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Capital Beat

Capital Beat: House repeal bills set to hit GOP’s Senate ‘firewall’

When Democrats took back the House last fall, they saw it as a chance to undo the work of the Republican-dominated Legislature of the previous two years.

There was just one hitch: Republicans lost seats in the Senate, but held onto a slim majority there.

Senate President Peter Bragdon has repeatedly described his 13-11 majority as a “firewall” against attempts to repeal or roll back laws enacted by the GOP’s veto-proof legislative majorities in 2011 and 2012. This week, that firewall will get one of its first tests.

A bill to repeal New Hampshire’s new education tax credit law will go to the Senate floor Thursday. It passed the House in February, 188-151. But a key vote in the Senate – Nancy Stiles, a Hampton Republican who had opposed the tax credit’s creation – has already announced she will oppose the repeal.

“Based on the discussions I’ve had with individual members, I do not believe that there will be 13 votes to pass that bill,” Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley said Friday. “I think it will not make it out of the Senate.”

On that and other pieces of Democratic legislation passed by the House over the last few months, Senate Democrats would need to stick together and peel off at least two Republican votes to send the bills on to Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan for her signature.

Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, said there’s little appetite among Senate Republicans to reverse the work of the last

Legislature. “These votes are all fresh in all 13 of our minds,” he said. “Sam (Cataldo) and John (Reagan, the two

freshman GOP senators) came from the House, so they voted the same way on all of these things as the vast majority of us did.”

Also pending in the Senate is a bill, passed 189-184 by the House, that would repeal the 2011 “stand your ground” self-defense law. But at least one Democrat – Sen. Jeff Woodburn of Dalton – has already said he’ll oppose the bill in the Senate, dimming its chances.

Also awaiting attention are a bill that would repeal changes made last year to voter registration forms and a bill that would reestablish a state minimum wage, which was repealed in 2011.

One bill that could have a shot would roll back voter ID requirement introduced last year. The bill passed the House, 184-122, and was deliberately crafted as a compromise that could find Senate support.

“In terms of voter ID, I think that we’re going to want to get through the hearing on the House bill and then assess where we are,” Bradley said. “I think there would be some things that are in the House bill – for example, moving away from the more strict IDs – that would cause consternation for my members.”

But, he said, “There may be an ability to find common ground on some of the other provisions.”

No quick cash

New Hampshire got some good news last week when a Merrimack County jury ordered Exxon Mobil to pay the state $236 million for its use of MTBE as a gasoline additive.

But that doesn’t mean the state is suddenly flush. The money will probably be tied up in appeals for years. And even at the end of the process, it won’t necessarily go into the state’s general fund.

“We . . . anticipate that most of the money will be used for groundwater exploration and cleanup,” said Associate Attorney General Richard Head.

The state had previously settled MTBE cases with 15 other oil companies, collecting a total of $136 million. Those agreements had stipulated how the money was to be used, and similarly, the jury awarded the $236 million for specific purposes, Head said.

It’s possible a portion of the jury award could go into the general fund to reimburse the state’s legal expenses in the case. But given the likely appeals in the case, it’d be premature to make any plans at this point, Head said.

GOP turbulence

It’s been a bumpy week for the New Hampshire GOP.

Chairwoman Jennifer Horn has been fighting with Treasurer Robert Scott over whether she should have signing authority on a party bank account. According to emails published by WMUR and Granite Grok, a conservative blog, Scott has resisted giving her the power over concerns about her personal finances, including an Internal Revenue Service lien for $92,000 in unpaid taxes on her Nashua home.

“You are the greatest present liability that this committee possesses currently,” Scott wrote in an email to Horn.

Then, last Wednesday, the Coos County Republican Committee announced it had taken a unanimous vote of no confidence in Horn, citing the fight with Scott and her “personal financial troubles.”

Other Republicans criticized the announcement, saying the vote was invalid in part because not all committee members had been notified about the meeting, which was held by conference call.

