Legislative Update March 31, 2017
In the House: Less is more
The House Finance Committee on Tuesday adopted a trimmed down version of Governor Chris Sununu’s proposed 2018-2019 Biennial Budget. The committee approved $11.9 billion in spending, down from the governor’s request for $12.1 billion. The House budget includes almost $30 million in new revenues from the authorization of Keno gaming and online lottery ticket sales, although the two proposals have yet to be approved by the Senate. House lawmakers also used federal funds and money from a Volkswagen settlement agreement in their calculations. Republicans said the budget includes no new taxes or fees. Two Democrats joined the 14 Republicans on the Finance Committee in supporting the recommendation, but there is opposition to the budget within Republican ranks, and a floor fight is expected. And even before the budget gets to the Senate, senators took action Thursday to reverse a House budget action. The Senate voted Thursday to endorse Governor Sununu’s $18 million plan to support full-day kindergarten in targeted communities, which House Finance had cut from the budget.
In the Senate: Debate runs late
Senators stayed late Thursday night as they worked to meet a deadline to finish their bills and send the successful ones over to the House. Partisan divides were out in the open on a number of bills. Along Republican-Democrat party-line votes, the Senate passed bills to add a work requirement to the food stamp program, require schools to give parents advance notice when sex-related material is to be taught, tighten the law regarding what constitutes a domicile for voting purposes and lower business taxes. Republicans declined to endorse a Democratic plan to study whether Russian vodka should be banned from state liquor stores in response to Russian interference in the 2016 elections. They also turned back a bill that would have ratified the results of some local city and town actions that were postponed by the March 14 blizzard. They will study the issue instead, a situation some have suggested potentially leaves the door open for lawsuits.
MacDonald moves ahead
Attorney Gordon MacDonald, Governor Sununu’s choice to replace Joseph Foster as state attorney general, appeared before the Executive Council on Tuesday at a public hearing on his nomination and received backing from notable Republicans and Democrats from the public and private sectors. MacDonald assured the council he will recuse himself from some ongoing legal battles in which he opposed the state as an attorney in private practice.
Which one will it be?
The Senate Education Committee this week held a public hearing on the House version of the so-called “Croydon” school choice bill. The House had amended its bill to remove religious schools as a choice and make it so that students in districts without public schools can attend private, non-sectarian schools as long as there is a contract between the originating school district and the private school receiving the students. By eliminating the sectarian schools, the House version overcomes what many saw as a fatal constitutional flaw in the bill. The Senate version of the Croydon bill does contain an option for children to attend religious schools. The House Education Committee now has that bill, but members have not yet decided whether to amend it to match their version, or vote it down.
The House mourns one of its own
Just a week after the Senate mourned the passing of Sen. Scott McGilvray, the House lost Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, Republican of Manchester, who passed away suddenly. A ten-term House member known for his intellect and his colorful, if sometimes controversial rhetoric, Vaillancourt was 65.
The Senate will meet in session on Thursday, April 6. The House will meet on Wednesday, April 5, to vote on the budget and the capital budget.