorney and 1996 GOP nominee Ovide Lamontagne and conservative activist and lobbyist Kevin Smith (who was recently sighted at the Chamber’s debate on casino gambling a few weeks back). Until yesterday, former Senate Majority Leader Maggie Hassan of Exeter had the Democratic field to herself. She has now been joined by former Senate colleague Jackie Cilley of Barrington, who announced at a rally in Manchester.
Even if no one else gets into the race, the nominating period promises spirited primary campaigns on both sides of the aisle. On the GOP side, the early dynamic seems to be who can be the more conservative of two very conservative candidates. On the Democratic side, look for Senator Cilley to run an insurgent campaign heavy on labor issues and left-leaning themes against Senator Hassan’s front-runner-like campaign (if for nothing else Senator Hassan has been in the race longer and has a full staff already). Senator Cilley has announced that she will not take “the Pledge” to veto a sales or income tax. Senator Hassan took the Pledge immediately when she announced, provoking criticism from the left of her party. This fact alone guarantees a spirited Democratic primary race.
Candidates who may still run on the Republican side include 2010 nominee John E. Stephen, Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, Chuck Rolecek, owner of the Hanover Street Chophouse in Manchester, and North Hampton businessman Steve Kenda who set off quite a lot of buzz in GOP circles last week due to his business background and his likely ability to self-fund an expensive race in the tradition of a Craig Benson or a Bill Binnie.
On the Democratic side, the potential field may yet include former Securities Bureau Chief and FRM Whistleblower Mark Connolly of New Castle, 2002 nominee Mark Fernald of Sharon (another former State Senator), and recently retired Stoneyfield Yogurt CEO Gary Hirshberg of Concord. Mark Connolly is expected to make his intentions known by the end of this week. Prominent names who have taken themselves out of the running for 2012 include Senator Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, former Attorney General Phil McLaughlin, Clinton era Ambassador Terry Shumaker, and former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand. We will keep you posted as the race evolves.
[January 25, 2012]
The 2012 session of the General Court has begun in earnest. This Legislative Alert highlights several issues which the New Hampshire legislature has started to consider and that the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce has identified as being of interest to its members. First, we focus on two bills which would re-order New Hampshire’s financial support for the arts—moves that might hinder the “creative economy” initiative which is popular in greater Concord. Second, we take a look at the legislature’s continued push to promote gun rights. Finally, the House has passed a redistricting plan for State House of Representatives districts. Readers who live in Concord’s Ward 5 may find it interesting that they may soon find themselves in a district with the town of Hopkinton when it comes time to vote for state representatives this November. Readers in Hopkinton may be equally intrigued by the new scheme.
I. Arts Funding: Government Excess or Necessary Support for the Creative Economy?
The Chamber has identified the “Creative Economy” as one of its goals, most prominently through administering the Concord Creative Economy Plan which was an initiative of the City of Concord’s Economic Development Advisory Council. This news item should be of interest to participants in that process and others who depend upon arts dollars as part of their livelihood.
The New Hampshire House has taken up a pair of bills that would shutter the Department of Cultural Resources and end the State Art Fund (the “Percent for Art” program).
Representative Steve Vaillancourt, a Manchester Democrat-turned-Independent-turned-Republican, has revived his 2010 effort to eliminate the State’s Department of Cultural Resources with the introduction of House Bill 1274. Led by Concord-resident Van McLeod, the Department includes the State Council on the Arts, the Film and Television Office, the Division of Historical Resources, the State Library, and the Commission on Native American Affairs. The Bill proposes to shuffle the State Library and the Division of Historical Resources over to the Department of State. The Film and Television Office (which promotes New Hampshire as a filming location by attracting and assisting motion picture, television, commercial, photography and multimedia projects, among other things) would be absorbed by the Department of Resources and Economic Development.
