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O'Brien outlines priorities

Last modified: 10/2/2012 12:00:00 AM
House Speaker Bill O'Brien will personally sponsor legislation next year that would restrict welfare benefits, block expansion of the state Medicaid program, establish a right-to-work law and require a legislative supermajority to raise taxes or fees.

Two of the measures, right-to-work and the tax-supermajority constitutional amendment, were proposed during the last session but died on the House floor. All four will become bills or resolutions after the Nov. 6 election, assuming O'Brien wins re-election.

O'Brien, a Mont Vernon Republican, is also the prime sponsor of a fifth proposed bill that wasn't mentioned in a news release yesterday outlining his priorities. That legislation is described on the Legislature's website as 'relative to membership of the joint committee on legislator orientation.'

O'Brien was elected speaker in 2010 after Republicans won nearly three-quarters of the seats in the 400-member House. He has shaped two years of House activity and become one of the state's highest-profile politicians, drawing considerable ire from Democrats along the way.

His five pieces of proposed legislation were among 259 legislative service requests, or LSRs, filed ahead of the Nov. 6 election by incumbent representatives seeking re-election. All legislators elected this fall will have a chance to file LSRs following the election.

One of O'Brien's LSRs is a proposed constitutional amendment that would require a three-fifths majority to raise taxes or fees. An identical amendment passed the Senate earlier this year but died in the House on a 220-132 vote, failing to meet the constitutionally required three-fifths threshold to appear on the November ballot.

'This supermajority amendment will make it much harder to hike taxes and fees and will also stop borrowing from our children's future to pay for spending today,' O'Brien said in a statement. 'This is the transformative change that we need in New Hampshire.'

Right-to-work laws, such as the one filed by O'Brien, prohibit union contracts that require employees to pay dues or fees even if they don't join the union. Similar laws exist in 23 states and the Legislature passed a right-to-work law last year, but Democratic Gov. John Lynch's veto was sustained by the House.

O'Brien's proposed welfare bill would restrict use of Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, cards by blocking purchases of alcohol, lottery tickets, tobacco, tattoos or 'other unnecessary items,' he said in the release.

'We are committed to helping our neighbors who are in need, but not those who are simply looking to take advantage of the generosity of the hardworking taxpayers. New Hampshire citizens are tired of excuses for public assistance abuses and are demanding EBT card reforms,' he said.

And O'Brien also filed a proposed bill that would block expansion of the Medicaid program as proposed under President Obama's 2010 health care reform law. The question of whether to accept federal money to expand the program has been an issue in the gubernatorial campaign, with Democrat Maggie Hassan in favor and Republican Ovide Lamontagne opposed.

'ObamaCare will blow a hole in our state budget, plain and simple. We cannot allow this federal law to hijack our state finances with unfunded mandates,' O'Brien said. 'This bill will make unequivocally clear that the Granite State will not participate in growing Medicaid or risking that our Medicaid program, which is already on an unsustainable growth path, does not accelerate the destruction of our state budget.'

Democrats are already taking aim at O'Brien's legislative agenda, citing the speaker's speech at Saturday's state GOP convention in Derry, where he said the Legislature would go further in 2013.

'New Hampshire can't afford to go 'much further' with the extreme Ovide-O'Brien agenda of ending universal public kindergarten, cutting state funding for public colleges and eliminating access to birth control and abortion,' said House Minority Leader Terie Norelli in a press release yesterday.

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


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