Sununu’s sweeping licensing overhaul could fail with both parties


New Hampshire Bulletin

Published: 03-30-2023 7:40 AM

Republican and Democratic budget writers in the House are moving to reject nearly all of the controversial and sweeping professional licensing changes Gov. Chris Sununu is seeking. 

This includes maintaining 31 of the 34 licenses he wants to eliminate, such as those for foresters, licensed nursing assistants, radiologists, and court reporters.

The latter, who make a verbatim transcript of legal proceedings, have made their opposition known, along with scientists, foresters, and medical workers. Sununu is proposing eliminating the Advisory Board of Court Reporters in addition to their license. 

“People think that all we do is sit on a little machine and write real fast,” Kathryn Sweeney, president-elect of the New Hampshire Court Reporters Association, said in an interview. Her training has included medical, business, and legal courses, and she must adhere to ethical standards that require her to keep sensitive information confidential. “I have names and addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers, and bank account numbers,” Sweeney said. “I know the guy who has the safe in his house, and I know where it is and what’s in it.”

Sununu announced his proposal in February, and in the weeks since lawmakers have heard vehement opposition from dozens of professionals like Sweeney. The governor is also seeking to eliminate or remove the investigative and oversight power of nearly 30 additional licensing boards. 

House Republicans are saying no to Sununu for various reasons: Sununu gave them over 100 pages of proposed changes less than two months before their April 6 deadline to pass a budget. 

“Personally I think that the governor’s initiative here was a good one. And long overdue,” Rep. Dan McGuire, an Epsom Republican, told the House Finance Committee Monday. “We have occupational licensing way in excess of most other states, including our neighboring states like Vermont that have very thoughtful and limited occupational licensing in comparison to us. … It just turned out to be way too much for our (House Finance subcommittee) to process and deal with.”

The changes would have cost the state between $953,000 and $998,000 in licensing fees over two years, according to estimates.

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House Finance members appear willing to eliminate only three licenses, for athlete agents, hawkers and peddlers, and itinerant vendors.

Sununu has sold his proposed licensing overhaul as the elimination of governmental bureaucratic hurdles that keep workers from relocating to New Hampshire. When he announced it in February, he predicted it would be unpopular and difficult. 

The House Finance Committee indicated Monday it will vote to eliminate license changes as McGuire and others recommended. The full House could reinstate Sununu’s licensing changes when it takes up the budget next week. If it doesn’t, and instead sends the Senate a budget without those measures, senators could attempt to reinstate them as well. 

“Governor Sununu has said that delivering meaningful licensure reform that cuts red tape for citizens is never easy, but absolutely necessary,” Sununu spokesman Brandon Pratt said in an email Monday. “There is still lots of time left in the budget process and we will continue to fight to streamline government for Granite Staters.”

House budget writers are also seeking to strike Sununu’s plan to establish a new Office of Regulatory Review, Reduction, and Government Efficiency as an independent agency that could identify unnecessary regulatory burdens, among other things. 

Meanwhile, the House gave the green light to two new licenses at its session last week, for musical therapists and recreational scuba divers to catch lobsters.

Lawmakers from both parties indicated earlier this month they would oppose at least some of Sununu’s proposed changes in response to opposition from professional groups.

Several landscape architects, whom Sununu described in his budget address as the person who “plants a rosebush in your front yard,” have opposed the elimination of their license. Eliminating a license for people who shore up riverbanks, control erosion, and plan the locations of roads and buildings risks public safety, they’ve argued. Without a license, they’d also be unable to bid on public projects in the state, they said.

Members of the House Executive Departments and Administration Committee heard from several medical providers at a hearing earlier this month who opposed the elimination of their licenses and Sununu’s proposal to combine boards overseeing similar disciplines.

The boards of Alcohol and Other Drug Use Professionals, Board of Psychology, and Board of Mental Health would become the single Board of Mental Health Practice under Sununu’s proposed overhaul. Practitioners told the committee that would allow people without their specific expertise to oversee their practice. 

Dr. Jennifer Sartori, chairperson of the Board of Podiatry, cautioned against merging her board with the Board of Medicine and Medical Review subcommittees. The podiatry board has been in existence for over 50 years, she said.

“Podiatrists have unique challenges and concerns that are distinct from those of other medical professionals, and we need a dedicated board that can address these issues,” Sartori told the committee. “We need a clear and accessible process for licensure and regulation and discipline. And I think that will become more difficult for podiatrists to navigate through if it is merged with the Board of Medicine.”