Elimination of the Department is projected in the bill’s fiscal note to save $681,652 dollars. Defenders of the Department are quick to point out that cutting state funding also effectively cuts federal funds – upwards of $1,000,000 in 2013 is expected, according to talking points circulated by New Hampshire Citizens for the Arts. In order to qualify for federal arts funds, a state must have an entity through which the funds are administered. Without the Department, federal funds would likely be rerouted to other states.
Representative Dan McGuire, a Republican freshman from Epsom has introduced House Bill 1285—a bill that would eliminate the State Art Fund. This bill effectively would abolish the Percent for Art program. The Percent for Art program provides that 0.05% of any state building project’s price tag be allocated for a work of art commissioned for the building in question. For example, if the State constructs a new state office building for 8 million dollars, one-half of one percent, or $40,000, is added to the building’s bond issue for the purchase of an art piece for the site. This amount can vary significantly from year-to-year. In 2008, only $8,580 went to the purchase of art at public buildings. In 2011, the amount was almost ten times that, $81,513. This bill is in line with Representative McGuire’s staunch libertarian ideals – he is a member of the Free State Project and moved to New Hampshire in 2005. Both he and his wife now serve in Concord as State Representatives for Allenstown, Epsom, and Pittsfield.
A public hearing was held on these two bills on Friday, January 20th. The Executive Department and Administration Committee – coincidentally chaired by Representative Dan McGuire’s wife, Carol – will meet to consider the bills in Executive Session on Wednesday January 25th. It is expected that the Committee will vote on a recommendation for both bills at this Session. The Chamber opposed both bills. We will keep you posted.
II. Starting the Session Off with a Bang: Guns Return to the Spotlight
Readers may remember that the very first act of the new House in January of 2011 was to pass a set of rules that, among other things, eliminated a ban on carrying a gun in the State House. Democrats attempted to water down the rule change with a ban on guns carried by visitors to the House gallery. This amendment failed 274-96. Now, a year later, in the first 2 days of the 2012 session, the House passed three bills which further reorder the status of guns in New Hampshire.
The most talked-about of the three bills is HB 334 – this bill would prohibit college, state, and local officials from banning guns on state and community college campuses and other property (including concert and sports arenas, the New Hampshire State Hospital, and state parks such as Hampton Beach). Proponents believe this bill is necessary to protect gun freedoms. Opponents note that the presence of guns in the university or sports arena setting could be dangerous when mixed with instances of alcohol consumption and high emotions. The bill advanced to the Senate on a 180-144 vote over a promised veto by Governor Lynch. State newspapers, including the Union Leader (which characterized the bill as “poorly conceived” in an editorial) generally panned the bill.
HB 536 would eliminate the need for a gun permit to carry a concealed weapon where the gun possession is legal. Vermont has a similar law. The House also passed HB 194 by a margin of 201-110. This bill effectively lifts the ban on carrying loaded rifles and shotguns in vehicles.
III. Ward 5, Welcome to Hopkinton?
Voters in Concord’s West End may wake up one morning and see the Cracker Barrel outside their windows. In an unusual move, the House of Representatives has carved out Concord’s Ward 5 and combined it with the town of Hopkinton in a redistricting plan passed last week after four hours of debate. The House passed the plan on a 205-86 vote. All of Concord’s representatives except Republican Lynne Blankenbeker who lives in Ward 8 voted against the plan. Redistricting – or the process of the legislature redrawing lines for elected officials – happens every ten years after the census.
One of the House’s number crunchers in the redistricting dance, Representative Vaillancourt of Manchester, went public with his discontent with aspects of the final plan and sought to pass an amendment to allow Concord to keep its delegation intact and not to carve Franklin up, among other changes to the redistricting plan’s treatment of Merrimack County. His amendment failed overwhelmingly. Representative Vaillancourt was characteristically blunt in his comments and stated to the Concord Monitor that, “this is either a product of laziness or an attempt to screw Concord . . . this is really disgusting.”
