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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Hassan says Bragdon’s new job at LGC is uncharted territory for state

Gov. Maggie Hassan said she welcomes a review of the ethics code for the New Hampshire Legislature in the wake of Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, becoming the CEO of the quasi-public, Local Government Center.

Bragdon, 50, announced Friday that he would step down from the top Senate spot once the full Senate picks a replacement for him next month, a change from his original decision. ...

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Gov. Maggie Hassan said she welcomes a review of the ethics code for the New Hampshire Legislature in the wake of Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, becoming the CEO of the quasi-public, Local Government Center.

Bragdon, 50, announced Friday that he would step down from the top Senate spot once the full Senate picks a replacement for him next month, a change from his original decision.

During an editorial board interview with The Telegraph on Monday, Hassan stopped short of saying Bragdon should resign his Senate seat as some leading Democrats have said he should do.

But Hassan said it will be a “challenge” for Bragdon to juggle his work on behalf of citizens in Senate District 11, while leading one of the largest public government insurance risk pools in the country.

“I think it is going to be a challenge for him to balance those various obligations,” Hassan said stressing New Hampshire has a good tradition of its volunteer legislators declaring
conflicts in advance of taking up legislation.

Last month, Hassan signed into state law a bill creating a nine-person panel to review the legislative ethics code and disclosure requirements.

The panel has until Dec. 1, 2014, to issue a final report but may craft interim findings before then.

“I think it is always good to look at the ethics code. I am sure this experience will form that discussion,” Hassan said.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse, R-Salem, is the only declared candidate to replace Bragdon as leader of the Senate in which the GOP holds a 13-11 advantage.

Hassan noted when both were in the Senate during 2008-10, she and Morse sat next to one another.

“We were good friends, and I’m sure we will have a good, constructive relationship,” Hassan said, emphasizing she’ll work with whoever the Senate decides to promote.

On other topics, Hassan expressed confidence an ongoing commission later this fall would come up with a “New Hampshire solution” that convinces the GOP-led Senate to expand health insurance coverage for low-income adults by enrolling them in the Medicaid program.

Hassan did not offer specifics on tweaks that might be made to the Medicaid expansion plan she first proposed last February, which won the support of the Democratically controlled House of Representatives.

In a similar vein, Hassan said there’s consensus more revenue is needed to fix the state’s ailing roads and bridges but finding a source that wins bipartisan support next year will be difficult.

The House approved a 12-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax to pump more money into road construction work while the Senate insisted the investment come from profits of a proposed, single casino operating in the state.

There’s no guarantee the Legislature can avoid the same gridlock during the election-year 2014 session and lawmakers have said they intend to resubmit both proposals in some form.

“That’s a really difficult challenge because then we need to find another source of revenue,” Hassan said.

Hassan said it’s too early to know whether last week’s tragedy at the Manchester YWCA, where a man killed his 9-year-old son and himself, exposed a hole in state laws regarding gun possession by the mentally ill or regulation of nonprofit child centers that host these visits between parents who are locked in stressful custody battles.

“We need to be looking very carefully at how and when people who have experienced mental illness can get firearms. That is something we will continue to work on very closely,” Hassan said. “I think we need to understand the facts of that case fully before we really know the answer to that question.”

And Hassan doesn’t know if a North Country mother and former state worker who requested a longer break to breast-feed her son amounted to a systemic issue or an isolated case, resulting in the mother’s termination and her filing a federal anti-discrimination complaint.

“In general, we should be encouraging employers to support new mothers in the workplace, and that’s something we all need to do,” said Hassan, a mother of two adult children.

Hassan pressed for and got this Medicaid commission within the two-year state budget, and it must make recommendations on the matter by Oct. 15. The first-term Democrat fully expects this will lead to a special session of lawmakers so expansion could be carried out in time for Jan. 1 when all states that agree to expand can get 100 percent federal grants for those made newly eligible.

“I am confident that people on the commission and outside the commission working together will find a way and that they are going to come up with a solution that can get the necessary support,” Hassan said.

New Hampshire is one of about a half dozen states that have yet to decide whether to embrace this Medicaid option that’s a voluntary part of the federal Affordable Care Act.

Also on health care, Hassan said the quasi-public New Hampshire Health Plan should be able to get a $5.3 million federal grant to help New Hampshire consumers who lack coverage sign up for insurance after Jan. 1.

GOP legislative leaders insist this move runs afoul of a 2012 law requiring that the Legislature approve any state steps to accommodate the national health care law.

“We wouldn’t want to be telling nonprofits in this state what kind of federal grants they should apply for,” Hassan said.

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow him on Twitter (@KLandrigan).