Friday, March 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. 

Senate Takes Major Step On Gas Tax (SB 367)

There was a major development in the gas tax debate on Tuesday when the Senate Ways & Means Committee voted 4-1 in favor of passing an amended version of SB 367 that would increase the gas tax by 4.  The amendment passed by the Committee reflected the position that was advanced by the Chamber at the public hearing that the legislation should not include any future automatic increases tied to a trigger like the CPI.


For those like the Chamber who support a modest and responsible increase, this Committee vote is a good sign, since two of the three Republicans on the Committee (Senator Jim Rausch and Senator Bob Odell) voted in favor of the bill, and there are at least two other Republicans (co-sponsors Senators Nancy Stiles and David Boutin) who are on the record as supporting the bill.  The magic number in the 24-person Senate is 13; thus, even if there turn out to be no other Republican votes for SB 367, a yea vote from at least nine of the eleven Senate Democrats would likely take this one over to the House, which is sure to approve the bill (and the word is that virtually all of the members of the Democratic caucus in the Senate are likely to vote in favor of the bill).  We will keep our fingers crossed.


To be sure, the 4 increase is not nearly enough to fix the problem (that should be no surprise, since it has been 23 years since the last increase).  However, that amount is the maximum that the Senate proponents of SB 367 think can successfully get through the Senate, and we expect that if SB 367 passes the Senate the House probably will respect their Senate colleagues' assessment of the practical realities of the situation and pass the bill without any changes.  In the meantime, DOT Commissioner Chris Clement has indicated that, if the bill passes and becomes law, he intends to use the $32 million which he expects to get from the increase as follows:  $13 million for paving; $12 million for road repair work on the most critical problem highway sections; and $7 million to fix the most critical bridge problems in the state.  That is a start, anyway.


Let's hope for a successful vote on this next week on the Senate floor, so that SB 367 can go off to the House and be passed as quickly as possible.  


Senate Passes New Hampshire Health Protection Act (SB 413)

On Thursday, the Senate, by the surprisingly wide margin of 18-5 (with one abstention), passed SB 413, the bill to establish the New Hampshire Health Protection Program (this was the measure formerly referred to as "Medicaid Expansion").  Under the terms of the bill, the working poor will be able to obtain private healthcare insurance paid for through federal Medicaid funds that will be made available to the State for that purpose (the law would automatically be repealed if at any point the federal government fails to pay 100% of the costs, a level of support that is guaranteed in the federal law at least for the next three years).  While this uniquely New Hampshire plan has been the subject of no small amount of controversy, polls are showing a pretty significant level of public support for the proposal.  


During the lengthy floor debate on the bill yesterday, there was a significant amount of discussion about the business advantages of moving forward with SB 413. Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley said that when he hears from businesses, issue #1 is health care costs; issue #2 is health care costs; and issue #3 is health care costs. One of the theories behind SB 413 is that it will reduce the level of uncompensated care that hospitals are providing to this newly-covered population in emergency rooms for free (under SB 413, these folks would have health care coverage and primary care providers, so they would no longer need to resort to getting health care only at the last minute in an ER as crises arise).  That uncompensated care is accurately being called a "hidden tax" by Senator Bradley, because the hospitals have to pass those costs on to other payers, including health insurance companies (who then, of course, pass those additional costs on to us, their customers).  As a result, the Department of Insurance has indicated that it believes this measure may serve to relieve some of the constant upward price pressure on healthcare premiums in the state.  


The House wasted no time on this. Typically, a bill that is passed by the Senate would take a couple of weeks before it is scheduled for a hearing in the House. Yesterday, however, shortly after the Senate's action, the House took the extraordinary step of suspending the House Rules (which requires a vote of 2/3 of the members) to allow the bill to be received into the House immediately and a hearing to be scheduled on Monday. As that action would show, the House is clearly eager to act quickly to pass SB 413 and get it to the Governor's desk so that it can become law at the earliest possible moment.


With a legislative moment as significant as this one, it is appropriate to take a moment and acknowledge two of the big winners in yesterday's vote, one Republican and one Democrat. The first is Senate President Chuck Morse of Salem. As anyone who reads newspapers or watches TV or listens to the radio knows, there were strenuous efforts made by groups like Americans for Prosperity to try to convince Senate Republicans to vote against SB 413. Senator Morse not only got the agreement done, but he was able to deliver votes for the bill from a majority of the Republican caucus.


The second is our own Senator Peggy Gilmour. Senator Gilmour was instrumental in working behind the scenes with Senate Republican leadership to craft a deal that would work and that would also gain the support of a majority in the Senate. In the highly partisan environment that often can be politics in America in 2014, this took great skill and initiative. Hats off to the two of them, as well as all their Senate colleagues and staffers, who spent long weeks working together to reach a bipartisan resolution to this issue.

House Votes Down Non-Profit BET Bill (HB 1509) 

At long last, we can finally report to you that the House on Wednesday voted to kill HB 1509, the bill opposed by the Chamber that would force many non-profits to pay the Business Enterprise Tax.  Prime sponsor David Hess said in his remarks on the floor that he never intended this bill to pass, but rather that it should simply begin a conversation about the BET tax base and the entities which should be included under that tax. Maybe he was successful in starting that conversation, because the roll call vote was a close one (173-163). Given the thin margin of the vote against the bill, it would not be surprising to see this issue come back again next year.

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Devine Millimet

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