By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — A bill containing the $4.1 billion update of the state’s 10-year Transportation Improvement plan was signed into law Friday by Gov. Chris Sununu, along with several other bills.
The omnibus transportation and safety bill also contains changes to commercial driving statutes and allows for better license data sharing with other states in reaction to the accident about a year ago in Randolph that claimed the lives of seven motorcyclists.
And the bill would allow “roadable aircraft” or cars that fly to register and use state roads but only land and take off from airstrips.
The provision would be the first of its kind in the country.
“This carefully crafted, bipartisan legislation is the result of the collaborative efforts of the House Public Works Committee, the Senate Transportation Committee, and NHDOT Commissioner Victoria Sheehan and her team,” said Senate Transportation Chair Sen. David Watters, D-Dover. “This legislation will strengthen our economy through the 10-Year Highway Plan, keep our roads safe, and support career and technical education.”
The transportation improvement plan spends about the same amount of money as in the past, but rearranges some of the bonding, and suspends the betterment program (highway and bridge maintenance and preservation) for the next fiscal year to allow flexibility for the Department of Transportation which is facing reduced revenues due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the plan, the three cents of the gas tax for the betterment plan would be suspended, and the amount of money going to cities and towns would increase above the 12 percent they normally receive. The state would issue $35 million in bonds for municipal bridges.
Under the “financially constrained” plan, some projects would be delayed for two years including the proposed expansion of I-93 from Bow through Concord.
Of the $4.1 billion, $3.1 billion is for highways and bridges, while the remaining $1 billion is for rail lines, public transportation, state and municipal airports, turnpike renewal and replacement projects and the Capitol Corridor Rail Project, linking the state by rail to Boston.
The bill would also provide $2.55 million to finish work on the Wilbur H. Palmer Career and Technical Education Center located at Alvirne High School in Hudson.
“The transportation improvement plan is critical to the long-term planning of New Hampshire’s roadways and transportation infrastructure,” said House Public Works and Highways Committee chair, Rep. John Cloutier, D-Claremont.
“It is important to note that most House Republicans tried to block this plan from even reaching the governor’s desk, which would have increased costs and delayed important projects like removal of the Merrimack toll booth.”
The bill had unanimous support in the Senate and passed the House 198-124.
A bill establishing a committee to study the safety of residents and employees in long-term care facilities, clarify cost controls in those facilities, and ensure facilities can be reimbursed from Medicaid for training nurses was signed into law.
House Bill 578 seeks to investigate why about 80 percent of COVID-19 deaths in New Hampshire have occurred in long-term care facilities and nursing homes.
“From the beginning of this pandemic, our nursing homes and long-term care facilities have felt the devastating impacts of COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates,” said Senate Health and Services Committee vice chair. Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth. “We must put a stop to this heartbreaking trend.”
The bill passed the Senate unanimously and the House 282-43.
A bill to eliminate a check box on a job application asking if the person has a criminal record was also signed into law by Sununu.
“Discriminating against an applicant for employment because they have a criminal record is wrong and not how our criminal justice system is supposed to work,” said Rep. Brian Sullivan, D-Grantham, House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee chair. “This practice perpetuates cycles of recidivism and unemployment among people who were formerly incarcerated.”
But he noted more work remains to be to expand protection for employees.
The bill passed the Senate unanimously and the House 192-137.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.