By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Addressing the shortage of affordable housing in the state, the first InvestNH contracts were approved for six municipalities working on improving the permitting process and making room for new housing by the demolition of dilapidated buildings in their communities.
Gov. Chris Sununu also announced that he is nominating longtime Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards to be a judge in the Superior Court.
At the Executive Council meeting Wednesday, Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, D-Concord, pressed the governor and Attorney General on abortion issues nationally, urging them to take decisive action to protect access for women.
WARMINGTON PRESSES ON ABORTION PILL
Warmington asked Attorney General John Formella to join a multi-state suit following last Friday’s ruling by a federal judge in Texas which issued an injunction staying the FDA’s decision to approve the abortion drug Mifepristone.
She said 17 states and the District of Columbia have joined the case Washington vs. FDA and that the judge issued an order which would effectively protect those states from the effects of that Texas decision.
“Can you answer why New Hampshire has not joined that lawsuit?” Warmington asked.
Formella said, “We are looking at it very closely” and nothing has yet changed in terms of the “status quo” as there is a seven-day stay on the Texas order.
Formella said he will consult with the governor before deciding “soon” on whether or not to join that suit with those states but noted that the case Warmington referred to did not start as a case responding to the Texas order.
Formella said nothing has yet changed but acknowledged “an uncertain legal landscape” and said judges went far beyond where they had to go and that he has read both decisions.
“I certainly didn’t have any reason to think those two decisions would come out on the same day and become…entirely contradict each other.”
He said his team is looking at the next best steps “but we were all caught by surprise.”
Warmington urged Sununu to join the multi-state lawsuit to “protect the women of New Hampshire from this over-reaching, inappropriate and dangerous decision from Texas. There are other steps you should be taking as governor to protect the women of our state. I have called on you after the Dobbs Decision to issue an executive order protecting providers, that issue is right in front of us now. Providers in this state that prescribe that drug are going to be at risk of prosecution from other states. Women who come here for services will be at risk for prosecution so I urge you to look at that,” Warmington said.
She also urged Sununu to work to protect abortion rights in the state by guaranteeing the right to those services in the upcoming budget. Currently, the state allows abortion up to 24 weeks.
Almost two years ago, Sununu signed a budget that included for the first time in modern history limitations on abortion in New Hampshire.
Warmington noted that the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 3-2 this week to recommend opposition to a bill that would repeal the existing law which criminalizes doctors who perform abortions after 24 weeks.
Sununu has said he supports it and the House voted narrowly to support it but it comes before a 14-10 Republican-dominated Senate on Thursday.
Warmington urged the governor to work hard to ensure that the Senate passes the bill when it comes before them.
“I would urge you, urge you to re-look at that and make sure you push the legislature to remove those criminal penalties. The damage that that’s doing to our entire maternal-fetal health care system cannot be overstated. We are losing providers. No one wants to come to a state where they can be criminally prosecuted for providing the healthcare they are trained to provide and that is the standard of care. So I urge you to look at that and I urge you to please do not sign a budget that does not include a codification of Roe v. Wade.”
Sununu did not respond, other than to ask for “further discussion” of the council, of which there was none.
LEGISLATURE’S $35M ENERGY ASSISTANCE PROGRAM FLOPS
The legislature’s new state energy assistance program stood up this fall did not work well, state officials confirmed. It is separate from the the successful LIHEAP Program.
The one created by the legislature did not see the uptick they thought due to high energy costs.
While Sununu proposed a more ambitious proposal the legislature changed that and based it on income verification for a demographic that doesn’t usually apply for assistance funds.
Comparatively, however, the LIHEAP program, administered by regional Community Action Programs which offer low-income heating and electric assistance saw an upswing of 4,000 more households this past winter.
Warmington criticized the DHHS for not sounding the alarm that the legislature’s new program, which uses federal ARPA funds, was not doing well.
Sununu said the legislature came up with another idea “and it was a terrible idea. We were really stuck with a bad idea and a bad program.”
He said the timing in September was not ideal to stand up a new winter program
But this target group who earn between 60 and 75 percent of the median income are not people who were interested, for whatever reason.
ANNE EDWARDS NOMINATED
Sununu nominated Associate Attorney General Anne M. Edwards of Milford to be a Superior Court judge.
Edwards has 33 years of experience in the law and has been a long-time member of the staff at the Department of Justice.
A public hearing on her nomination will likely be held within the next few weeks before the Executive Council meeting on May 3, when they could vote on confirmation.
The council on Thursday confirmed Denis Goulet of Manchester for another term as commissioner of the state Department of Information Technology.
INVESTNH GETS GOING
The communities getting the first InvestNH funds include Berlin, Claremont, Swanzey, Laconia, Troy, and Littleton.
The Executive Council approved $640,040 for demolition projects in Berlin, Claremont, and Swanzey and $1,370,000 to the four other municipalities as incentive reward payments for expedited permitting for future projects.
In all, the funds will support the development of about 221 new units at a time when the vacancy rate in the state for the rental of two-bedroom units is below 1 percent.
InvestNH, which was created last year to address affordable housing needs, uses $100 million in federal American Rescue Act funds to accelerate the approval and construction of affordable workforce housing in New Hampshire.
About $60 million is for the development of multifamily rental housing that is affordable to individuals and families at or below 80 percent of the area median income.
About $40 million will provide grants to communities that approve these projects, grants to update or review zoning, and dilapidated building demolition grants.
No grants have been issued yet for developers and/or owners of multi-family rental housing of three or more units per structure that add housing stock, which will be used for long-term residential rentals only.
Communities will receive $10,000 per unit where permits were expedited and $35,000 for each demolition.
