February 7, 2014 

     Thank you for your interest in one of our most proud efforts- business advocacy during the legislative session.Our Chamber is very proud of its efforts to represent you and all of our members in Concord. Our work would not be possible without the strong support of our friends at Devine, Millimet & Branch, whose lobbying team serves as our "boots on the ground" in Concord on a daily basis. We thank them for their unyielding support of our advocacy efforts, particularly through the sponsorship of this newsletter.

This weekly newsletter is intended to give you an overview of what has happened at the State House over the past week. Read this every Friday to learn about our Chamber's lobbying efforts relating to those activities, and to preview what we are doing on behalf of our Chamber members. 

Governor Delivers State of the State Address

Yesterday, Governor Maggie Hassan delivered her annual State of the State Address, and spent a substantial portion of that speech commenting on issues relating to business development. One of her points of emphasis was the importance of strengthening our state's workforce.  The Governor said that, in order to help the state's high tech and advanced manufacturing companies fill job openings, "We need to reach our students at a young age and help them understand that they can stay in New Hampshire, find jobs here that are interesting and exciting, and build careers that will allow them to support their families and climb the ladder of opportunity."  She also recognized that "job -creating businesses need to know that New Hampshire's small, accessible and nimble government will continue to be responsive to their needs." In that vein, she said that she is about to issue  an executive order that directs state agencies to move all possible business- related forms online by the end of the biennium. 


The Governor also announced in her speech that she has asked state agencies to explore the creation of a new "Gold Standard Program" that will ease regulatory hurdles and highlight businesses with exemplary track records.  There were no details on this concept, but we will be following it with great interest.


It will come as no surprise that the speech also addressed the need to "reach a consensus solution to renew our investment in safe and modern roads and bridges."  Governor Hassan noted that every year, an additional 50 miles of state- maintained roads go from "fair" condition to "poor" condition, and that there are already 145 "red list bridges" in New Hampshire. She applauded Senator Rausch's efforts to solve the problem, and she is in line with the Chamber and many other business groups in thinking that "a solid, modern transportation infrastructure is the foundation for long- term economic growth."  One can read between the lines on this, and come to the conclusion that pieces on the chessboard are being moved with regard to the pending debate over an increase in the gas tax in the next several weeks.  

Bi-Partisan Senate Deal Reached On Medicaid Expansion

Thursday was also notable for the announcement by the Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate that they have agreed to the framework of a deal on Medicaid Expansion (the proposal to provide funding for the health care of upwards of 50,000 New Hampshire citizens with incomes up to 138% of federal poverty limits, a group usually characterized as "the working poor").  This is a big deal, because Medicaid Expansion has been one of the most highly contested issues in the Legislature over the last year or so.  A study commission met to examine the issue last summer and fall, and a special session of the Legislature convened in November specifically to vote on this topic. Majorities in the House and Senate came out in favor of the concept of expansion, but the House and Senate did not agree on a bill that could be passed.  Because the Senate has a Republican majority and the House is governed by Democrats, of course, any final deal would necessarily need to be a bipartisan one.


While the debate could have devolved into acrimony and partisan politics, what ultimately happened was that we saw a Republican Senate President appearing with a Democratic Senate Minority Leader to announce that a deal had been struck. From what we hear, this was the result of many discussions that took place over the course of the last couple of months - importantly, discussions that did not play out in the public eye.  This means that the Senators who were responsible for this agreement - and it appears that our own Senator Peggy Gilmour may have been a key player in this -  resisted the temptation to point fingers and gripe, and instead quietly and pragmatically got down to business. From what has emerged, the framework of the deal bears hallmarks from both the Republican and the Democratic plans. 


We expect more details to be unveiled next week, and this thing still has a way to go. But for now, whatever the final result of all of this, we should give a tip of the hat to Senate President Chuck Morse and Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen, as well as to all of the legislators and staff members who worked to reach this point, for understanding just what the New Hampshire Legislature is all about. 

Apportionment of Damages Revisited (SB 297)

The Chamber is joining with a number of other business groups and trade organizations to oppose SB 297, the latest version of legislation which is intended to change the law concerning how fault is apportioned among responsible parties in a lawsuit.  We thought it would be worth explaining just what is going on here and why this bill matters. 


The general rule is that, if multiple people are responsible for the damages suffered by a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit, there is a determination of the comparative percentages of fault for each of those responsible. In other words, 100% of fault can be divided legally among multiple parties so that one party may be deemed as responsible for 50% of the blame, and two other parties may each be deemed by a judge as responsible for 25% of the blame (this is a very simple hypothetical example).  Fault can also be apportioned to people who were never actually sued by the plaintiff, and to parties who settled with the plaintiff before trial.  Each particular defendant's share of damages is determined according to those percentages.  This way, defendants are only liable for damages to the extent of their responsibility for the harm that was suffered by the plaintiff. 


Under SB 297, however, the apportionment of fault would not include parties who are immune from liability (this is any person or entity which has immunity from suit due to some statute; this might include, for instance, entities such as governmental agencies, recreational use landowners and ski area operators.) So if SB 297 were to pass, a defendant with a low percentage of fault could be forced to pay a disproportionately larger percentage of the plaintiff's damages because an entity that is more responsible for the harm but which is immune from said suit would  not get factored into the apportionment.  This isn't the first time this specific bill has been attempted.  We agree with the veto statement that Governor Lynch issued in 2007 regarding a similar type of bill:  "It is unfair for a defendant with a low degree of fault to have to pay a disproportionately large share of the damages."


We will be aggressively opposing this bill in the coming weeks. 

House Votes Down Change In R&D Tax Credit (HB 1475)

We were pleased that the House yesterday declined to pass HB 1475, an unwise bill that would have changed the R&D tax credit into a renamed "reinvestment credit" that would have been available to any sort of business for just about anything. Much as we are in favor of keeping taxes low on all businesses, the R&D credit is something that we have fought long and hard on, and only last year the Chamber and other business groups were successful in seeing the credit doubled to its current level.  As it is, the total tax credit is still far too small; if its availability were expanded to things other than research and development, the credit would be diluted to the point of being utterly useless. The House voted to kill the bill by a vote of 165-95 and then voted to lay the bill on the table by 195-68, so we are happy to be able to report that the opposition levels were decisive. 

Reminder for Chamber's State of The City Address

While this weekly update typically focuses on state politics, please keep in mind the fact that our Chamber's State Of the City Address with Mayor Lozeau is fast-approaching.  Mayor Lozeau will be giving her update to our business community on all things related to the City of Nashua, on February 19, at The Courtyard Marriott Hotel, starting at 7:30am.  You can register by visiting www.nashuachamber.com.  

Sponsored by
Devine Millimet

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Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce | (603) 881-8333 | cwilliams@nashuachamber.com | http://www.nashuachamber.com
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