THE LEGISLATURE’S ANNUAL “Crossover Day” ended earlier and with less partisan fireworks than usual last week.
The last day for bills to go from one legislative body to the other is rife with potential for gamesmanship. Thursday was no different.
A favorite betting pool involves trying to guess which innocent bill will be the one desperate legislators try to hitch their own cause onto.
The winner was HB 1627, an innocuous measure to hire a full-time administrator in the Department of Education to manage the Education Freedom Accounts program.
After the House education panel added language about leveraging Medicaid money under a federal meals program, the bidding began.
Five GOP conservatives marched forward with non-germane floor amendments they wanted to slap onto the bill.
• Drug Forfeiture, from Rep. Michael Sylvia, R-Belmont. This would cut back on property the federal government can seize from illegal drug activity and would ban local police from receiving any of the proceeds. The House passed the bill (HB 1101) March 17.
• Ivermectin Order, from Rep. Melissa Blasek, R-Merrimack. She wanted to add the language in HB 1022 that would permit a pharmacist to dispense ivermectin on a standing order without a prescription.
• Congressional Redistricting, from Rep. Dawn Johnson, R-Laconia. Upset that Gov. Chris Sununu has vowed to veto the congressional redistricting map (HB 52) the House and Senate have endorsed, she wanted to put the same design in this bill as well.
• Emergency Powers, from Rep. Andrew Prout, R-Hudson. For three months, the Senate has sat on this House-passed bill (HB 275), which would put further checks on future governors dealing with emergencies by allowing them to extend a 21-day declaration only three times. The Senate is holding a hearing on that separate House bill this Wednesday.
• Home Pot Cultivation, from Rep. Barbara Comtois, R-Barnstead. House conservatives were wary of the Senate killing this leftover 2021 bill (HB 629) to allow adults to grow up to six marijuana plants of their own at home.
None of these attempts made it into the bill or even received support from 30%, but they provided plenty of colorful debate.
“This is a message that needs to be delivered loud and clear,” Sylvia said, which is pretty much what all five said in support of their amendments.
Johnson couldn’t resist taking a shot at Sununu, whose action has forced the Legislature to go back to the drawing board on redistricting.
“There is a distinct lack of participation until the last minute by the executive branch, and this House is left foolish, creating more work for all of us,” Johnson said.
House Election Laws Chairman Barbara Griffin, R-Goffstown, revealed that House GOP leaders aren’t waiting for Sununu’s redistricting veto to get to work.
“I think I might have to come to this body with another CD map because the process has not ended yet,” Griffin said.
House Finance Committee Chairman Karen Umberger, R-Conway, stole the show with her show of pique at back-benchers who created this circus atmosphere.
“If I know that I did not add these amendments, they were added by you, not me, and if I know the reason we may have to stay here is not because of me, but it’s because of you,” Umberger said to laughter from her colleagues.
The power of individuals
Whatever your view on abortion rights, we saw the power of the individual last week.
The story of Lisa Akey of Brookline and other expectant mothers dealing with tragic fetal complications clearly moved the hearts of social conservatives in the House.
That’s why after months of the House turning down one exception to the 24-week abortion ban after another, the dam broke. The House passed, 231-114, an exception to the limitation in cases where the physician certifies the fetus has a defect “incompatible with life.”
In mid-February, when this bill (HB 1609) had no exceptions, only 12 House Republicans supported even a loosening of the ultrasound mandate.
On Thursday, six times that many GOP members were on board, including House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, R-Auburn, Deputy Speaker Steve Smith, R-Charlestown, and nine committee chairs.
Dems get a few wins
When you are in the minority, you’ll take any wins you can get. For the minority party, it was a good week.
State Rep. Mike O’Brien, D-Nashua, completed the daily double, getting the House two different times to reject committee recommendations to kill his pet cause (HB 1417), which would have the state pick up 7.5% of the retirement costs of local and county governments.
“Maybe I should run for higher office,” joked O’Brien, a 35-year retired firefighter.
The bill’s author was the late House Democratic leader, Renny Cushing of Hampton.
Sen. Becky Whitley, D-Hopkinton, hit paydirt in the upper chamber with her plan (SB 403) for the federal WIC program to allow low-income families to buy products at farmers’ markets in New Hampshire.
Senate dean Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester got Senate Republicans off the schneid, agreeing to pass his bill (SB 226) to create a state recruitment and retention program that Administrative Services Commissioner Charles Arlinghaus has promoted.
Another biz tax cut likely
Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, did state business leaders a big favor with his plan for a two-month suspension of the state’s gas tax.
He’s offering to put it on the House-passed bill (HB 1221) that cuts the tax on business profits again, this time from 7.6% to 7.5%.
That means the bill will go on the fast track, so Sununu is able to sign it in time to start May 1.
