February 21, 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. 

Chamber Primes The Pump At Gas Tax Hearing (SB 367)

Almost a year after he first indicated his intention of bringing a gas tax bill in this session, Senator Jim Rausch finally had the chance to roll out SB 367 before the Senate Ways & Means Committee on Tuesday.  As you will remember, Senator Rausch is proposing to provide some of the additional money that is necessary for New Hampshire roads and bridges by creating what amounts to a four-cent increase in the gas tax, with automatic increases to take place every four years according to a formula based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). 


Chamber President Chris Williams joined Senator Rausch, DOT Commissioner Chris Clement and many other supporters who registered support of the need for an increase in the gas tax.  In Chris' testimony to the Committee, he recognized the extraordinary case which Commissioner Clement has made in showing that New Hampshire's roads and bridges are deteriorating at an alarming rate.  Chris told the Committee that his visit this week represents only the second time in 10 years that he has ever appeared before a legislative committee to endorse a fee increase, citing that fact as evidence of how important NH's infrastructure is for our state's business community.  (The first appearance in support of a fee increase was in 2008, when the Chamber supported changes to the Unemployment Trust Fund in an effort to protect NH businesses from even larger federal penalties that would have occurred without those changes). 


 Williams went on to say that, while the Chamber agrees that a problem exists and also agrees that the use of the gas tax is the proper solution, the Chamber respectfully disagrees with the specific solution set out in SB 367 that ties future gas tax increases to the CPI.  Not only is the four-cent increase unable to produce the revenue necessary to fix the deep problem that currently exists, but the Chamber believes (and our membership survey confirms this belief) that tax increases, if necessary, should only be done by a vote of the Legislature rather than through some type of automatic trigger that doesn't require legislative responsibility. 


The Chamber's position on SB 367 seems to be reflected by at least some members of the Senate Transportation Committee.  Senator Bob Odell, for instance, gave some indication that he favored a solution that was not tied to a CPI trigger. We will be working with the members of the Committee to come up with the best possible bill.


What happens next? With apologies for the pun, the road ahead will certainly be a bumpy one. The legislation was opposed by Bob Sculley of the New Hampshire Motor Transport Association, who told the Committee that this gas tax increase would have a strong negative effect on New Hampshire truckers.  And Senate President Chuck Morse indicated that he thought any additional revenues should be obtained through the casino that would be built if the relevant legislation passes.  Despite Senator Morse's opposition to SB 367, however, it is worth noting that the bill has three Republican co-sponsors (enough to create a majority if 10 of the 11 Democrats in the Senate vote for the bill). 


One thing is for sure:  not passing this bill is something that presents a grim prospect for DOT.  Commissioner Clement said at the hearing that the failure to obtain the additional revenue would mean that he would have to lay off almost half of DOT's 1600 employees over the next couple of years.  Let's plow through that and see how it would work the next time we have a winter like this one.  


Good News on Damages Apportionment Bill (SB 297)

At the same time that the gas tax hearing was taking place on Tuesday, the Chamber was joining about 25 other business and trade organizations in opposing SB 297, the bill that would change the way that damages are apportioned in civil trials (we've been telling you about this one over the last couple of weeks.) The lineups say it all. In opposition to SB 297: our Chamber and groups like the Concord Chamber, the BIA, the New Hampshire Hospital Association, the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association, the New Hampshire Medical Society, the Retail Merchants Association, the New Hampshire Healthcare Association, and  the New Hampshire Nurses Association.  In support of SB 297: trial lawyers.  We agree with the members of this broad coalition that defendants should be held responsible for their own actions, and not for the actions of others. 


From conversations between the members of the Judiciary Committee, it was looking like there could be a close vote in favor of the bill (the prime sponsor is the Chair of the Committee). But yesterday, the Committee voted unanimously to recommend that the bill be sent to interim study (in other words, that the bill should not be passed and instead should be looked at further in the summer and fall before a recommendation is made about new legislation in 2015). Great decision by the members of the Committee.


