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Monday, April 29, 2013

Senate Republicans set to dismantle work of House Democrats

CONCORD – The expected dismantling of social legislation approved by the Democratically controlled House of Representatives by the Republican-controlled State Senate is likely to dominate action in the New Hampshire Legislature this week.

In addition, House and Senate committees will continue to grind on through the premier topics of the 2013 session – the proposed, $11 billion two-year state budget, and legislation to legalize betting at a single casino in the state. ...

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CONCORD – The expected dismantling of social legislation approved by the Democratically controlled House of Representatives by the Republican-controlled State Senate is likely to dominate action in the New Hampshire Legislature this week.

In addition, House and Senate committees will continue to grind on through the premier topics of the 2013 session – the proposed, $11 billion two-year state budget, and legislation to legalize betting at a single casino in the state.

In this divided Statehouse, tensions between competing partisan agendas seemed inevitable.

It began to play out two weeks ago when Gov. Maggie Hassan, a freshman Democratic chief executive, lost her first major fight when the Senate refused to pass legislation to get rid of an education tax credit to support private and religious schools.

This should continue Thursday when the Senate has a full plate of House-endorsed bills, 15 of which Senate committees have already recommended either be killed or sent back for more work.

Two bills are related to illegal drugs, one to decriminalize possession of up to one quarter ounce of marijuana (HB 621) and the other to prevent industrial hemp as being classified as a controlled substance (HB 153).

The State Senate is expected to endorse in some form a bill (HB 595) still pending in committee that would legalize the use of medical marijuana for those with painfully chronic conditions.

Senate committees are also recommending political death for bills that would ban the sale of gasoline with corn-based ethanol (HB 362), keep the state from ever approving contracts to privatize its state prison system (HB 443) and legalize the use of chemical cremation of bodies known as alkaline hydrolysis (HB 316).

The prison privatization measure has become moot since the Hassan administration last month rejected a round of private company proposals to manage some or all of the inmate population.

State Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, championed the ethanol bill which would not impose a ban unless two other New England states first acted to take that step.

On Monday, the Senate Finance Committee working on the budget will hear from Public Health Director Katie Dunn about the state of the Medicaid Enhancement Tax and Uncompensated Care program.

The hospitals pay the 5.5 percent MET tax based on bed revenues and in the past had been repaid for the levy because the tax generates matching federal month.

The Republican-led Legislature ended state aid to the hospitals in spring of 2011, bringing about hundreds of layoffs and a reduction in community services.

The MET is shaping up as a big division between the House and Senate in the budget. Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Morse, R-Salem, said the House-approved budget deliberately overestimated what hospitals will pay under this tax and as a result the spending plan is inflated by as much as $150 million.

Other events of note this week include:

Fuel Oil Tax (HB 185): The Senate Ways and Means Committee takes testimony on whether to raise this levy 25 percent – from 1 to 1.25 cents per gallon to support a fund that pays for oil spill cleanups. The House passed this bill two months ago.

The increase would raise consumer costs and build up this fund by $450,000 a year.

Push Polling (SB 196): The House Election Laws Committee takes up a rewrite of the state’s ban on push polling or unidentified calls used to influence voters. The changes are being made in response to a lawsuit former Congressman Charles Bass brought contesting a $400,000 fine levied against his campaign.

Pollsters from both political parties have publicly complained that the state’s law is too restrictive and outlaws legitimate market survey work.

Wind Energy Forum: The House Science Technology and Energy Committee will host an all-day forum on the topic as part of its continued work on bills it decided to hold onto until early next year.

The measures would place a permanent or temporary ban on new construction of wind farms.

Among the speakers Tuesday in the Legislative Office Building event will be Fish and Game Executive Director Glenn Normandeau, National Wind Technology Center Director Fort Felker and executives with ISO New England that manages the electricity grid for the region.

Lead Sinker Ban: The House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee on Wednesday is likely to make a recommendation on this bill (SB 89) to ban the sale of fishing jigs that are one ounce or less in size.

Currently these fishing weights that are one inch or less in size are banned.

Environmentalists maintain the lighter jigs should also be eliminated because they remain by far the leading cause of premature deaths by loons.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).