State House insiders note that is it perhaps no coincidence that Concord’s Ward 5 is home to the two-term former Majority Leader Mary Jane Wallner, a Democrat from Concord. With the district so heavily weighted towards Hopkinton and four incumbent Democratic representatives already representing Hopkinton, some see an effort to prevent Representative Wallner from returning to the State House from the neighborhood she has represented for more than 30 years. Observers also note that it is no coincidence that Ward 5 – sometimes referred to as “The Hill” – is home to an unusual proportion of city leaders over the decades.
The Capital region’s main State Senate district – district 15 which presently consists of Concord, Pembroke, and Hopkinton – is also being reconfigured as part of the redistricting process. The district loses Pembroke but picks up Henniker and Warner. The plan as written now tips the district towards favoring Democrats. State Senator Andy Sanborn of Henniker, a Republican and local business owner in Concord, has noted in interviews recently that he own properties in a several towns – the implication being that he may not be interested in a race with Sylvia Larsen of Concord, the current Democratic Leader in the Senate who has held the seat for 18 years. Time will tell.
The redistricting plan is now on to the Senate for consideration. Among other changes, this plan includes a far greater number of individual House districts – approximately 200, or twice the current number. Those with long memories will recall that the last time redistricting was on the agenda, the plan landed at the Supreme Court and the Justices themselves ended up writing the new lines to ensure their constitutionality. Depending on how the House plan fares in the Senate, we could be facing a litigation redux this time around as well. Stay tuned.
IV. Northern Pass and Eminent Domain
Today, the State Senate will hear two amendments on House Bill 648 relative to eminent domain. The Bradley amendment, previously passed by the Judiciary committee, strengthens eminent domain law while stopping short of language aimed at killing the Northern Pass project. The Bragdon-Forrester amendment includes language that could create significant hurdles for both the Northern Pass project as well as future utility based infrastructure projects in New Hampshire. Meanwhile, the public debate over eminent domain, property rights and future energy needs of the state and region continues.
This legislative alert is prepared by Martin Honigberg and Jay Surdukowski of Sulloway & Hollis, PLLC at (603) 224-2341.The edition of “From the Dome includes edits and additions from Chamber of Commerce staff.
[January 3, 2012]
Legislative Alert – Happy New Year Edition!
Throughout the upcoming legislative session, you will receive Legislative Alerts which we prepare to keep Chamber members like you posted on legislation that affects your business, your employees, and your quality of life. While we will cover a number of high-profile topics of interest to you and your business, with many hundreds of bills in a given session, it will be impossible for us to cover every piece of legislation that is moving through the halls of the State House. This edition of the Legislative Alert is focused on giving you the tools you need to track legislation as well as how to contact your senators and representatives directly on issues of concern to you. It also gives you ideas for ways you can make your voice heard on issues that matter to you.
I. How to Track Legislation in New Hampshire
Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can track the doings at the State House with a few clicks of a mouse and some simple keywords.
1. How to Find Bills? Meet the State Legislation Dash Board – Your Guide to State House
The New Hampshire Legislature has made it easy for citizens to locate information on current and past legislation, all in one place. If you log on to the General Court’s website (the official name for the NH Legislature) at http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/ you’ll see the dash board on the top right of the page.
Look for the Dash Board in pink on the top right of the Legislature’s home page.
There are several ways to take a look at bills you are interested in scoping out. One way is to type in the bill number. Sometimes a high profile bill will become so famous that you read about it in the news and see protestors carrying signs down the street in support or opposition to a certain bill referred to merely by its number. Senate Bill 500 from a few years ago is a good example. You may recall that Senate Bill 500, or SB 500 for short, had to do with early release of certain kinds of prisoners in order to save the State correctional costs. You would type SB500 (no space) to get information about the bill.
But what if you don’t know the bill number? You can still find what you want. If you click on “Bill Text Search” you can type in a few key words and find a bill that way. For example, if you know there is a bill about the Business Profits Tax, you could type in: business profits tax. 18 bills will pop up and you can scan the brief descriptions to see whether the right bill is on the list.