Poll shows new trends
The latest poll from the Saint Anselm College Survey Center and New Hampshire Institute of Politics, released last week, contained plenty to chew on:
• In the gubernatorial race, Sununu holds an early lead, 51%-24%, over Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye.
• The Republican advantage with a generic ballot dipped a bit, from 6% in January to 4% now.
• U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., slightly increased her advantage against GOP foes, winning by an average of 44%-36%. Among the field, 2020 candidate and retired Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc of Stratham does best against Hassan, losing, 44%-39%.
• Of concern to Democratic incumbents, a number of likely voters say it’s time for a new member of Congress — 46% in the 1st District and 53% in the 2nd.“As always, campaigns and candidate quality matter,” said IOP Executive Director Neil Levesque.
How’s this for a billboard?
New Hampshire was fifth-best, the only state in the entire Northeast to make the Top 20, behind Florida, Missouri, Idaho and Delaware.
Every other New England state made it into the sad group with Massachusetts 25th worst, Vermont 17th, Connecticut 14th, Maine 12th and Rhode Island eighth from the bottom.
Back to the grindstone?
The House and Senate have no sessions this week, though the grind over bills goes on.
House committees begin hearings on Senate-passed bills now that they’ve finished all their own.
After two weeks of hearing House bills, the Senate is back to a five-day schedule of committee meetings.
‘Some days are sacred’
Sununu soon will be handed a political hand grenade, with the Senate passing a bill to end a ban on state liquor stores being closed on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas (HB 1583).
Senate Republicans split, 8-6, against this bill, with Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, joining the chairmen of Senate Finance, Ways and Means, Education and Transportation Committees in opposition.
“Some days are sacred. Keep liquor stores closed on those three days,” said Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren.
“People who want that liquor can buy it on another day.”
State senator rides off
Sen. Harold French, R-Canterbury, said last week he’s ending a run for the 2nd Congressional District seat and is passing on a re-election bid.
French will call it a career after three Senate terms and one in the House. He has plans to lease a Hopkinton farm and get into the cider-making business.
The Senate redistricting map (SB 240) carves up French’s district. Expect a freewheeling GOP primary to replace him.
Giuda plans to move from Warren, which is going into another Senate district. He’ll likely land in French’s seat.
Some Republicans are encouraging Rep. Timothy Lang, R-Sanbornton, to consider running in Giuda’s District 2.
Lang could have company since the new District 2 will include Laconia, Gilford and Belmont.
Another shoe dropping?
Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh, D-Manchester, said he’ll decide in a few weeks whether to seek a third full term in District 16, which thanks to redistricting has gone from a plus-6 to plus-15 Republican district.
Democratic partisans want Cavanaugh, a Manchester alderman, to consider running for Executive Council to unseat Manchester Republican Ted Gatsas.
Mowers racks up support
First Congressional District GOP candidate Matt Mowers of Gilford added Bedford Sen. Denise Ricciardi to the stable of senators backing him in that crowded primary.
Mowers is the only candidate with Senate backers, who now number five.
Last week, GOP rival Gail Huff Brown of Rye got the support of the National Border Patrol Council after visiting the Mexico border.
Pompeo’s busy schedule
Former Secretary of State and potential 2024 GOP hopeful Mike Pompeo returns to New Hampshire Wednesday.
He’ll keynote the Hillsborough County Lincoln Reagan Day dinner at the DoubleTree by Hilton Downtown Manchester Hotel.
Earlier for lunch, Pompeo will speak to a N.H. Homebuilders Association event at Belletetes in Pembroke.
Pompeo continues to be cast as a stand-in should former President Donald Trump pass on a 2024 run. Trump has mused that Pompeo would be a good running mate if he did decide to mount a comeback.
DOT gets bad rap
House budget writers were wrong when they testified that the Department of Transportation would have had to hire 100 temporary staffers if the Legislature had endorsed a proposed refund of gasoline taxes.
The staffers would have been at the Division of Motor Vehicles. At any rate, that idea is in the dust bin.
A small added cost for the Exit 4A Project off Interstate 93 wasn’t due to a rail trail project, as reported here recently, but rather was the final bill for some demolition work.
Fix for disaster-torn towns
We’re going on 10 months, and more than 20 towns ravaged by floods in Sullivan, Hillsborough and Cheshire counties are still waiting for word on how much aid they’ll get from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Fallon Reed, the state’s administrator of the disaster recovery program, recently delivered good news — that these communities will only have to contribute 10% of cleanup costs.
That’s less than half the customary 25% match.
The Senate last week approved a bill (SB 402) with a Morse amendment that would allow the governor to declare an emergency and ask the Fiscal Committee and Executive Council to approve specific grant award requests for towns while they await the federal word.
Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Keene, has been championing this one.