New Hampshire Legislature enters deadline, deal time
By HOLLY RAMER
May. 15, 2018
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — It's deal and deadline time at the New Hampshire Statehouse.
Committees of conference that combine House and Senate lawmakers are meeting this week to settle differences between dozens of bills passed by both chambers. Thursday is the deadline to sign off on any compromises, but lawmakers remain far apart on several key topics and few final reports have been filed.
On a bill that has become something of a catch-all, House and Senate members agreed Tuesday on spending $12.7 million for pay raises for state workers, $20 million for bridge repairs and $10 million for the state's "rainy day fund." The bill also includes an additional $44 million over two years for hospitals to settle a dispute over what they are owed for providing uncompensated care. The Legislature budgeted $166 million for the payments, but after a recent court ruling voided the payment formula the state uses, hospitals are pushing for more.
"I see this, while difficult, as a win-win for both the state and hospitals," said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro. "This provides certainty for the state in terms of budgeting over the next several years as well as for the hospitals."
House members disagreed on several other provisions, including tax credits for businesses that support workers in addiction recovery, one of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu's top initiatives. They said they don't oppose the idea but have concerns about how the credits would be administered.
Sen. Gary Daniels, R-Milford, argued that the money would help curb the state's opioid crisis by supporting those who want to stay off drugs and remain employed.
"I don't think we can have too many partners in this fight," he said.
The House members also weren't ready to accept the Senate's plan to add funding for a school loan repayment program for health care workers, a program that helps elderly people remain in their homes and one that pairs older people as foster grandparents with abused or neglected children.
"At this particular time, we're not really excited about any of them," said Rep. Karen Umberger, R-Kearsarge.
The committee plans to resume work later this week, as do two other conference committees that made little to no progress Tuesday.
A committee considering a bill that would end the distinction between full-fledged residents and those who claim the state as their domicile for voting met just long enough to say they needed more time before getting to work. A nearly identical bill passed both chambers, but Sununu plans to ask the Executive Council to seek an advisory opinion from the state Supreme Court on whether the bill would violate the state Constitution.
Similarly, the committee tackling who has authority to reschedule town elections in the event of bad weather discussed but reached no consensus on how to reconcile differing versions.
Nearly 80 communities postponed their annual elections due to a storm in March 2017, creating widespread confusion over who has the authority to change the voting date. Another storm raised similar issues this year while lawmakers were working on a fix. The House version would give town moderators the final say, while the Senate's version would give the secretary of state the authority to postpone town elections if the governor has declared a state of emergency or if a town moderator requests a delay.