Legislative Update: March 14, 2018
Let it snow, let it snow, let it…okay, enough already
Another snowstorm postponed a House session and some House and Senate committee meetings on Tuesday, putting more pressure on legislators to finish their work as they approach what is at this point a March 22 deadline to exchange remaining bills. Both chambers met in session Thursday. And there is another potential Nor’easter looming for the coming week, although it may hit too early to disrupt the legislature.
On a 15-11 party line vote, the House Finance Committee adopted an amended version of a bill creating a family and medical leave program. Democrats were unanimous in opposition, saying the new version is a complete rewrite of what had already passed two initial votes in the House. Republicans said the amended version allows the state to have oversight and set rates without having to run the program itself, which would feature more employer involvement and would be handled by one or more insurance companies. There was also disagreement over whether the bill had a proper fiscal note to lay out administrative costs the Department of Employment Security may have to bear. The bill now goes back to the full House. Democrats will be offering a floor amendment that would include a general fund appropriation for start-up costs and bring the bill closer to their preferred version.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted to recommend passing a bill designed to help the struggling biomass and hydropower industries. The business community, citing the specter of higher rates, is opposed to the measure. Supporters contend that a reduced reliance on natural gas, keeping local businesses open, the avoidance of some potential costs as well as other factors may help offset some of the rate increase. The bill now goes to the full Senate.
Death penalty is likely to remain the law
The Senate voted 14-10 on Thursday to repeal the state’s death penalty law. The vote saw several senators cross party lines. Governor Chris Sununu has promised a veto, so regardless of House action the margin in the Senate does not reach the two-thirds needed to override a veto. The death sentence has not been carried out in New Hampshire since 1939. One person is currently on death row here. In 2014 and 2016, death penalty repeal bills passed the House by wide margins and had the promise of Governor Maggie Hassan’s signature, but both failed by 12-12 tie votes in the Senate.
Death, taxes and road tolls
To the list of things most of us must do, we may soon add paying a little more for highway maintenance. Highway Fund revenues have been falling as a result of more and more high MPG, hybrids and electric vehicles hitting the road. In response, the House Finance Committee this week passed a bill that would establish a formula by which most drivers would pay at least something for highway maintenance. The bill sets up a system under which residents would pay a surcharge at vehicle registration time based on the miles per gallon of their vehicle, with some exceptions. Supporters said drivers of the above-mentioned vehicles, while still using the same highways, are contributing less because they pay less in gasoline taxes. Opponents argued that people who drive better mileage vehicles should not be penalized for using environmentally friendly vehicles. The bill will now go to the House floor.
On the other hand
Electric vehicle owners may pay a bit more for road usage if the above-mentioned bill passes, but on the up side, they will have more places to recharge their cars. Governor Sununu announced he will dedicate $4.65 million in Volkswagen settlement funds to enhancement of the state’s EV charging station infrastructure. That number represents the full amount that could have been dedicated to EV infrastructure under the settlement agreement. He said the plan for the rest of the $31 million in VW settlement money may be released next week. The state will hold public hearings on the plan before it is finalized by the end of the year.
Casey Jones you better, watch your speed
In a surprise move, the House adopted a floor amendment to approve using $4 million in federal funding to study commuter rail service in the Capitol Corridor from Nashua to Concord. The provision now becomes part of the House version of the state’s 10-year Transportation Improvement Plan. Earlier this month, the House Public Works and Highways Committee dropped the rail study and substituted the idea of using the money solely for enhancement of existing commuter bus service. The passenger rail study has had a bumpy ride over the past few years, and the long journey is not over. The plan now goes to the Senate, where it has faced opposition in the past as part of the Capital Budget.
The House and Senate will both meet next Wednesday and Thursday, March 21 and 22.