Senate Rolls Out Medicaid Expansion Bill (SB 413)

At the same time that the gas tax and apportionment hearings were going on, the Senate HHS Committee was holding a crowded public hearing on SB 413, the bill which represents the bipartisan agreement in the Senate concerning how the expansion should be accomplished.  (First off, we should probably stop using the term Medicaid Expansion, because SB 413 creates a unique New Hampshire solution called the "New Hampshire Health Protection Program.")  Our own Senator Peggy Gilmour was one of the co-sponsors of the bill. The Senate HHS Committee voted on Wednesday by a 4-to-1 margin to pass a final amended version, and this landmark legislation will be on the Senate floor the first week of March. 


One of the issues that came up in the SB 413 hearing was the problem of uncompensated health care.  Senator Jeb Bradley noted that one of the things that SB 413 is likely to do is to reduce to some degree the amount of uncompensated care that is furnished each year by New Hampshire hospitals (hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of this care are provided each year by the hospitals, and this does not include many millions more which do not get paid to nursing homes and other Medicaid providers who are reimbursed by the State for only a fraction of the costs of caring for the State's Medicaid population). Senator Bradley accurately called this uncompensated care a "hidden tax," because when the State does not pick up the tab for the full costs of care (especially for Medicaid recipients who by definition are the State's legal responsibility), that does not mean that the providers' costs go away; they still are there, and the providers have to recover them somehow. This leads to higher charges for third party payers like health insurance companies, and it is not too difficult to draw a connection between those higher costs and upward pressure on health insurance premiums for everyone else. This "hidden tax" that Senator Bradley is talking about is complicated, but it is good that it has been brought to the forefront.

In Other News . . .

We were disappointed that the House on Wednesday decided to pass HB 1405, a bill opposed by the Chamber that prohibits employers from using credit histories in employment decisions except in certain specified situations.  We opposed this bill because we think that the issue (which still has not been identified as a real problem in this state) should be left to the discretion of employers.  Realistically, a business is only going to go to the trouble and expense of doing a credit check on an employee if that need is connected to the job. 


In contrast, some good news came out of the House on Thursday, when the House HHS Committee voted by a significant margin (10-4) to recommend that the House kill HB 1539, the bill that would have moved up the prospective repeal of the CON process in New Hampshire from June 30, 2016, to June 30, 2015. As the Chamber told the Committee in its testimony in opposition to the bill, as bad an idea as it is to apply unrestricted free market principles in an area where businesses do not have free market systems of payment available to them, it is an even worse idea to think about making this sort of major change to the New Hampshire health care system at the very time when health care providers are trying to deal with the federal Affordable Care Act and the State's own Medicaid Managed Care program.


On Wednesday, the Senate passed SB 351, the amended version of the non-compete bill that the Chamber supported in the public hearing on this bill several weeks ago.  The agreed-upon amendment fixes the central problems that exist in the current law by making it clear that non-competes must be presented to prospective employees (this ensures that there is no confusion concerning whether non-competes need to be provided to existing employees who are simply changing jobs within the company). 


The House still has not reached the elusive HB 1509, the bill to tax nonprofits under the BET.  Once again, the House found itself unable to make it all the way through the calendar of bills that were slated to be heard on Wednesday.  As a result, the earliest that HB 1509 will be voted on by the House will be at the next meeting of the House on Wednesday, March 5th -over a month after the vote by the House Ways & Means Committee that recommended that the bill be killed. 


Next week, the legislature is on its winter break. And so is your friendly neighborhood Chamber president!  Here's to hoping the February weather quickly gets behind all of us.  

Sponsored by
Devine Millimet

In This Issue
Quick Links
Find your State Representative

Search for Legislation
Find Your Local State Senator
Read Past Issues
February 7, 2014
January 24, 2014
January 17, 2014
January 13, 2014
Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce | (603) 881-8333 | icullinan@nashuachamber.com | http://www.nashuachamber.com
142 Main St.
5th Floor
Nashua, NH 03060