Capital Beat: As legislative year winds down, more than budget still in play at State House
Most of the bills filed this year in the New Hampshire Legislature are dead or headed to Gov. Maggie Hassan. Some have already become law, or were retained by committees for more work.
But while budget negotiations will be the focus at the State House this month, it’s not the only legislation still in play.
Several dozen bills could be headed to committees of conference, where negotiators from the Democratic-led House and Republican-led Senate will try to resolve their differences.
Anything’s possible, and many of the bills could become law by the time the Legislature adjourns at the end of the month. But in some cases, the differences between the two chambers could prove difficult to bridge.
Thursday is the deadline to form committees of conference, with members appointed by House Speaker Terie Norelli and Senate President Peter Bragdon. Five have already been formed, and the Senate will meet Wednesday to deal with the rest of the pending bills.
Medical marijuana is one issue to watch closely. The House and Senate both passed House Bill 573 with veto-proof majorities, but in very different forms.
Among the differences:The House wants to let patients grow their own cannabis plants, but the Senate wants to provide marijuana through special dispensaries. The House wants to include post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition for patients to use marijuana, but the Senate doesn’t.
Hassan is on the Senate’s side – her office requested the Senate’s changes to the bill. Rep. Jim MacKay, the Concord Democrat who will chair the conference committee, said he hopes to pass some version of the bill this year even if it doesn’t contain everything the House wants.
“My overall feeling is that this is the first governor who’s ever given us a chance to do it at all. Therefore, I don’t want to see it go down,” MacKay said. “I’ll do everything I can do to support the House position. But in the end, if I think it’s going to be vetoed by the governor, I would rather see us pass a good part of it first time around and then come back in a year and clean it up.
“Of course,” he added, “I’m one out of four on my side, and one out of seven. But since I’m chairman of the whole shooting match, it gives me some leverage.”
Also in flux is the voter ID law passed last year. As it passed the House, House Bill 595 would block changes set to go into effect this September, including a shorter list of acceptable forms of ID and a requirement that voters without an ID be photographed at the polls. But the Senate modified the bill to leave those provisions in place, though its version would delay the photo-taking requirement until 2015.
Like the medical marijuana bill, the Senate has yet to agree to a committee of conference on the voter ID legislation. But Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, indicated back in April that “there may be an ability to find common ground” on some elements of the bill.
Some conference committees will begin meeting this week, and all committees must file their reports by June 20. The House and Senate face a July 27 deadline for their final votes.
You want numbers? Okay, I have numbers.
There were 813 bills, resolutions and other pieces of legislation filed in the Legislature this year, according to the Legislature. That includes nine Senate-only and 10 House-only resolutions setting rules and the like.
As of Friday, 59 bills had been signed into law (58 by Hassan and one by outgoing governor John Lynch on Jan. 2, his last day) and 183 had passed the Legislature and were awaiting the governor’s attention.
An additional 168 bills have been retained by House committees or re-referred to Senate committees, delaying floor votes on them. The House has killed or tabled 260 bills, while the Senate has done away with 78 pieces of legislation in various ways.
That leaves 46 bills in limbo. Some could pass or die Wednesday with Senate concurrences or non-concurrences, and the rest will go to committees of conference.
So far, Hassan hasn’t vetoed a single bill, or allowed one to become law without her signature.
Even before the Senate voted Thursday to pass its two-year, $10.7 billion state budget, the battle lines were being drawn for the upcoming committee of conference.
Proponents of Medicaid expansion, including Hassan, held a news conference to criticize the Senate’s budget for not including expansion. A trio of conservative groups – Americans for Prosperity, Cornerstone Action and Granite State Taxpayers e_SEnD held a news conference to praise it. Liberal and labor groups, including Granite State Progress and the State Employees’ Association, held a news conference to condemn it.
House Republicans also expressed support for the Senate Republicans’ plan, and Minority Leader Gene Chandler pledged “to support them in any way we can.” But the Bartlett Republican was practical when asked what options he has to help the Senate.
“Obviously, being the minority, not too many, to be honest,” Chandler said.
Sen. Jeff Woodburn is a freshman in the Senate. But since the Dalton Democrat represents District 1, he enjoys the privilege of going first on roll-call votes.
Sometimes, that can cause confusion.
Many of the votes Thursday on budget-related amendments and bills fell along party lines: 13 Republicans on one side, 11 Democrats on the other.
But a couple times, Woodburn sided with the Republican majority. The first time, his “no” seemed to throw Sen. Jeanie Forrester, the Meredith Republican from District 2 who votes just after him, for a loop.
“No,” she said, then paused. “Yes?”
The chamber erupted in laughter.
“Let’s start over,” Bragdon said.
There’s also been at least one occasion that Woodburn has cast the wrong vote on a roll call, and the Senate had to re-take the vote.
New term, old case
Fresh off being confirmed last week by the Executive Council for a new five-year term, Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny has a date in court.
Health policy analyst Leslie Ludtke sued the Insurance Department, Sevigny and Deputy Commissioner Alex Feldvebel two years ago after she was fired from the department. Her lawyer, Chuck Douglas, has argued she was dismissed due to political machinations surrounding the implementation of President Obama’s 2010 health care reform law; lawyers for the state have said she had been previously reprimanded for her behavior and was employed at the pleasure of the commissioner.
Part of her suit was dismissed last year, but a Merrimack County Superior Court judge May 31 refused to grant summary judgement to the state, clearing the case to proceed to trial.
Jury selection had been set to begin this month, but Douglas said a crowded criminal docket has delayed the trial until January 2014 – just as many elements of Obamacare will be going into effect.
Senators in town
New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman are dropping by the Granite State for a pair of fundraisers.
Portman will be at the Tuscan Kitchen in Salem on Friday for a “business luncheon” with Sen. Kelly Ayotte to benefit the state Republican Party. Tickets are going for $250 apiece, or $500 to be counted as a host.
And Gillibrand will be in Concord on Friday, at the home of Senate Minority Leader Sylvia Larsen and husband Bob Larsen, to raise money for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Tickets are $250, with sponsorships going for $1,000 or $2,600.
It’s not even an election year, but television ads went up in New Hampshire last week attacking both Shaheen and Ayotte.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the gun control group cofounded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, began airing its fourth ad attacking Ayotte for her vote this spring against expanded background checks.
The 30-second ad, “False Alibi,” features a Minnesota police chief saying Ayotte is misleading people when she says she voted for alternative legislation to reform the background checks system. The $400,000 buy will run on Manchester and Boston stations through Thursday, said spokeswoman Kayla Keller.
Ayotte, who won’t be on the ballot until 2016, has said out-of-state special-interest groups are twisting the truth on the issue, and that she voted for a proposal taking real steps to stop gun violence.
And Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire, a new conservative group, began airing a 30-second ad last week, “What to Cut.” It attacks Shaheen, who’s up for re-election next year, for supporting Obamacare.
Spokesman Derek Dufresne said the initial buy is $110,000 and the ad will air on WMUR and cable stations. Shaheen told supporters in an email that the ad bends the truth.
News of record
∎ With Republican Joe Osgood’s victory in last week’s special election in Claremont, the balance of power in the House stands at 218 Democrats, 180 Republicans and two vacancies.
∎ Happy birthday to Woodburn, who turned 48 on Friday, and Sen. Andy Sanborn, who turns 51 next Saturday.
∎ Landya McCafferty, Obama’s nominee for the seat on the U.S. District Court bench in Concord left vacant when Steven McAuliffe took senior status this spring, has been rated “well qualified” by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)