You may also use the “Advanced Bill Search” feature and locate a bill based upon a bill title, its committee, and its sponsor, among other search criteria. If you know, for example, that Senator Jeb Bradley has proposed retirement system reforms, you could type in Senator Bradley’s name and get all the bills he has sponsored in a given session. If you do this search, over 80 bills show up. To quickly narrow it down to bills about the retirement system, hit the control and F keys on your keyboard and type in the word “retirement system” in the search box -- any bills Senator Bradley has sponsored to reform the retirement system will be highlighted.
2. You’ve Found the Bill, Now What?
Once you have located the bill you want, you may read its current text by clicking on “Bill Text.” You may also trace the bill’s course through the Legislature by clicking on “Bill Docket” on the left hand of the screen. The Bill Docket records every step of a bill’s path from introduction to signature by the Governor:
Bill Docket for HB 55 from the 2011 session.
The blue text on the docket “hyperlinks” to references to the bill in the official record of each chamber, the House and Senate Journals. If you click on the hyperlinks you will be brought to the appropriate pages that tell what happened to the bill at a particular step of the process. The bill docket can also let you know when a public hearing, work session, or vote is scheduled for a given bill.
II. Making Your Voice Heard
So you’ve been reading these Legislative Alerts and have been tracking bills from the comfort of your own home and office. What if a bill has you worked-up—you either think it is the best idea in the history of New Hampshire, the worst, or something that would be great if it were worded just a little bit differently, what do you with your newfound knowledge? In New Hampshire we are very lucky in that we have many opportunities for private citizens and businesses to be heard on issues. Here are some of the many ways to participate:
1. Call your legislators. Everyone in New Hampshire has at least one state senator and state representative to call their own. The City of Concord has Senator Sylvia Larsen and thirteen state representatives representing roughly a third of the city each. Senator Larsen also represents Hopkinton and Pembroke. Other senators and representatives work for the towns in the Greater Concord areas. We elect these folks and it is their job to listen. Give them a call or drop them a letter. Always remember though that calls and letters are much more significant than emails, which are easy to ignore with the push of a button. You can find your legislators’ contact information on the Legislature’s website.
2. Testify! Show-up and give the legislators a piece of your mind. Public hearings are open to everyone and anyone is free to speak for or against a bill. You can also give representatives and senators written comments or even just sign a card that indicates your support or opposition to a bill.
3. Lobbyist Up. To paraphrase the old Warren Zevon song, send lobbyists, guns, and money… Lobbyists are people who advocate for the views of individuals and organizations in Concord. Many lobbyists are either former legislators or government officials who have good personal and professional relationships with legislators and their staffs. They can be invaluable in helping you weigh-in on legislation or getting bills introduced as amended. They can be especially useful if legislative action is going to have a direct impact on your bottom line. When you get sick, you call a doctor. When you have a serious legal issue, you call a lawyer. When you have an important legislative matter, you call a lobbyist.
4. Join a Group. Many organizations like the Chamber and the Business and Industry Association (BIA) will have advocacy as a part of their mission. The BIA, for example, has a talented lobbyist who ensures that the interests of New Hampshire businesses are protected at the State House. Becoming active in a group that does advocacy is a way for many organizations to share the costs of lobbying. Groups like the Chamber will often have a committee dedicated to monitoring activities at the State House. The Chamber has an active Government Affairs Committee which looks out for the Members with monthly meetings and coordination of these Legislative Alerts, among other measures.
I. Civics 101: A Refresher on How a Bill Becomes a Law in New Hampshire
Over the next seven months or so you will receive Legislative Alerts which we prepare at the request of the Chamber’s Government Affairs Committee to keep Chamber members like you posted on legislation that affects your business, your employees, and your quality of life.
Since bills are being drafted this fall as we write this, we will take advantage of this lull before the session begins in earnest to give you a refresher on how a bill becomes a law in New Hampshire. It is a long and sometimes tortured process—but this overview will give you a good sense of the tricky path that an idea takes to become a reality.
