By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — Democratic and Republican House leaders met Monday without a resolution that would allow the House and Legislature to continue their work this session.
The Legislature suspended its work in mid-March when the coronavirus began spreading across the state, but did not change its deadlines for acting on bills. The House is expected to meet again June 11 at the Whittemore Center on the University of New Hampshire’s Durham campus.
Without changing House rules, every bill would require a two-thirds majority for approval. While Democrats control the House they do not have enough votes for a two-thirds majority.
Last week, the House Republican caucus voted not to agree with the rule change because House Minority Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, said the Democratic leadership “boxed them out” of discussions about the session and policy priorities for the remainder of the session.
He decried the lack of communication from the Speaker’s Office, but House Speaker Stephen Shurtleff called that statement “preposterous and an outright lie.”
The GOP’s action would block action on any proposed legislation for the rest of the year including bills to address COVID-19 and budget issues.
Shurtleff said Monday he asked to have the meeting for more transparency and to discuss what could be done.
After the meeting, he said the leaders would continue meeting prior to the June 11 session although he said he was not given any assurances.
“Today, I sat down with the leaders of both parties to discuss the upcoming session and any questions or concerns they might have about the process moving forward,” Shurtleff said. “I have been proud of the work our committee chairs have done with their ranking members to ensure the House can have a productive end to the legislative session but also took concerns from the Republican leadership seriously.”
Shurtleff said he also invited the Republican leadership to the Whitttemore Center for a second time to explore the space and for a walkthrough before the June 11 session.
“Though I received no assurances today that Republicans would let the New Hampshire House of Representatives finish off the session in an orderly fashion,” Shurtleff said, “I remain hopeful that come June 11th we will be able to finish our work. “
Last week, the Republicans said they would ask the Rules Committee this week to introduce a bill that would block business tax rate increases that would go into effect at the end of the year.
The rate increases were part of an agreement between Gov. Chris Sununu and Democratic leaders that led to a compromise on the state’s two-year operating budget the governor vetoed.
Under the budget law, business tax rates would increase if business tax revenues are 6 percent or more below estimates for the fiscal year that ends June 30.
Due to the coronavirus, the shortfall in business tax revenues is expected to trigger the rate increases.
A bill to change the budget law would also require a two-thirds majority to pass if the deadline rules are not changed.
The House would be able to vote to concur with Senate changes to House bills, which would send them to the governor because a simple majority would be needed for approval.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org