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Landrigan
Sunday, June 1, 2014

Agreement with hospitals provides boost for NH governor’s reputation

Kevin Landrigan

The new deal between the hospitals and state retaining the Medicaid Enhancement Tax marks a big victory for Gov. Maggie Hassan.

The Exeter Democrat took some heavy hits over the last six weeks for failing to articulate support for any approach to fixing this potentially unconstitutional tax, even as the House of Representatives and Senate adopted different approaches. ...

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The new deal between the hospitals and state retaining the Medicaid Enhancement Tax marks a big victory for Gov. Maggie Hassan.

The Exeter Democrat took some heavy hits over the last six weeks for failing to articulate support for any approach to fixing this potentially unconstitutional tax, even as the House of Representatives and Senate adopted different approaches.

Meanwhile, Hassan was working hard behind the scenes, meeting with hospital executives and their lawyers in hopes of reaching an agreement that could halt expensive and dangerous lawsuits in state and federal court.

To be sure, legislative leaders in the House and Senate were holding their own shuttle diplomacy talks with hospital officials. But only the governor was held the executive authority to provide the hospitals assurance that she could make an agreement become a legislative reality.

Hassan has taken some shots for staying in the background during the legislative give-and-take –
following rather than leading.

But in her own publicly soft-spoken style, Hassan led big-time on this occasion, and as a result will have a significant achievement that should put the state on more solid financial footing in the future.

Meanwhile, legislative negotiators who sanctioned the deal Friday couldn’t have made it more obvious that they were essentially out of the loop.

The conference committee sessions spread over two days contained no debate and little display by the legislative leaders that they even understood the complex formula that Hassan and hospital lawyers had reached.

Mixed reviews for Brown

According to the national punditry, U.S. Senate candidate Scott Brown has gone through a rough period despite the fact he received the endorsement of three of the most prominent Republicans this state has produced in a long time: U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte and former Govs. Steve Merrill and Craig Benson.

Chris Cillizza, of the Washington Post’s “The Fix’’ blog, summed up Brown’s chances this way:

“Brown has been extremely undisciplined on the trail. I feel like his chance is the political environment totally collapsing for Democrats this fall.’’

An even more partisan views was from American Crossroads President and CEO Steven Law, of the conservative special interest group that has bankrolled many a GOP candidate in recent elections across the U.S.

“Brown is one that the conventional wisdom in D.C. has been saying lately, ‘Oh, no, it’s over,’ ’’ Law said.

Yet during the same interview, Law identified Brown as the one GOP candidate from around the country who could surprise the Beltway Crowd this fall.

“I think that Scott Brown is going to end up being a really, really competitive candidate,’’ Law said.

Down to defeat

When the smoke cleared at the end of week of conference committee negotiations, it looked like about 10 bills would go down to defeat.

This is a slightly larger number than in a typical year, but there were few significant issues that got to this stage.

House and Senate leaders wisely managed to avoid having the issues they wanted the most falling victim to the vagaries of these high-level talks, which can collapse because of the ego a single lawmaker.

AG office’s work fruitful

Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, proved to be someone who keeps up his end of the bargain.

During the last state budget, Morse became involved in the long-standing dispute New Hampshire has with Massachusetts over the latter state paying the former its share of flood control costs.

So Morse gave Attorney General Joseph Foster’s office a tight deadline to try to get the Bay State to pony up some money.

The AG’s office missed the deadline by a month, but came back bearing gifts – a $1.1 million check from Massachusetts.

It isn’t all of what the state owes New Hampshire communities, but it’s a pretty good down payment.

As a result, Morse insisted that the compromise Merrimack and Connecticut River flood control project bill worked out at the end of last week contained something for Foster’s office.The compromise (HB 1282) spells out that $250,000 of the settlement must go to the AG’s office to cover its litigation expenses.

Restricting the DEA

It’s a long way from becoming law, but supporters of marijuana legalization efforts were celebrating into the early morning hours Friday after a historic U.S. House vote.

The House voted 212-189 to approve an amendment to restrict the federal Drug Enforcement Administration from targeting medical marijuana operations in states where it is legal.

New Hampshire’s two members of Congress, Democrats Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter, backed the proposal, which did have a modicum of House Republican support – about 40.

The amendment was attached to to an omnibus spending bill.

“Congress is officially pulling out of the war on medical marijuana patients and providers,” Dan Riffle, director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. “Federal tax dollars will no longer be wasted arresting seriously ill medical marijuana patients and those who provide to them.

“This is a historic vote, and it’s yet another sign that our federal government is shifting toward a more sensible marijuana policy.”

The measure still has to pass the Senate and, President Barack Obama has yet to weigh in on it, as well.

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