Legislative Update May 19, 2017
The House and Senate both met in session on Thursday as they worked to finish remaining legislation and focus on the 2018-2019 Biennial Budget. House members concurred with the Senate on a $33.2 million emergency appropriation to address a budget deficit at the Department of Health and Human Services. The House also acted on a number of other bills amended by the Senate, voting to concur with some and seek committees of conference on others. The Senate dealt with more than 30 bills in its session.
It’s a numbers game
While the Senate Finance Committee was piecing together the 2018-2019 Biennial Budget this week, the Senate Ways and Means Committee met just around the corner to debate revenue estimates for that same budget. In an often contentious day of 3-2, Republican-Democrat votes, Ways and Means members disagreed over the figures that provide estimates for how the state will finish Fiscal Year 2017, as well as projections for 2018 and 2019. Those numbers become the basis of what the Finance Committee decides the state can spend over the next two years. Committee Republicans generally voted to use more conservative budget numbers, while Democrats favored using somewhat higher estimates. The two parties met part way for Fiscal 2017, adopting a figure that is only $3 million lower than the Democrats’ favored number, and $5 million higher than the original Republican figure. Democrats, however, strongly objected to the Republican vote to embrace a FY 2018 business tax revenue estimate that is $24 million lower than what they wanted. There was also disagreement over the total revenue figure that Republicans chose for the biennium, which came in at $14 million below the House estimate, and almost $73 million less than the Governor’s projected number.
The learning curve
The House Education Committee voted to recommend passage of a Senate version of the so-called Croydon bill on school choice. The bill would allow school districts that do not offer public school in certain grades to contract with nonsectarian private schools or other public schools to provide education for those children. The bill originally included religious private schools, but that option has been dropped due to constitutional worries. The bill also requires standardized testing at the receiving school and provides for some state oversight.
No fighting on the playground
The Senate and the House may be squaring off in a squabble over full-day kindergarten. Senate Finance Committee Republicans, concerned that the House had given preliminary approval to a plan that added $5.5 million to their kindergarten bill, won a 4-2 vote Wednesday to eliminate any extra kindergarten funding from the budget. The House Finance Committee is also considering legislation on the issue, and the Senate move makes it more likely the proposal will become a bargaining chip in the upcoming budget negotiations. Governor Chris Sununu, in his original budget, proposed spending $9 million annually for kindergarten and has been praising the House actions to move forward on full-day kindergarten.
Let the sun shine in
Wrestling with a Senate renewable energy bill, the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee this week adopted a compromise amendment they hope will make the measure more palatable. The underlying bill has a goal of helping the state’s struggling biomass industry, but there was resistance to another portion of the bill that increases the percentage goal for usage of solar energy under the Renewable Portfolio Standards. The amendment drops the price tag for the solar energy portion from $8.4 million price tag over the next seven years to about $1.5 million.
The Executive Council voted 4-1 on Wednesday to confirm the nomination of the Governor’s interim budget director, Charles Arlinghaus, as the new commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services.
Hold ‘em on Keno; double down on poker
The Senate voted to hold and study a bill to authorize Keno at establishments that have a liquor license. Senators passed a bill legalizing poker in residential homes, but defeated an amendment to increase the maximum wager in charity poker to $10, up from the current $4 limit. The House has voted to retain a similar bill on the $10 poker wager.
The House has scheduled a session day for June 1st. The Senate will meet in session on Wednesday, May 31st, and Thursday, June 1st.