NASHUA BULLETIN                           January 15, 2016
Bulletin No. 2
Welcome to the Chamber's weekly legislative newsletter, The Advocate!  This newsletter is our recap of what happened in Concord each week during the legislative session, and a preview of what is coming up in the following week that pertains to various business interests. Although we will be letting you know about legislation that we think is of note, don't hesitate to tell us about bills that you may be familiar with and which you think are worth our review. We exist to serve you, our members.

Chamber Holds 2016 Legislative Symposium
On Monday, we formally kicked off the year with the state legislature, as we do each year, with our annual legislative symposium.  This year's symposium brought together 22 of our legislators and dozens of our Chamber members. Our deepest thanks go to all the folks who took several hours on a Monday afternoon to participate in the event.  The fact that so many members of the Nashua-area delegation were in attendance (including Speaker of the House Representative Shawn Jasper of Hudson) is just one more indicator of the great working relationship between the Chamber and our Nashua- area legislators.  Businesses in this region can be proud of the unrivalled working relationship between their Chamber and their senators and representatives.
This year, we decided to take a bit of a new tack. For most businesses, of course, the common form of interaction with state government is not with the legislature, but rather with state licensing or regulatory agencies. So this year, instead of discussing specific bills, we focused on the interaction between executive branch agencies, the legislature, and the members of the public.  We were honored to have with us three state department heads:  Commissioner John Beardmore of the Department of Revenue Administration, Commissioner Jeff Rose of the Department of Resources and Economic Development, and Assistant Commissioner Kathryn Barger of the Department of Labor (whose name will undoubtedly be familiar to anyone who has stood in an elevator in New Hampshire).
To start the proceedings, we asked each of the Commissioners to tell us what they would do, if ruler for a day, to improve their department's delivery of services to the public.  The common thread through all of the answers was the strong recognition of a need for increasingly robust use of technology.  DRA, for instance, is currently working towards an upgrade of a data system that goes back to the 1990s.  From the responses, it is fair to say that these three departments have a clear focus on customer service and on the utilization of the most modern technological approaches to allow information to go out and to come in with simplicity.
One of the things that we think was evident during the course of the symposium was the ease of the relationship between the Commissioners and the legislators who were present.  This says to us that there is a level of trust and good will between these Commissioners and the legislators, which is no insignificant thing.  For one thing, in the past there have been some agencies and department heads that have had rocky relationships with the legislature.  For another thing, the legislature relies heavily on executive branch agencies not just to implement policies set by the general court, but also (and this is less well known) to provide data and information to the legislature during the course of the legislative session.  Because most of the committees of the legislature have little or no staff support, the legislators have to lean heavily on executive branch departments for much of the information on which they base their votes.  So we give kudos to DRA, DRED and DOL for earning that sort of respect.
The Chamber is always looking for ways to facilitate communication between Chamber members and the state government, so whether you are a legislator or a business person, please let us know if you have any ideas about how we can better perform that task.
 Data Privacy Bill Heard by Senate Commerce Committee (SB 393)
One of the first bills out of the gate this year in front of the Senate Commerce Committee was SB 393, a bill that would have established a number of workplace data privacy rules and restrictions.  This is a lengthy and complicated piece of legislation which has caused some concerns for a number of businesses because many feel that the bill needs more vetting. Not long after the hearing began, it became apparent that these sorts of concerns already were weighing on the minds of the members of the Commerce Committee, and it looks like this one is likely not to pass but rather will be sent for further study.

 Senate Ways and Means Committee Votes Down Electric Pole Valuation Restrictions (HB 192)
One issue that you will undoubtedly be hearing a lot about during the coming session is the way that telecom and utility property is valued for purposes of the local property tax.  Over the summer, the state Assessing Standards Board spent a lot of time studying this issue, and it emerged from that review that there are major differences from town to town in how telecom and electric poles are valued (a survey done by the ASB on telecom pole values showed that around the state a telecom pole might be valued at anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars).  These wide divergences have led to the filing of a host of abatement actions by telecom and electric companies. 
The Department of Revenue Administration values electric utility property around the state for the purposes of determining how much the utilities need to pay on the state-wide utility property tax, and not surprisingly it seems that the electric utilities frequently introduce that valuation into evidence in those abatement actions. Last year, HB 192 sought to prohibit electric utilities from introducing the DRA valuation into evidence in the abatement cases.  The utilities argued (in our view, correctly) that the decision about what evidence can be used in those cases should be left to the judge or the Board of Tax and Land Appeals, as has always been the practice (and in any event it would seem particularly odd to have a law that excludes a piece of evidence that comes from a state agency that is a neutral third-party). After looking at the issue, the ASB recommended to the Senate Ways and Means Committee that HB 192 be killed, and on Tuesday the Committee made that recommendation to the full Senate.  That bill will be on the floor next week. Because the costs of property taxes on utilities find their way into the utility bills paid by businesses around the state, this is an issue that we will be following closely.

Speaker Issues Call for Civility
By now, you probably have read about remarks that Speaker Jasper gave last week on the first House session day of 2016, calling for civility in relations between the members of the House and in the public discourse of the members. He said that the members of the House have a responsibility to act with dignity and respect because they represent not only themselves but their constituents and the entire state of New Hampshire. 
Over the years, this Chamber has consistently spoken out on the need for the legislature to be a place of respect. Legislatures, by their very nature, are places where people disagree on many controversial issues, and it is good for all of us to be reminded of the need to be civil and respectful in our discourse, particularly with people who disagree with our positions.  Without making any comments on the underlying issue, we want to applaud the Speaker for his action and give a tip of the cap to the Speaker and his leadership team for making it clear that the House position, so to speak, is in favor of civility and respect.

Have a great week!
Tracy Hatch
President & CEO
Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce 
Sponsored by
Devine Millimet

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January 11th, 2016
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