May 30, 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. 

Deal Reached on Medical Enhancement Tax

Yesterday, Governor Hassan took the unusual step of appearing in front of a Committee of Conference (this one on the Medicaid Enhancement Tax legislation,
SB 369) to announce that a deal in principle had been struck to resolve the hospital Medicaid Enhancement Tax issue.  At the time of writing, both the precise details of the agreement and the text of the legislation necessary in order to implement the agreement are still being finalized.  From all indications, however, the House and the Senate conferees are prepared to sign on to the deal. 



Governor Hassan informed the conferees that 25 of the 26 hospitals are entering into this agreement.  While Governor Hassan did not reveal the identity of the one outlier, it emerged following the Governor's remarks that the hospital is St. Joseph Hospital located here in Nashua.  This means that while the cases involving the other hospitals will be settled and put on hold pending the State's carrying-out of its responsibilities under the agreement, the St. Joseph's lawsuit will, at this point, continue.


Under the terms of the agreement as announced by the Governor:


        The lawsuits are concluded, pending legislative enactment of the necessary provisions;

        The St. Joseph's challenge to the MET will continue;

        The hospitals will continue to pay the MET, but will see a significant increase in the amount that they are paid for providing uncompensated care;

        Rehabilitation hospitals will no longer pay the MET.


This is a watershed moment for several reasons.  The most direct impact is of course on the hospitals, who will be receiving something closer to fair reimbursement by the state for the services that the hospitals provide for patients who cannot afford to pay for their own care.  From the State's perspective, by reaching this settlement the State avoids the bulk of the uncertainty that was associated with the risk that the hospitals might not pay the MET in October, and that the Supreme Court might uphold the lower court decisions that held the MET to be unconstitutional.  It should not be forgotten that the recent Superior Court decision overturning the MET prompted a downgrade in the State's bond rating, so the elimination of the risk associated with the litigation was obviously an important consideration.


One major issue that remains will be how in the next budget the State will replace or address the revenue that it currently obtains as a result of the MET.  That revenue loss is an unavoidable by-product of this necessary MET fix, but it certainly will present an important item that will be faced by the budget writers next winter. 

Energy Efficiency Conference Committee Strikes Agreement (SB 268)
We've been reporting over the last few weeks on SB 268, the legislation on disbursement of the energy efficiency funds coming out of the regional greenhouse gas initiative (RGGI). The Chamber has been supporting the Senate position on this bill, whereby those funds would be disbursed through the process which already is established for general energy efficiency projects through the CORE energy efficiency programs run by the utilities. The House version of the bill would have had the RGGI funds paid out as well through non-CORE programs as determined by the PUC, but this week, after several days of negotiations, the House and the Senate were able to reach agreement on a compromise.   Under the agreed-upon version, the monies will be disbursed pursuant to a competitive bid process that will be administered by the Public Utilities Commission, and which the CORE utilities can participate in. The hope is that this will lead to the RGGI energy efficiency money being expended in a way that will give the state the most bang for its buck. This looks to be a promising resolution, and it gained the approval of all the House and Senate conferees and all of the various stakeholders.

Motorist Service Sign Bill Goes Off Road (SB 321)

One of the first committees of conference that met this week was the committee on SB 321, Senator Gilmour's bill that was designed to allow placement of signs on interstate highways alerting motorists to food, fuel, lodging and attractions (currently these signs are allowed only on exit ramps). The House amended the bill so as to permit only attractions on these new highway signs (a limitation which Senator Gilmour correctly said was "puzzling").


The bill as it was introduced and passed in the Senate contained a geographical restriction confining these highway signs to highways south of Concord. In the House Public Works Committee hearing on this bill a month or so ago, Senator Gilmour candidly said that the reason for this restriction was a practical one: just last year, some on the Public Works Committee had expressed major concerns over the aesthetic impact these signs would have in the North Country, so the geographical restriction was put in the bill precisely to assuage those concerns. Thus, there was some irony that, at the Committee of Conference, one of the House conferees critiqued the Senate version of the bill by noting that the bill did not allow these signs north of Concord. In any event, however, in the end it was clear that the House would not go along with the Senate version of the bill, and Senator Gilmour honorably made a motion for the Senate to accede to the House position. Although she noted her disappointment, she said that this small step was at least a first step, and hopefully it will lead to fuller use of these signs down the road.

Sponsored by
Devine Millimet

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