NASHUA BULLETIN                                 June 6, 2015

 

Welcome to the Chamber's weekly legislative newsletter, The Advocate!  With the start of the new year comes the start of NH's state legislative session.  For those of you who have been active with our Chamber for a while, you already know to expect this legislative newsletter in your inbox each week. It provides a recap of what happened in Concord each week, and previews what is coming up in the following week that pertains to various business interests. We hope you find this weekly publication informative, and a great way to stay attuned to what is happening in Concord that impacts southern NH's business community!

 

House Overwhelmingly Approves Electric Rate Reduction Financing Bill (SB 221)

By the surprisingly large margin of 308-43, the House on Wednesday approved an amended version of SB 221, the bill which establishes the securitization piece of the proposed Eversource settlement.  As we've been saying, SB 221 makes the best out of what is not the greatest of situations.  Representative Michael Vose of the House Science and Tech Committee put it well in his floor remarks in support of the Committee recommendation that the bill should be passed: "The bill for the [Merrimack Station] scrubber is now due. We can pay a lot for it, or we can pay less. I vote for paying less." The floor debate saw some significant emphasis placed on the fact that the Public Utilities Commission is still going to fully vet the settlement and determine whether it is in the best economic interests of Eversource ratepayers.  Rep. Vose referred in his remarks to the views that our Chamber and other chambers had expressed during the course of the Committee's deliberations on the bill.

 

Late last night, the Senate concurred with the House amendment, and so SB 221 will now head over to the Governor, who we expect will sign the bill. That will shift the focus over to the PUC and the proceedings to review that settlement.

 

Proposal on Workers Comp Rates Passes House (SB 133)

Earlier this session, we reported on bills in the House and the Senate that were intended to deal with the issue of workers comp medical costs. Those bills created the rather unusual situation where some significant segments of the business community were actively arrayed on opposite sides of a major question.  On the one side, there has been a coalition led by the New Hampshire Auto Dealers Association that has been pushing for something along the lines of a State-established fee schedule, and on the other side there have been health care providers and free-market advocates who oppose that concept as being tantamount to price-control. 

 

Because the earlier bills failed to make it through to passage, the House Labor Committee decided to try one more time, and produced an amendment which the Committee attached to SB 133, a bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley that dealt with health care and workers comp data.  The amendment removed language in the current statute that requires employers to pay whatever the health care practitioner issues for a bill (this was held up as an example of something that had the effect of barring health care providers and employers from negotiating rates), and it also established a set of price guidelines which would be established by the Department of Insurance and which would govern what the maximum reasonable value of medical services would be.

 

As was the case with the earlier bills, the debate on Wednesday centered on the question of whether the legislation was in fact creating governmental price controls and whether that was something which the  New Hampshire legislature should do in the first place.  When the debate was over, the House voted by a margin of more than 60 votes against the Labor Committee's amendment (this itself was a rather notable result because the House only rarely overturns recommendations made by one of the House Committees). The House then voted to pass a floor amendment that was proposed by Representative Dan McGuire of Epsom. That amendment, which passed by almost 200 votes, does not include the price guideline provisions, and instead would change the language in the current law so as to allow for negotiation of rates between employers and providers and require employers or insurance carriers to pay the "reasonable value of medical services."

 

The Senate voted late last night to concur with this amendment, so this bill will also be heading over to the Governor.


Senate Drains Some Gas from Pipeline Bill (HB 572)

After Wednesday's long House session, the focus of attention yesterday moved over to the Senate Chamber on the other side of the wall.

 

The Senate session on the day when the Senate votes on the budget and the budget trailer bill (HB 1 and HB 2) is invariably the longest session day of the year.  For one thing, the debate on the budget (including discussion of the large number of amendments which always get proposed) takes up a long period of time. And even aside from the budget, it is the last day that the Senate can act on House bills, so it is always a day of finishing up all unfinished business.  Even under Senate presidents who run the Senate swiftly and efficiently - and current Senate President Chuck Morse certainly falls into that category - you can usually expect that the Senate Session on the final day will run into the late hours (if not into the wee hours of the next morning). 

It was no different this time around, as the Senate kept up its work last night until around midnight, having begun the day at 10:00 AM. 

 

One of the last things that the Senate did before recessing for the night was to pass HB 572, the gas pipeline legislation.  The amended version which the Senate passed, however, was significantly watered down even from the amendment which was passed by the Committee last week.  What is left is authorization for the Site Evaluation Committee to issue standards and criteria for the siting of gas pipelines.  The bill is certainly in better shape than it was, but we keep coming back to a fundamental concern: changing the rules every time a new energy project is proposed sends a negative message of uncertainty and unpredictability to our business community. We have to keep our eye on the ball: if we want lower electric rates, we need to have more energy supply, and we need to incentivize the creation of that 

Senate Passes Business Tax Reductions (HB 2)

The main attractions on Thursday's agenda, of course, were the state budget (HB 1) and the budget trailer bill (HB 2).  Among the several hundred sections of HB 2 that were passed by the Senate yesterday were provisions supported by the Chamber that would reduce the BPT and the BET.  If this version does become law, the reductions would begin with taxable periods ending on or after December 31, 2016, and would be completed with the taxable periods ending on December 31, 2019. The BPT would go from 8.5% to 7.9%, and the BET from .750 to .675.

 

Governor Hassan and Senate Democrats have opposed these reductions on the ground that they will cost the state much-needed revenue (an estimated $14 million in FY 2017, the second year of this proposed state budget). Senate Republicans are supporting the cuts as necessary investments in job creation at a time when a Pew study has listed New Hampshire as being the 10th-worst state in job creation. As Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley said in his floor remarks yesterday, "New Hampshire can't afford to not do this." 

 

The Governor issued a statement yesterday expressing her "serious concerns" about the Senate budget, given that there are a number of  areas which she believes the Senate has failed to adequately fund. Significantly, the Governor did not mention the word "veto" in her message, although Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn did say on the floor yesterday that "we are on the verge of a veto".  Realistically, at this point it is still too soon to think about what the Governor is ultimately going to do here, because the final document that will arrive on her desk still remains to be hashed out in the committee of conference that will begin its deliberations late next week or early the following week. 

 

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