1. LSRs- Legislative Haiku
The very first stop on the road to a bill is a LSR (Legislative Service Request). A LSR is a one-line description of an idea for a bill. Sometimes that single line can pack quite a punch, such as “Comprehensive changes to the state retirement system” or “Relative to State employee benefits.” Other times, the title may be completely inscrutable, like “Relative to absentee voting.” LSRs start to roll-out in the summer before a legislative session and legislators, lobbyists, and the press pore over them almost as an annual ritual in an effort to get a handle on what is on the legislative horizon.
2. Bill Writing Time
After the LSR stage, lawmakers draft bills – the formal write-up of an idea which a legislator wants to turn into a law. The official bills come from the Office of Legislative Services, a nonpartisan group of employees of the Legislature. The language in the bills may be Legislative Services’ attempt to put into words what an individual legislator has requested, or it may contain language from other sources like lawyers, lobbyists, or other concerned citizens with expertise. For instance, a lawyer might help write a bill about title standards or changes to certain legal standards contained in a given law. Not every LSR will become a bill, and some LSRs will end up combining if more than one person has the same idea for a bill. For example, this session there are multiple LSRs about topics as diverse as medical marijuana and business taxes.
3. Bills Introduced and Referred to Committee
Once a bill is finished being written, the House or Senate officially introduces the bill and assigns it to one of its standing committees. The committees are subsets of the full chamber, small groups of lawmakers from both parties who will study the bill, hold one or more public hearings, consider amendments, and ultimately recommend what action the full chamber should take. The Senate has 12 Committees and the House has 28. Two examples: In the House, bills on insurance are referred to the Commerce Committee. Bills on election law are referred to the Election Law Committee.
4. Public Hearing – The Bill’s Day in the Sun
Every bill has a public hearing. This is the point in the process where anyone at all may testify and/or provide written comments for the committee’s consideration. Any member of the public is welcome – ordinary citizens, legislators, and lobbyists all appear and make their wishes known. Even the Governor will testify once in a while. If an issue is big enough, sometimes hearings will be held over multiple days (budget hearings are one example of hearings that can go on for several days in order to accommodate the large number of people who wish to speak). Every bill gets its day in the sun. This is a democratic value that is firmly-rooted in New Hampshire tradition.
5. Deliberations – What to Do With the Bill?
After hearing from the public, a committee will discuss the bill. Sometimes this
happens immediately after a public hearing; other times there will be a subcommittee formed or a special working session of a full committee to discuss a bill or bills. All such meetings are open to the public, but after the public hearing, legislators have the prerogative to legislate and the public may speak only if invited to do so. With hundreds of bills in a given session, it is not uncommon that legislators might ask for additional information from a bill’s supporters or opponents during committee deliberations. Lobbyists and attorneys from the Department of Justice or other state agencies are frequently asked to weigh-in on technical or substantive points. The committee will also consider amendments during its deliberations.
6. Committee Recommendation – Ticket to Passage, or Not…
Next a committee will make its recommendation to the full body on what should be done with a bill. Most often, the committee will recommend that the bill:
1) Ought to pass: This means that the bill should pass, as-is.
2) Ought to pass with amendment: The bill should be passed by the full chamber as amended by the committee.
3) Inexpedient to legislate: This is a fancy way of saying the bill should be killed because the subject is not appropriate for legislative action. This is known as “ITL” in the lingo of the State House.
The full chamber is informed of the committee’s recommendation by a report in the House or Senate Journal, a weekly publication issued when the Legislature is in session. The recommendation in the House Journal will contain the vote tally in committee as well as minority and majority reports if the two sides on a given bill feel strongly about the action they took. In the Senate, the Journal shows only the vote and recommendation. A senator from the Committee reports orally to the full Senate on the Committee’s views.
If a Committee does not want to make any of those recommendations, it can take a fourth course.