To expedite the permitting process Laconia will receive $120,000 for 12 units at 57 Blueberry Lane; Troy will receive $290,00 for 29 units at 30 Monadnock St.; Swanzey will receive $840,000 for 84 units at 10 Perry Lane and Littleton will receive $120,000 for 12 units at 156 and 160 Bronson St.
Demolition projects making their communities money include seven in Berlin at 426 Burgess St., 37 Cambridge St., 373 and 422 Champlain St., one on Hillsboro Street, and two more at 827 Western Ave and 98 Hillside Ave.
In Claremont, there will be three demolitions getting state InvestNH credit at 150 Chestnut St., 111 and 119 Main St., and in Swanzey, one demolition at 60 Summer St.
Taylor Caswell said this is the first traunch of funds allocated for the InvestNH and the council will continue to see more grants. In the pipeline, he said, is about $10 million worth of applications that are going through the process of eligibility.
All funds need to be obligated by the end of 2024.
The New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs will administer the program.
For questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The council also approved through the Community Development Finance Authority $500,000 for affordable housing development in Conway at 10A Pine Street and $1 million for the development of eight units of permanent supportive housing at 120 Pleasant St. in Concord.
CHILD CARE GRANTS AWARDED
The council approved $3.6 million of about $30 million in federal funding available to expand child care which is considered a need in New Hampshire.
The state has 727 programs with 44,667 spots and it is improving that number by about 10 new programs, HHS officials confirmed. Some were programs that were reopening after the worst of COVID-19.
The state is offering one-time grants to childcare providers who apply “to strengthen the workforce that delivers that care for New Hampshire parents and their children.”
The authorization is contingent upon legislative Fiscal Committee approval on April 21.
LOW MORALE AT NH HOSPITAL
Warmington said the council received a letter from about 18 social workers at the New Hampshire Hospital depicting “a pretty dire situation” at the state’s behavioral hospital.
She said they cited high vacancy rates, an inability to provide services and people not being able to be discharged in a timely basis, morale and overall workplace difficulties.
Sununu said he doesn’t anticipate it will be long before wage enhancements will be realized there and that likely through the budget process on July 1, pay raises will occur to improve the situation.
LINE OF DUTY DEATH FOR STRAFFORD COUNTY DEPUTY SHERIFF
Without elaboration on the cause of death, Commissioner of Safety Robert Quinn has determined the death of 38-year-old Strafford County Deputy Sheriff Kathleen “Katie” O’Brien of Strafford was in the line of duty on Oct. 2, 2022, and awarded her widower, Newmarket Police Sgt. Steven O’Brien $100,000.
Deputy Sheriff O’Brien was a 12-year veteran who also served North Hampton and Barrington police departments and was noted for working with children and families in crisis and developing a new program using K-9s.
A letter explaining the decision is here. https://media.sos.nh.gov/govcouncil/2023/0412/118%20GC%20Agenda%20041223.pdf
HHS “WHOLE PERSON HEALTH” CONTRACT TABLED
The council voted to table a contract with Integration Sciences, LLC, West Newbury, MA, in the amount of $300,615 to “conduct a behavioral health system crosswalk and gaps analysis in order to identify opportunities for New Hampshire to enhance services, reduce duplication and identify potential programmatic, funding, and policy opportunities that lead to improved integration within the behavioral health system and other healthcare and social systems to promote whole-person health.”
Warmington asked why Keene State College, another bidder, was not awarded the contract when it bid about half the amount and scored comparably.
Katya Fox, director of the division of Behavioral health within DHHS, said the decision was not based on costs.
Warmington asked for the contract to be tabled.
“It’s $150,000 of taxpayer money. I would like more information on how that score was designed,” Warmington said.
Fox said she would work with the team to see what points of information can be disclosed.
Due to a ski season that was down 20 percent in terms of revenue and visits, Cannon Mountain is going into its own prior funds for $525,000 in unanticipated additional expenses. The council approved the authorization from the prior year carry forward funds, which also requires approval from the Fiscal Committee.
WILD NH DAY IS SATURDAY
The state’s largest free outdoor event of the year will be held this Saturday at the NH Fish and Game Headquarters on Hazen Drive in Concord. It’s called Wild NH Day and involves live animal displays, information on hunting and fishing, and non-profit groups aimed at getting folks outdoors.
BEACH GRADING AND CAMPGROUND REDESIGN APPROVED
The council approved $36,880, to perform beach grading at Hampton Beach State Park and authorized the Division of Parks and Recreation to enter into a contract with Sno Engineering, Inc., doing business as SE Group of Burlington, VT, in the amount of $980,000 for Phase 2 of a Two-Phase Design Project to expand New Hampshire State Park campgrounds.
The money is all from federal funds.
50 YEARS OF STATE SERVICE MARKED FOR RENE PELLETIER
Thursday marks 50 years of state service for Rene Pelletier at the Department of Environmental Services.
Pelletier has served primarily in the Water Division and is a regular at the council meetings.
Bob Scott, the commissioner told the governor and council of the landmark and the governor asked “What does he get?”
There was no answer.
NEW LEGISLATIVE PARKING LOT
The council approved an agreement with Scott + Partners, Inc., of Essex Junction, VT, for $2,313,083 for the design and construction administration of the new legislative parking garage in Concord at the site across the street from the Legislative Office Building, now housing the Department of Justice.
The agreement includes a contingency of $236,308 for unanticipated design expenses.
The new building will use one-time federal funds for its construction.
NEXT MEETING MAY 3
The next meeting of the Governor and Council will be in three weeks on May 3.