N.H. Senate budget: Under the radar items

  • The New Hampshire State House in Concord on Oct. 4, 2018 Sarah Pearson

Monitor staff
Published: 6/9/2019 6:00:22 PM

It took the New Hampshire Senate 14 hours to finish debate on its budget bills Thursday, from House Bill 1 – the line-by-line list of appropriations – to House Bill 2, the trailer bill with the accompanying policy items. The blockbuster items like business taxes and paid family leave got plenty of debate and airtime.

But the budget is vast. The trailer bill passed by the Senate carried 424 amendments, an unusually high number even by State House standards. Here’s a quick tour of some of the lesser-known items throughout those two bills, both big and small.

An expansion of State Police

The Senate budget plows a lot of funding into New Hampshire State Police, much of which includes newly allocated positions to fight the opioid crisis.

There’s a continued expansion of the Granite Shield Program – $1.3 million for five more troopers to create a mobile enforcement team, to start – as well as a permanent pharmacy compliance investigator to look at illegal prescription transfers.

The budget funds a new detective to the state’s Cold Case Unit, a long-standing request with 126 homicides still unsolved in New Hampshire. And it creates three positions to oversee the State Police Cruiser Program.

A job training program

The budget includes a $6 million program for job training, funded through a diversion of certain employer contributions into the unemployment trust fund.

That money would allow the commissioner of the Department of Employment Security to fund programs related to technical skills, basic skills, safety work, English as a second language and other areas. The programs would include training for people ineligible for other federal work training programs, and provide child care and transportation assistance for those using it.

Republicans have been critical of the idea, arguing that any additional money into the fund should be for unemployment insurance only.

A Concord-based housing appeals board

As New Hampshire continues to grapple with an affordable housing crisis, driving employees out and newcomers away, many have pointed the blame at a common antagonist: zoning laws. A long wait for appeals from a local land use board can doom an affordable housing project to purgatory.

The Senate’s budget includes a bipartisan amendment that attempts to improve that with a new appeals board. The amendment would create a three-person panel to oversee appeals over decisions made by local boards, committees and commissions – for a $250 fee. The statewide board, based in Concord, would have concurrent jurisdiction with the Superior Court.

A freeze for state university tuition

The budget provides $174 million to the University System of New Hampshire, a $12 million increase from last year. That would allow for the first freeze since 2013, when the universities implemented a two-year total freeze, though in recent years the increases have stayed below inflation.

A cost of care fund for animal cruelty cases

Throughout the saga of Christina Fay’s trial and conviction for the abuse and neglect of 84 European Great Danes, one side effect was less visible than others: the cost. The town of Wolfeboro, which removed and relocated Fay’s canines from her house, took on tens of thousands of dollars in expenses jointly with the Humane Society that held the animals through the case.

Finding a better way to deal with outgrowths of animal abuse than throwing it on the towns has proved vexing in recent years. An effort last year to charge the accused abuser with the cost of the animals’ care was shot down on due process objections.

This proposed budget has a much more straightforward fix: a fund to help town alleviate the costs of care, with $100,000 deposited each year.

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