Legislative Update March 24, 2017
Darkness at noon
By midday, passersby and people with business at the State House had learned that the flags snapping in the high winds Wednesday were flying at half staff in honor of state Senator Scott McGilvray, who passed away Tuesday. Senator McGilvray, 51, a first term Democrat, was elected last November to represent District 16 (Bow, Candia, Dunbarton, Hooksett and Manchester wards 1, 2 and 12). A retired teacher, he had been on leave from his post as president of the National Education Association of New Hampshire due to his illness. Senator McGilvray was praised by his senate colleagues, Governor Chris Sununu and members of both political parties for his 20 years of teaching, his advocacy for students and educators and his time as a youth sports coach.
They can wait
The Senate met in session Thursday, but out of respect for Senator McGilvray, debate was put off for a week on some controversial bills that had the potential to stir passions on a day when members were grieving. Senators instead spent a portion of the session celebrating the life of Senator McGilvray.
A new deputy in town
If Governor Sununu is the new sheriff, he may have found his new deputy. The governor nominated well-known attorney Gordon MacDonald to replace Joseph Foster as state attorney general. MacDonald’s nomination drew plaudits from Republicans and Democrats alike.
The House Finance Committee has been working to trim Governor Sununu’s $12.1 billion biennial budget to match their own estimates, which came in at about $59 million lower than the governor’s. Thus far House budget writers have said no to the governor’s $5 million scholarship program targeted to high school students who attend in-state colleges or workforce training programs. Also on the chopping block was his $9 million annual funding proposal for full day kindergarten in communities with greater need. On the other side of the ledger, the House wants to provide $25 million per year to municipalities for property tax relief. The House also appears ready to accept the governor’s plan to use at least $50 million of expected surplus funds for infrastructure spending, but under a different distribution formula than he wants. The Senate is working on its own measure that calls for using about $38 million in Fiscal 2017 surplus funds for the infrastructure improvements. Among the new revenue sources that could help provide the needed funding are three gaming proposals. A bill passed by the Senate on Thursday and now headed to the House calls for two major casinos. Another bill establishes keno, while a third would allow online purchases of lottery tickets. The keno and casino bills have both failed in recent years in one chamber or the other.
The Senate on Thursday unanimously approved a bill to create a $60 million small business tax credit program. The bill defines small businesses as those having fewer than 250 employees and less than $10 million in net income. Under the bill, private equity investors would be able to invest up to $5 million in a company and then have up to four years to use the credits against the business profit tax, the business enterprise tax or the insurance premium tax.
We’re outta water
New Hampshire usually wants to avoid being too much like California. But our lush, green lawns may begin to resemble the brown summer lawns of the Golden State under a bill that passed the House this week. In response to drought conditions that have widely impacted agricultural and residential life, lawmakers passed a bill giving local officials more authority to restrict all aspects of outdoor water use. An early version of the bill would have given a blanket exemption to agricultural and nursery operations, but under the version adopted by the House, all affected parties, commercial and residential, must apply to local officials for an exemption. The bill now goes to the Senate.
But we got milk
The House amended and then passed a bill to provide some $2 million in drought relief to the state’s dairy farmers. The amendments, which made changes to the time frame to qualify for relief and to some verification procedures, must be agreed to by the Senate before the bill can be sent to the governor, who has said he will sign it.
The Senate will meet in session on Wednesday, March 29, and Thursday, March 30. The House will meet on Wednesday, April 5, and, if necessary, on Thursday, April 6.