Mario Ratzki Reports from Concord: April 2014

A rush of action as "crossover" looms

By Mario Ratzki, NH Representative

The Senate Medicaid Expansion bill passed the House on a vote of 202 to 132.

The House sends its bills to the Senate in what is called Crossover with a deadline of March 27. Accordingly, a mad rush is on to finish voting on all our bills by that date. This means two- and/or three-day sessions in Concord.

A good portion of the bills that remain were tabled, referred for interim study, or simply inexpedient to legislate. Some highlights:

HB 1170: Repealing the death penalty in New Hampshire passed the House 225 to 104, a strong bipartisan vote.

HB 1620: Limiting the use of drones to protect privacy rights on a voice vote.

HB 1625: Reducing penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana on a 215 to 92 vote.

HB 1403: Increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 an hour this year and $9 an hour in 2016 on a partisan vote of 173 to 118.

HB 1626: Establishing six casinos in New Hampshire, killed on a 187 to 102 vote, yours truly on the 187 side.

HB 1633: Establishing one casino (supported by the Senate, the Governor, and 60% of New Hampshire voters and yours truly), killed on a vote of 173 to 144.

HB 1307: Prohibiting the State from acquiring military-equipped vehicles failed on a 195 to 138 vote.

HB 1411: Restoring $7 million to Health and Human Services while providing $8 million of surplus money to the rainy day fund passed on a 185 to 153 vote.

I voted against this bill for three reasons: One, I did not want to re-open a budget we had overwhelming approved last year and two, I believed it more fiscally prudent to use our entire anemic surplus ($15 million) to restore our rainy day fund. We were warned by our State Treasurer that in order to retain our excellent bond rating, the rainy day fund should have at least $60 million. The third reason has to do with the following bill:

HB 1635: New Hampshire was accused by the Federal government of having violated the Americans with Disabilities Act regarding mental health programs. A settlement was reached, and the argument was made that paying for it now would save us costs later.

While the argument is sound, it does take another $4 million out of the rainy day fund of $8 million the majority has just voted to put in HB 1411, thereby leaving a paltry $4 million in it. The majority, being aware that this was necessary, should have never transferred $7 million to the Health and Human Services in HB 1411 and instead should have voted to put the entire surplus amount in the rainy day fund. This would have left us with $11 million in the rainy day fund.

I found this whole chain of events fiscally irresponsible, and I therefore voted against this bill as well. The bill passed 173 to 125.

HB 435: This bill increasing funding for public charter schools had already passed the House but was referred to the Finance Committee and came back for a second vote. This bill having a cost attached between $30 and $130 million was referred for interim study on a vote of 167 to 158.

HB 1503: A bill that would increase penalties for a crime committed against a pregnant woman that results in a stillbirth or miscarriage had implications over the definition of a fetus. An amendment that increased penalties but skirted the controversial definition of a fetus passed 176 to 116, the amended bill passing on a bipartisan vote of 243 to 42.

Some bills that passed but received little attention in the press:

HB 1138: Homestead food producers will be allowed to sell up to $20,000 (100% increase) of their products at farm stands, farmers markets, etc.

HB 1130: The State would reimburse towns for the actual costs incurred in fighting forest fires on federal lands instead of at a fixed rate.

HB 1406: Establishing a list of structurally deficient bridges and notifying towns of such bridges.

HB 1571: Allowing women to breastfeed in any place open to the public.

HB 1176: Preventing a rapist from asserting parental rights against the wishes of the victim.

HB 1322: Reducing the threshold from 4% to 3% of the number of votes cast in a preceding election for the definition of a political party.

All House bills will now get their day in the Senate, where their future is uncertain, including the death penalty repeal and the minimum wage.

In Public Works and Highways, we put the finishing touches to the 10 year plan and are expecting SB 367 from the Senate, a road toll increase of 4.2 cents. At this writing, it is still unclear what it will look like.

I am always available at 735-5440 or