By GARRY RAYNO, Distant Dome
CONCORD – As the 2019 legislative session nears its end, the work ramps up, particularly for the Senate Finance Committee which must craft its budget plan by the first of next month.
The bickering largely has been between the two parties in the House and Senate, but this time of year the bickering begins to shift to between the House and Senate as the jockeying begins to ensure their priorities are preserved somewhere before the conference committees begin to reconcile different versions of bills.
The intramural competition begins to become more of an inter-body match and the House and Senate animosity can reach fever pitch even when the two bodies are controlled by one party as they are now.
The checks and balances of a bicameral legislature are in full view now as the House killed several key Senate bills last week, and the Senate is set to tee up a few pet House bills for elimination.
Over the years the scenario has been the same, Senate approves casino gambling, House kills it.
This year was somewhat different as the Senate at first did not have the votes to pass Manchester Democrat and Senate Dean Lou D’Allesandro’s near annual casino gambling plan.
But some behind-the-scene work was done changing the vote and the bill barely squeaked through the Senate.
The House, as usual, saw little value in establishing one or two new casinos around the state. The traditional location, Rockingham Park, was sold and is no longer a viable location.
But the House vote was not remotely close — 289-63 — to kill the bill.
And then casino gambling was given a two-year death sentence.
The motion was made to indefinitely postpone the bill, which means the topic cannot be revisited by the House again this two-year session.
The motion passed on a 214-139 vote, meaning there will be no casino gambling bill before the House next year.
Sports betting is a different entity. After a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Gov. Chris Sununu proposed sports betting as part of his budget plan and included the potential revenue in the package. Other sports betting bills were proposed as well.
House Bill 480 establishing a sports betting program under the Lottery Commission passed the House 269-82 earlier this session and has a 5-0 recommendation for passage by the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The Senate will vote on the bill Wednesday when it is expected to pass with little opposition and go to the governor for his anticipated signature.
House Democrats were ridiculed earlier this session after approving bills banning plastic straws and requiring fees for one-use plastic and paper bags.
“Businesses and consumers can currently choose to provide or use reusable or biodegradable options on their own,” said House Minority Leader Dick Hinch of Merrimack after the March vote. “House Democrats aren’t satisfied with asking consumers to make better choices, they want to force businesses to provide you with a certain kind of bag, and charge you for it.”
Some House Democrats were not happy with the situation and the sure GOP verbal drubbing, although most everyone, including Republicans, knows something has to be done to limit plastics use that too often results in bags flying in the wind and sea creatures strangled by plastics.
While the House may have passed the plastics ban, the Democrats in the Senate will put the issue to rest this week.
By identical 4-1 votes the House Commerce Committee is recommending the two bills be killed. Chances are the majority of the Senate will agree to do that and take that issue off the table for at least this year.
The prime sponsor of House Bill 452, Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, has said the state’s presidential primary is too important and the state needs all the resources possible to protect the institution.
So Cushing proposed establishing the first-in-the-nation presidential primary commission to help set the date and protect it from the continual attempts to encroach on New Hampshire’s sacred ground.
The bill passed on a voice — or unrecorded — vote in February but stalled before the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee, which is recommending the bill be killed on a 3-0 vote.
The guardian of the New Hampshire Presidential Primary, Secretary of State Bill Gardner, was not a fan of the proposal, and neither were a number of the state’s longtime advocates who said flexibility and quick action is often needed to protect the state’s hallowed status and a commission would be too slow and cumbersome.
Chances are Gardner has quietly worked his magic in the Senate and the bill will have a soft landing into the dead letter file.
The Senate is also likely to kill bills that would allow cooperative school districts to reapportion costs among the communities every five years, and another that would delineate reasons a student with an educational hardship could change schools.
The Senate is also planning to kill a bill that would allow the Division of Motor Vehicles to distribute more than one set of veterans license plates to those who qualify. The bill would allow a veteran to have additional sets of plates for his or her vehicles but has to pay for them. Currently the one set of veterans plates are free.
Wait Until Next Year
Along with killing some once controversial bills, the Senate plans to send a number of hot-button issues for more study before coming back in January next year.
The Senate re-refers bills while the House retains them, but both phrases mean the bills will receive additional work and then be brought back at the beginning of the 2020 session.
Some really do need more work and sometimes re-refer and retain are used to put off action for a year and maybe fuel a larger political fire in an election year.
A bill requiring school administrators and teachers to be trained in suicide prevention is one bill the Senate Education Committee believes requires more work before a final vote.
Under the bill, the state board of education is ordered to adopt rules requiring every supervisor, administrator and teacher to have at least two hours of training in suicide awareness and prevention every year.
The bill allows all public school personnel such as maintenance workers and nurses to have the training and gives school districts discretion on how to implement their own program.
Allowing people without Social Security cards to obtain state drivers licenses will also have more review before a final vote next year.
The bill, perhaps the most controversial of the day for the Senate Wednesday, was billed by supporters as a way to help immigrants and refugees but opponents called it a reward for illegal entry into the country.
“This group of people have broken federal laws by either entering the country illegally or by staying past their visas,” said Rep. Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, during the House debate in March.
The Division of Motor Vehicles opposed the bill saying it would open the door to identify theft.
Several other states including Vermont have adopted similar legislation.
House Bill 520 would require any new building or facility or renovations to an existing building over 50,000 square feet used by the public to have one diaper changing station open to all genders.
House Bill 520 was hotly debated in the House earlier this year, passing along party lines 206-142.
The Senate Executive Departments and Administration Committee agreed 5-0 the bill needs some adjustments before a final vote.
Other bills that will have to wait a year before action include setting the guidelines for electrical energy storage devices, allowing swimming at public boat launches, allowing local school boards to set the public school calendar, requiring notification of high drug costs and including climate change in developing the state’s energy strategy.
All of the bills both the House and Senate have and will put off for a year means reporters will have plenty of stories to write come January.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London. InDepthNH.org is New Hampshire’s only nonprofit, online news outlet dedicated to holding government accountable and giving voice to marginalized people, places and ideas.