Distant Dome is co-published by InDepthNH.org and Manchester Ink Link
By GARRY RAYNO, Distant Dome
Lawmakers are about to return to Concord representing a new beginning with the House and Senate in Democratic hands for the first time since the 2009-2010 term.
The change invigorates some who believe their proposed bills have a new lease on life after failing to win support with Republicans in control.
Others persist in revisiting failed issues that have no prospect of ever passing with Democrats holding the gavels.
And then there are others seeking to undo what Republicans accomplished the last two years when they controlled the legislature and Governor’s office for the first time since the 2001-2002 term.
All of these initiatives are found in what are called the LSR’s, which are requests to have a bill drafted. There have been 1,114 requests filed with Legislative Services.
A look at requests which had a deadline of Dec. 3 for House members and Dec. 18 for Senators, reinforces the old adage from the New York Yankees’ sacred sage Yogi Berra “It’s deja vu all over again.”
Gambling has been seriously considered by lawmakers since the 1990s as they sought to pay for public education in the wake of the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s Claremont education decisions – one establishing education as a constitutional right and the other saying the educational funding system of local property taxes was unconstitutional.
However, casino gambling has never passed the House, although the Senate approved it many times.
This session, the Larry Pickett of casino gambling, Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, wants one more roll of the dice.
Pickett tried for years and years to establish the first-in-the-nation state sweepstakes before former Gov. John King signed his bill in 1963 and the first sweepstakes race was held at Rockingham Park in 1964.
Electronic slot machines have faced the same daunting odds, but lawmakers will revisit that issue again as well.
In a new twist, the U.S. Supreme Court this year cleared the boards for sports betting by striking down a federal law prohibiting commercial betting on sports. So Rep. Timothy Lang, R-Sanbornton, and others want the state to enter the pool.
Similarly, increasing the minimum wage above the federal $7.50 an hour has failed to pass the Senate although it has passed the House on occasions. With an all-Democratic legislature, several bills seek to increase the minimum wage although Gov. Chris Sununu remains opposed.
New Hampshire was late to the game, but did approve a medical marijuana program several years ago, and subsequently new ailments have been added to the list of marijuana treatable illnesses. And some lawmakers have unsuccessfully fought to allow patients and their caregivers to grow their own plants.
This session is no different.
Along with approving medical marijuana, lawmakers decided possessing small amounts of pot and hashish are no longer criminal offenses. The penalty is now the equivalent of a speeding ticket.
But the legislature has yet to join surrounding states in legalizing recreational use and taxing it, although the House has passed legalization several times only to watch the Senate snuff out the flame.
Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, has championed legalization and he and others have asked for bills to take the next step.
Cushing, whose father was gunned down by an off-duty Hampton police officer, has long advocated abolishing the death penalty. While lawmakers this year sent the bill to the governor’s desk for the first time in about 20 years, the Senate failed to override the veto by two votes.
With more Democrats in the Senate, an override may be possible in the Senate and also the House. Repealing the death penalty is always one of the biggest issues of any session.
Although universal health care has never found favor with Granite State lawmakers, a number of bills related to the issue have been requested for the upcoming session from study commissions to Medicare for all and a New England-wide compact, although a Sununu veto is likely.
Dead on Arrival
One of the key items on the Republican agenda for a decade or more has been the union busting, right-to-work proposition which had Sununu’s backing after Democratic governors threatened to veto bills, which was enough to kill it in the House.
With many more Democrats in the House and Senate, right-to-work has absolutely no chance of being approved in the 2019 session, but against those odds several representatives want bills that would forbid unions from charging non-union members the cost of negotiating and administering collective bargaining agreements with employers.
One GOP priority currently in place is the systematic reduction in the rates of the business profits and business enterprise taxes.
Supporters argued the reductions would make New Hampshire more competitive with surrounding states in attracting business to the state or to expand here.
However, the reduced rates have come without many Democratic votes over the last few sessions, and several bills would eliminate the reductions and return the rates to their old levels.
Still several representatives introduced bills to continue the downward trend for the business tax rates.
Rep. Kenneth Weyler, R-Kingston, requested a bill to continue reducing the rates and end the business taxes in five years.
Deadly force was controversial when approved by the 2011-2012 legislature, which override former Gov. John Lynch’s veto, which was strongly backed by law enforcement.
Democrats have never been big supporters of deadly force legislation, but several bills have been introduced to expand the state’s law.
Fewer issues drew more attention the past two-year session than changes to the state’s voting requirements which supporters — Republicans — said were needed to combat voter fraud, and opponents — Democrats — called voter suppression.
Consequently, many bill requests have to do with reversing the changes and fine tuning other aspects of the state’s voting system.
The law about to go into effect this year marries residency and voting, which have been tied in the past but constitutional issues arose.
However, the Supreme Court this year gave lawmakers the green light and to legally vote you have to either have lived in New Hampshire for a while or be able to show you intend to remain here in the future by registering your vehicle and obtaining a driver’s license here.
The case has yet to make its way through the court system.
The state’s Medicaid expansion program was extended for another five years, but contained a controversial work requirement, which was instituted two years ago, but the Obama administration nixed it.
The Trump administration approved the program which also moves the newly eligible population into the current traditional Medicaid managed care program and off private insurance.
Several bill requests seek to end the work and other requirements added over the last few legislative sessions in order to secure the votes needed to keep the program — established under the Affordable Care Act — in place.
The program has served between 50,000 and 60,000 low-income, working adults annually since its inception in 2014 and is a key component in the state’s efforts to end the opioid epidemic that claims about one life a day.
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. 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.