Legislative Update June 23, 2017

Legislative Update June 23, 2017

It’s a wrap

To the surprise of some, the satisfaction of others, the disappointment of a number and the relief of many, the state has a budget.  Let the summer begin.  Without too much drama, the House and Senate on Thursday voted to approve the $11.7 billion 2018-2019 Biennial Budget.  The House votes on the two budget bills were 198-169 and 212-161, mostly along party lines, while the Senate tallies were both 14-9 straight party line votes.  The approval of the budget ended weeks of rumors that the House might not be able to pass the measure.  One day prior to the vote, the group of more conservative Republican House members known as the Freedom Caucus issued a press release announcing that a majority of them would reluctantly support the budget.  That group’s alignment with the rest of the Republican caucus provided sufficient votes to overcome almost unanimous Democratic opposition.  Throughout the process, the minority party had opposed the budget on the grounds that revenue estimates adopted by the House and Senate, which were lower than Governor Chris Sununu’s original numbers, were far too low, meaning spending on the priorities they supported would not meet their expectations.  Republicans insisted the budget they crafted kept state spending at reasonable levels.  They said it significantly increased needed social service and infrastructure funding, while also cutting business taxes and enhancing the Rainy Day Fund, all without new taxes or fees.  House Republican leadership worked with Senate Republicans on revenue estimate reductions, additional cuts and tax reductions, moves that brought the party together in the end and secured the margin needed for passage.

You can bet on it

While uncertainty over the budget vote may have waned slightly in the final days, the vote on the so-called kenogarten bill was still seen as a toss-up.  As it turned out, the measure to help communities fund full-day kindergarten virtually sailed through the House, 251-111.  The Senate vote was closer at 15-8, with three Democrats joining the majority of the Republicans, and two Republicans voting with the minority Democrats.  The bill legalizes keno gaming in businesses that hold a liquor license, subject to local approval, and uses the proceeds to provide grants to communities that wish to have full-day kindergarten.  Democrats, most of whom opposed the bill, support kindergarten but were critical of the fact that the bill does not provide for funding up to the state adequacy level, and that the bill uses gambling to fund the program.  They also questioned the constitutionality of not funding to full adequacy.  Supporters, including some who are not fans of keno, felt that passing the measure was a step in the right direction of eventually finding a way to provide full adequacy funding for kindergarten.  The issue has been a priority for the Governor, and he is all but certain to sign the bill.

If you lose that bet, there’s always…

In addition to keno, the House and Senate voted to approve other ways to have some fun.  The budget includes a provision to authorize lottery ticket sales on mobile devices, a move advocates hope will attract millennials, who do not buy as many lottery tickets through traditional outlets as older age groups do.  Lawmakers also approved a measure to legalize and regulate fantasy sports contests.  Additionally, poker in your home, popular but technically illegal for all the years you’ve been doing it, will become legal under a measure approved yesterday.  The bills now head to the Governor’s desk.

Two new employees, but no change in the unemployment rate

The Executive Council approved the nomination of Public Utilities Commissioner Bob Scott to move over and become the new Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Services.  The vote was 3-2.  The Council unanimously approved Manchester attorney Anna Barbara “Bobbie” Hantz Marconi to join the New Hampshire Supreme Court as an associate justice.

Raise a glass

State Liquor Commission Chairman Joseph Mollica won a unanimous 5-0 vote from the Executive Council for another term in office.

Same hat, same ring, different year

Former State Representative Jack Flanagan of Brookline this week announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination to the 2nd Congressional District seat in 2018.  Flanagan ran for the seat in 2016, but lost in the Republican primary to businessman Jim Lawrence, himself a former state representative.  Lawrence lost the general election to the incumbent, Democratic U.S. Rep. Anne McLane Kuster.

The legislature has concluded the business of the regular 2017 session.  Lawmakers will be on break for the midsummer, but study committees will be meeting again in August, and all reports on withheld bills are due November 16.