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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Special session eyed on expected loss of $35m, redrawing wards

CONCORD – House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, said he would call the House back into special session this fall to deal with a myriad of financial and policy matters, including the likely loss of $35 million in federal Medicaid grants.

The House also will be asked to fix a mistake in the state budget plan that would cut welfare payments to families already getting federal Supplemental Security Income checks.

Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, wants to create a commission to take over a state agency’s job on how to convert Medicaid into a managed care insurance plan.

“I probably will schedule it by late September,” O’Brien said about the session this fall.

Other changes O’Brien said should be taken up before the 2012 session would include closing a loophole and setting firm deadlines for cities to redraw ward boundaries so the Legislature can adjust its election districts to comply with the 2010 census.

Kurk and O’Brien want lawmakers to prevent someone on welfare from getting additional benefits for having another child.

“We are going to now require people to make responsible decisions; if you don’t have enough money to take care of the family you have, you have no more children,” O’Brien said.

The House Rules Committee approved letting more than a dozen proposals come in after the deadline for filing bills.

Many of the proposals will not come up until next year, such as one to make it a state crime for failing to report a missing child in the wake of the Caylee Anthony case in Florida.

Another 2012 bill would form a task force to examine the allegations of state security regulators that the nonprofit Local Government Center should pay back to cities and towns more than $100 million for improper accounting.

Last month, the Obama administration confirmed the state would lose $35 million in Medicaid stemming from a 2004 federal audit that found New Hampshire had gotten more Medicaid than it was entitled to.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Nick Toumpas asked the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to reconsider the action.

House Deputy Democratic Leader Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, said the prudent step is to wait until appeals are exhausted.

“I am wondering why we would allow it in now instead of waiting until we have that final decision,” Wallner asked.

Rep. Lynne Ober, R-Hudson, said the sooner decisions are made on how to cut that much spending without raising taxes, the better for those who rely on state services.

“I think the answer is any time you have to make $35 million of cuts in a very tight budget, the sooner you start looking at it, the sooner you start discussing it, the better you are prepared, I think the better job you are going to do with the least impact,” said Ober, who is vice chairperson of the House Finance Committee.

O’Brien said a reversal by Washington was unlikely and House budget writers need to begin their work now.

“The sword of Damocles is on its way down, and we might want to take some steps aside as it passes by,” O’Brien declared.

Kurk said early legislation could ensure the loss of money can be carried over the entire two-year budget cycle rather than in a single year and see if some cuts to meet this target could take place in other state agencies.

“A $35 million hit to our revenue is a very significant amount, especially after the paring down that has happened on this budget,” Kurk said.

The new two-year spending plan lowered state spending by 11 percent.

These are other matters House leaders wants to come to the full House for a vote this fall.

State employee working conditions: Kurk wants to prevent changes in labor agreements that expressly defy state law. The current budget suspends the right of veteran workers who are laid off to bump someone less senior out of a similar job, but a tentative two-year agreement with the State Employees Association would restore some bumping rights.

Federal health care lawsuit: Rep. Gregory Sorg, R-Grafton, wants a resolution condemning the Supreme Court ruling that it was unconstitutional for the Legislature to force Attorney General Michael Delaney to join the suit more than two dozen states brought against the Obama administration.

Redistricting: Rep. Paul Mirski, R-Enfield, said he’s concerned some cities will not finish adjusting their ward lines in time to be included in redistricting plans for the state House and Senate districts. Nashua and Manchester officials have acted quickly, Mirski stressed, but others have not.

The Legislature is expected next spring to adopt new election districts in time for the statewide elections in November 2012.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com. Also check out Landrigan (@KLandrigan) on Twitter and don’t forget The Telegraph’s new, interactive live feed at www.nashuatelegraph.com/topics/livefeed.