Legislative Update March 17, 2017
Despite the extra hour of daylight, skies were dark when the Senate finished its marathon session Thursday. The long journey into night saw senators deal with about 50 bills as they worked to meet deadlines to send the House all the legislation they acted favorably upon. The House did not hold a session this week.
The Senate overturned a Ways and Means Committee recommendation and instead passed a bill to authorize casino gaming, which the Senate has historically supported. The vote was 13-10, but it did not fall along party lines. The bill will go to the Finance Committee for further review.
By a 19-4 vote, senators soundly defeated a bill that would have set a pathway for the legalization of marijuana in the year 2020, with a study committee in the interim. The Senate has yet to consider a bill to decriminalize marijuana by making possession of small amounts a civil violation. That bill passed the House by a huge margin. It remains to be seen if yesterday’s debate and the final vote on the legalization bill will affect the fate of the decriminalization bill, which some, including some Senate members, have predicted will pass the chamber.
Like they said
The Senate followed its Commerce Committee recommendation and voted along party lines to kill a bill to establish a state minimum wage. The House had already killed a similar bill last week.
Our March Madness
In a year when debates over election laws have been a big part of the legislative session, along came Mother Nature to add another wrinkle. The approach of Tuesday’s late winter snowstorm, coinciding with Town Meeting Day and/or local elections in many communities, caused much confusion. Some state officials warned that results in towns that postponed voting might not be valid. Others said safety concerns should take precedence. As a result, some towns did and some did not put off their meetings. In an effort to avert potential legal challenges to actions taken at meetings on the storm day or at rescheduled meetings, several legislators quickly put together special legislation, which will have a public hearing next week. The legislative fix only covers this year’s events. The Secretary of State’s Office opposes the bill, but Governor Chris Sununu has said he would support legislation to clarify the matter.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has recommended passage of what has become a controversial piece of legislation on energy policy. The intention of proponents is to ensure the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has the latitude in its review of projects to focus on the cost of electricity. The bill removes barriers for the PUC and proposes to make clear that a key focus of the principles of restructuring should be the reduction of electricity costs. Opponents of the bill are concerned about the change in focus for the PUC and its potential impact on competitive markets. The bill will be debated on the Senate floor next week.
The House and Senate will both meet in session next Thursday, March 23.