4) Retain, Re-refer, Interim Study. In an odd-numbered year, bills in the House can be “retained” by the committee, to be worked on over the summer and in the fall, and dealt with by the full House early in the next (even-numbered) year. The Senate has a similar process that calls for having the bill “referred” to the committee. In even-numbered years, the committee can recommend that a bill be sent to “interim study” by the committee which can take place over the summer and fall and produce a recommendation in the late fall of whether the next legislature – the one elected in November of that year – should make the matter the subject of legislation in the next session.
This year, there were an exceptionally large number of bills retained in the House. It will take the full House at least three or four session days to process all of the retained bills from 2011.
7. Floor Votes
Next the bill is voted on by the full chamber. The full chamber may immediately agree with the Committee, there may be an extended discussion or debate, or their may be a “floor flight” – in which members of the chamber disagree with the committee’s recommendation and would like a different result. Legislators may also attempt a variety of tactics to get their way. One tactic is to seek to “table” the bill, meaning setting it aside for action at a later date. Another tactic is to seek reconsideration of a bill that has already passed. Only someone who was on the winning side of a vote can move for reconsideration. As with committee votes, floor votes are noted in the official record of the chamber. If someone calls for a “roll call” – the record will reflect a precise vote total and how each member voted. Otherwise a bill usually passes on a voice vote. After the floor vote the bill may be sent to another committee if its subject matter warrants it, or, it may be sent to the other chamber on “cross over day,” which is the next stop on the bill’s road to becoming a law.
One thing to remember about the New Hampshire Legislature is that every bill that is introduced into either chamber will get a vote on the floor of that chamber. This is different from what can happen in some other states and in the federal system, where bills can be stopped in committee or held up using procedural maneuvers.
8. The Cross-Over Shuffle
Bills that are passed in one chamber then move on to the other. The Senate takes up House bills and vice-versa. The entire process for consideration of a bill then repeats itself. If the second chamber passes a bill without changes, it goes on to the governor. If the second chamber decides it should not pass, the bill is dead.
9. Committee of Conference
Should one chamber or the other make changes to a bill, effectively passing different versions of the bill, three things can happen. The first chamber may agree with the second and adopt the changes. The first chamber, instead, may disagree. It can then either kill the bill or ask for the formation of a committee of conference. Committees of conference are appointed by the Senate President and House Speaker, three from the Senate and four from the House. This group of seven will try to iron out differences between the competing versions and propose a final bill for passage. If both houses pass the conference bill, it is sent to the Governor. If the committee of conference can’t reach an agreement, or if one chamber or the other rejects the conference report, the bill dies.
10. The Governor Does His Duty
Bills that pass both chambers go to the Governor’s desk for his or her consideration. He or she has five days to do one of the following:
1) Sign the bill: The bill then becomes law.
2) Allow the bill to become law without signature: The Governor can let the bill become law without endorsing it. A Governor may do this to show that while he or she respects the will of the Legislature, he or she personally has some issue with the bill which not signing the bill will signal.
3) Veto the bill: With a stroke of the pen, the Governor can prevent a bill from becoming law. The Governor’s veto may be overturned, but only by 2/3s vote of each chamber. In normal times, vetoes are rare and veto overrides are even rarer. The drama over Right-to-Work this session is one example of the dramatic “showdown” a veto fight represents.
11. A Shiny New Law
Assuming a bill becomes law, the final stop on the road is for the law to be
Our next Legislative Alert will focus on ways you can track legislation in the comfort of your office or home should you wish to do so. Nowadays, so much of what the Legislature does is transparent thanks to online technology. We will give you the tools to monitor the issues that are important to you.
II. We want to hear from you
We received quite a lot of feedback from Chamber members last year on these Legislative Alerts. We want to make sure the Legislative Alerts are bringing you the news you need to know for your business. Any comments or ideas are always welcome. We meet with Chamber President Tim Sink and the Chamber’s Government Affairs Committee each month and are given feedback from you.