March 21, 2014
Greetings!

     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 to release results of a State Legislative Survey on Monday

The Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce commissioned a statewide survey through The UNH Survey Center last month, focusing on four major issues impacting southern NH's business community and the rest of the state of New Hampshire.  This marks the first time in decades that any regional Chamber of Commerce in NH has taken such a step to fully check the pulse of NH's residents on major issues, and you can be proud of your Chamber's willingness to go the extra mile through this effort.

 

Chamber President Williams will be holding court in Concord on Monday morning, releasing the results of this statewide survey that explored NH's opinion on Expanded Gaming, the Northern Pass project, a potential Gas Tax increase, and the expansion of Passenger Rail.  Williams will then unveil those results again at a special reception with Nashua-area legislators and business leaders this coming Monday evening, at The Crowne Plaza Hotel. 

 

All Chamber members are invited to attend that reception, starting Monday evening at 5:30pm.  You can visit www.nashuachamber.com to register for the reception.  An Executive Summary of the survey findings will be posted on the Chamber's website, next Tuesday morning.   


Senate Finance Committee Okays Amended Form of Gas Tax Increase (SB 367)

Yesterday, the Senate Finance Committee took up SB 367, and it quickly became apparent that over the last few days there has been a lot of work done on the bill behind the scenes in Concord.  Apparently, Senator Jim Rausch (the prime sponsor of SB 367), Senator Bob Odell and Senator Nancy Stiles put in some long hours to come up with additional language for SB 367 that would take care of some of the lingering concerns in some quarters about where the proceeds of the gas tax increase will go.  The Committee voted 4-2 in favor of SB 367 with that amendment (and with another amendment offered by Committee member Senator Peter Bragdon to eliminate the Merrimack tolls at Exit 12.)  The 'yea' votes were Senators Bob Odell, Lou D'Allesandro, Sylvia Larsen and Peter Bragdon; the 'nays' were Senate President Chuck Morse and Senate Finance Committee Chair Jeanie Forrester (although both Senator Forrester and Senator Morse applauded the work that was done on the amendment and took pains to note that they were against the tax increase but not the provisions in the amendment that ensure that the money goes to actual work on roads and bridges).

 

Although we are still reviewing this new amendment, at first blush it looks to us like it is generally a positive approach.  The highlights:

 

  • The amendment authorizes the State Treasurer to issue up to $200M in bonds for the completion of the ongoing I-93 expansion work.  The payment of principal and interest on the bonds is to be made from amounts raised by the gas tax increase.  Under this new amendment, the 4-cent gas tax increase would then be repealed in 20 years (or earlier), once the bonds are paid in full. This amendment will also free up money for use on the completion of repairs to the Sarah Long Bridge in Portsmouth. 

 

  • The amendment dedicates some of the revenues raised by the gas tax increase to the most needed projects in each of the six DOT maintenance districts around the state.  One of the main topics in the questions posed to DOT by the members of the Committee was the speed with which these projects can be started and completed. 

 

Although the Senate President and the Finance Committee Chair both voted against this amendment, it is clear now that the amended bill is going to gain final passage in the Senate when it gets to the floor next week, because, along with the 11 Democrats who will vote in favor of the bill, the four Republican Senators who worked on or voted in favor of this amendment yesterday will make up no less than a 15-9 majority.  


Senate Starts Review of Transmission Line Presumption Bill (HB 569)

A main source of controversy this session continues to be over the burial of electric transmission lines.  As readers of The Advocate know, the Chamber has long been concerned about the various bills that were introduced in order to put a stop to the Northern Pass project, and which potentially have unintended consequences with respect to other projects in the future.

 

One of those bills is HB 569, which had a public hearing in front of the Senate Energy Committee on Wednesday.  This bill mandates that the Site Evaluation Committee must operate under the presumption that the burial of transmission lines is the preferred approach.  The bill's prime sponsor, Representative Larry Rappaport of Colebrook, claimed that the bill was not trying to target a single project, and that it was not trying to mandate a particular outcome.  He also said that the bill would help preserve the natural beauty of New Hampshire and further argued that, should the SEC require burial in state rights-of-way, this would bring in much needed income for the state's transportation infrastructure.

 

Representative Bob Backus of Manchester, one of Representative Rappaport's colleagues on the Science, Technology & Energy Committee, spoke in opposition to HB 569 and noted three main problems with HB 569. They bear repeating here:

 

  • The bill creates a preference for the burial of transmission lines.  This presumption is an unreasonable one for the Legislature to mandate, because it is unwise for the Legislature to remove discretion from the Site Evaluation Committee in this regard.  The aesthetic situation differs from site to site. 

 

  • Under legislation that was passed last year, the State has begun the process of trying to develop a state energy plan.  One of the things that is being considered as a part of that plan is the issue of how the Site Evaluation Committee should approach these types of questions.  The Legislature should let that planning process play out rather than jumping the gun on this issue.

 

  • If there is a presumption in favor of the burial of lines, then that certainly is the approach that will be taken regularly by the SEC, and this will come with a significant cost in the development of future projects.

 

All of these points are important ones, and we hope that the Senate Energy Committee will take them to heart when they vote on this bill in the coming weeks.


Health Protection Act Moves One Step Closer To Passage (SB 413)

On Tuesday, SB 413 (the bill creating the New Hampshire Health Protection Program) moved one step closer to passage when it was approved by the House Finance Committee.  This will have clear sailing on the House floor next week.  


Next Week:  Crossover

The mid-point of the legislative session is the crossover date, which is the deadline by which all bills that are being passed out of one body must be sent over to the second body.  This year, the deadline for the House and Senate falls on March 27, and next week we'll be marking that milestone with a review of the highlights of the 2014 legislative session to date.

 

The final session days leading up to crossover traditionally are lengthy ones.  The House is planning on addressing the large number of bills that it needs to get out the door by meeting on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week, in place of its usual single Wednesday session day.  One of the reasons that the House is in that situation is because many bills have been the subject of rather lengthy debates, and not all of them were the sorts of bills where that might have been expected (last week, for instance, the House spent about the same amount of time debating a bill on mandatory headlight use as it did over a bill determining whether the death penalty should be repealed).  That's just the way things can be when you have a 400 person House. 


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