“The irresponsible and illegal actions of a group of rogue Coos County committee members have brought shame and dishonor to our organization,” wrote Rep. Herb Richardson of Lancaster and former county chairman Scott Mason in an email addressed to “fellow Republicans.”

The party declined to comment on the squabbling, and the executive board is scheduled to meet tomorrow.

Budget bummer

When President Obama released a federal budget proposal last week, the reaction from local Republicans was uniformly negative.

Mont Vernon state Rep. Bill O’Brien, a potential congressional candidate, said Obama “has once again failed the American people.” Horn called it “a fiscal disaster,” and Greg Moore, the state director of Americans for Prosperity, called it “late, irrelevant and not up to the task.”

New Hampshire Democrats didn’t exactly rush to defend it.

First District U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter blasted use of the “chained CPI” method of measuring inflation to reduce future Social Security and Medicare spending. “I remain steadfast in my opposition to balancing the budget on the backs of seniors, veterans or the middle class,” she said.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen didn’t sound thrilled, either. “While I’m sure I do not agree with everything in this budget, I will review it carefully and consider the proposals that the president has introduced,” she said.

Second District U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster was more conciliatory. “While I don’t agree with all of the president’s proposals, his budget reflects the need for a balanced approach that will reduce the deficit, grow the economy, and help create jobs and economic opportunity for middle class New Hampshire families,” she said.

No to BRAC

Shaheen did take an immediate stand on one part of the budget: Obama’s call for a new Base Realignment and Closure round in 2015.

She and Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte issued a joint statement opposing a BRAC, in which a commission would study closing military bases to save money.

“Now is not the time to spend billions of dollars on another BRAC round, especially as the Department of Defense grounds combat aircraft, cancels ship deployments and furloughs workers due to sequestration,” they said.

The last BRAC, in 2005, targeted the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for closure. In the end, the facility was spared.

Debate blackout

The two Democrats running for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts got a curveball question at a debate last week, about a now-inactive Twitter account that had been posting photos of drunk students at the University of New Hampshire.

According to former Monitor ace Shira Schoenberg – now reporting for the The Republican of Springfield, Mass. – U.S. Reps. Steve Lynch and Ed Markey were asked about the account by a student at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell: Should UNH have shut it down, or is a matter of free speech?

Neither man seemed too familiar with @UNHBlackout.

“Most college students are 18 years or older. It’s not like you’re dealing with minors, these individuals are 18 years old, they can make decisions on their own,” Lynch said. “That includes mistakes, I guess.”

Markey said there’s a tension between the right to speak freely and anything that would create “a climate of hate on campus, if it is because of the race of the person, the sex of the person, the gender of the person, the sexual orientation of the person.”

He concluded, “I would say we should treat each one of those circumstances on their own.”

Shaheen’s cash

The Shaheen fundraising machine is revving up.

Shaheen ended 2012 with $431,214 in the bank – not much, given she’s up for reelection in 2014.

But in the first three months of 2013, Shaheen raised $1.23 million, leaving her campaign with $1.46 million on hand as of March 31, according to her campaign.

“Sen. Shaheen has always run aggressive, issue based campaigns and this one won’t be any different. The unprecedented amount of early support we’re already seeing show that we’ll have the resources we need to run a winning campaign regardless of who our opponent is next year,” Finance Director Andy Darkins said in a statement.

No major Republicans have filed to run against her yet. John E. Sununu, who beat Shaheen in 2002 but lost to her in 2008, told the New Hampshire Union Leader on Friday that he won’t run again in 2014.

2016 watch

All roads lead to New Hampshire – at least, if you’re a Republican thinking about running for president in 2016.

Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, will be here next month to headline a fundraiser for the Republican Senate Majority Committee, the campaign committee for Republicans in the state Senate.

The fundraiser will be May 10, at a time and location still to be determined, according to Bragdon, the Senate president.

“We’re happy to have his assistance,” Bragdon said.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

Thank God that the Responsible Republicans in the Senate can blunt the dependable draconian deviate democrats and their tax and spend machine

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