Legislative Update: February 16, 2018
Some kind o’ wonderful
Governor Chris Sununu delivered his first State-of-the-State address on Thursday, and the view from the Corner Office is that “Life in New Hampshire is better than it was a year ago.” Governor Sununu said businesses are stronger today than last year, the state has the fastest growing economy in New England and the second lowest unemployment rate in the nation. The generally upbeat speech was marked by the Governor’s trademark informal style. Governor Sununu gave shout outs or otherwise acknowledged numerous special guests in the gallery, including Manchester inventor and industrialist Dean Kamen, military veterans and National Alliance on Mental Illness state director Ken Norton. He also challenged his department commissioners to join him in a March “sleep out” in Manchester in recognition of the homelessness problem.
The speech was a combination of a look back at the past year and an admonition to legislators to “get it done” on several of the state’s larger, unresolved issues. The Governor referenced the money and efforts that had been put into education, mental health and the opioid crisis in the past year, but he also conceded that more needs to be done, saying he and legislators cannot “rest on our laurels.” He touched on the biggest issue of the session, Medicaid reauthorization, saying his administration is working with federal officials. He noted that within the legislature there are still different ideas on the program, but he appeared to support a reauthorization that would include some sort of work requirement.
The Governor also announced several new initiatives: an executive order for a program to bring veteran’s services under one roof, a program beginning this March to involve businesses in the opioid fight, and a new “Governor’s Cup” competitive robotics scholarship event for high school students. Governor Sununu also referenced the tragic shooting at a Florida high school this week, saying the state had in the past year appropriated millions of dollars that will help about 300 schools improve security. Republican lawmakers applauded the address, but Democratic leaders were of course less enthralled. They commented afterward that the speech was too general and lacked details on Medicaid expansion and the next steps in the opioid fight.
Catching up in the House
The House met in session after the Governor’s address as they worked to catch up after last Wednesday’s session was canceled due to the impending snowstorm. House members voted to kill almost 20 bills, including a bill that would have eliminated safety inspections for newer vehicles and a bill that would repeal Keno gaming. Members voted to study a bill to phase out the interest and dividends tax, but there is support in the House for another bill that would increase the threshold. They also sent to study a bill on electric utility restructuring. House mouse embers voted to pass a resolution condemning hate crimes and racism in New Hampshire.
The Senate’s big bill
Hours after the Governor’s address, Senate Republican leaders released a preliminary version of the Medicaid reauthorization bill many eyes have been waiting to see. The placeholder bill has gaps yet to be filled in, and some of its provisions must still get federal approval, but it has some details and hints of what will be debated. Health care coverage for some 50,000 low income residents would get a new name, the Granite Advantage Health Care program, and move those covered from the individual insurance market to existing Medicaid coverage organizations. There would be new eligibility rules and a work requirement. The proposal has an initial public hearing next week.
In the Senate session, members killed a bill that would have prohibited state participation in a cross-state voter verification system and tabled a measure that would have raised the age for possession of tobacco products from 18 to 21. Senators amended and passed a House bill that tightens limits on part-time employment for state retirement system members. The bill now goes back to the House to see if members concur with the Senate changes.
The House and the Senate will both hold sessions on Thursday, Feb. 22.