Legislative Update May 5, 2017

Legislative Update May 5, 2017

The House met in session on Thursday.  Although the calendar was not overly long, lawmakers spent considerable time on several important bills and on a motion, eventually passed, to have a legislative committee review the on-line behavior of two members, which has drawn recent media attention.   House lawmakers defeated a bill to authorize casino gaming, and then adopted an additional measure that will prevent the House from considering another casino bill in the 2018 session.  The House passed a bill sending $37 million to local municipalities for highway, bridge and other infrastructure work, and a bill authorizing a new cross-border drug interdiction program that includes the hiring of five additional state police troopers.  Both of those bills will now go to the House Finance Committee for review of the fiscal aspects.  The Senate did not meet in session.

 

We’re in the money

Tax revenue figures for the month April are in, and lawmakers have reason to smile. The state collected tax revenues for the month that totaled $306.2 million, which was $40.2 million above plan. Business tax revenues naturally led the way, bringing in $116.5 million for the month, or $33 million above forecast. Unrestricted revenues for the year to date are running almost $74 million above plan. As has been the trend in recent years, Tobacco Tax and Communications Services Tax revenues were down. The strong revenues will play a role in Senate Finance Committee deliberations on the 2018-2019 Biennial Budget, as well as in the fate of any other legislation that calls for spending.

And we need the money

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted unanimously to endorse an amendment that calls for $20 million in spending over the next two years to address two ongoing and highly visible social problems: mental health care and child protection.  The amendment was attached to a bill directing the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a 10-year plan for mental health services.  Governor Sununu appeared before the committee last week to offer his support for the measure, stressing that both areas are in dire need of both reform and more funding.

They’re numbers guys

The Senate Finance Committee is into the tough sledding on the 2018-2019 Biennial Budget as new revenue numbers come in and the weeks left in the session dwindle down.  The committee held an all-day public hearing Tuesday on the budget. The hearing was held in Representatives Hall, and hundreds of residents attended. Advocates for more funding for various social services, including domestic and sexual violence, substance abuse and mental health, dominated the testimony.

All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten

As expected, the House passed a bill that would create a grant program for full funding of all-day kindergarten for municipalities that opt to have kindergarten. The bill, which proposes to spend $14.5 million per year, now goes to the House Finance Committee for further review.

Filling up the Cabinet

Governor Sununu this week nominated his interim budget director, Charles Arlinghaus, to be commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services. Arlinghaus is president of the Josiah Bartlett Center, a think tank, and also a columnist for the Union Leader newspaper. He would replace Commissioner Vicki Quiram, who is leaving to take a job in California. The Governor is still searching for a nominee for Commissioner of Environmental Services.

You can do the crime and not do the time?

After the addition of an amendment aimed at satisfying some lingering concerns, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. The vote was 3-2.  Under the bill, simple possession would become a civil violation, like a traffic ticket, with fines for the first few offenses. The measure now faces a vote in the full Senate, which has never passed decriminalization. Some State House observers, however, feel that senators may be ready to pass it this time. The bill has already passed the House, and that body will get the bill back to review the Senate changes, should it pass on the Senate floor. Governor Sununu has said he favors some form of decriminalization.

 

The Senate will meet next Thursday, May 11.  The House has not scheduled its next session. Committees will continue their work all next week on remaining bills.  The Senate Finance Committee will be holding work sessions all week on the biennial budget.