David Karrick Looks Back on 2014 Legislative Session

NH House finished work on June 4

By David Karrick, NH State Representative

The New Hampshire House finished its work for the current biennium on June 4. The Legislature can be proud of what it accomplished, including a bipartisan budget restoring many of the draconian cuts to education and social services, making healthcare insurance possible for many working families, providing funding to fix roads and bridges, protecting women, children, and pets from violence, and enabling men and women to earn an equal paycheck for equal work.

The Ways and Means Committee, where I serve, met in June and August to look at State Revenues for the next few months. Committee members are concerned that some revenues, especially those from the Interest and Dividends Tax and the Business Taxes, are not meeting earlier projections.

In healthcare, a workable compromise on Medicaid expansion, Senate Bill (SB) 413, reached by the Senate and House is one of the major accomplishments for our less fortunate citizens. The November 2013 Special Session ended without an agreement to expand Medicaid, but in March, a bipartisan plan using federal Medicaid funds to help needy adults purchase private health plans was passed. This will help about 50,000 low-income adults obtain health care coverage. Coverage could expire in three years unless extended by the Legislature.

Everyone was concerned when the state’s Supreme Court ruled against the Medicaid Enhancement Tax, meaning the state would have to find about $200 million to balance the next budget. Fortunately, SB 369, passed by both Houses, implements Governor Hassan’s agreement with 25 New Hampshire hospitals, reducing the state’s liability to under $100 million and ensuring continued healthcare services to New Hampshire citizens.

The Legislature also passed the following bills related to healthcare:

House Bill (HB) 597 requires healthcare providers to have procedures in place to prevent substance abuse or diversion of drugs by employees.

SB 235 requires the state to open a 10-bed psychiatric crisis unit by July 1, 2015. This is only a small step toward bringing mental health services back up to the excellent standards of several years ago.

The Legislature passed the following bills dealing with with domestic violence and violence against women:

HB 1410 allows victims of domestic violence to get temporary protective orders to extend to the family pets if there is an immediate threat.

SB 205 allows a court to order that visitations by juveniles only occur at centers with metal detectors and creates a committee to study procedures.

SB 318 designates domestic violence as a specific crime instead of simple assault or another crime. Responders will then be able to see whether a repeated pattern of domestic violence exists. Both bills were responses to the murder of 9-year-old Joshua Sayvon. His father wasn’t scanned on entering a Manchester YWCA with a gun he used to kill Joshua and then himself. There was overwhelming support for both bills.

SB 253, Termination of Parental Rights. Women becoming pregnant due to rape now are able to request a court to permanently keep the rapist out of their lives.

SB 319 creates Protest Buffer Zones and makes protesting within 25 feet of reproductive health facilities providing abortions illegal. Groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom have filed lawsuits, and the buffer zone is not being enforced until the courts have ruled on the law’s constitutionality.

These are some of the other important bills passed by both houses of the Legislature:

HB 1624, two energy bills combined into one. The first allows the Public Utilities Commission to decide if PSNH can sell off some old plants to save their customers money. The second lays out guidelines to be followed by the state when approving wind projects, including evaluating aesthetic, environmental, and noise effects.

SB 367 increased the state tax on gasoline by 4.2 cents per gallon on July 1, the first increase since 1991. This increase is designated for sorely needed infrastructure improvements all around the state, including roads, bridges, and widening the southern portion of Interstate 93. It also removes tolls at Everett Turnpike Exit 12 and creates a committee to find out whether the Department of Transportation is using its money wisely. Some of the money from the annual increase of about $32 million is already being spent on road construction.

HB 1360: Starting in 2015, talking on a handheld cell phone while driving is illegal. Texting while behind the wheel is already banned by law. Talking on hands-free devices is still permitted, and you can use your phone when legally parked at the side of the road.

HB 1415: Establishes a non-lapsing fund for Robotics Education, providing funding to school districts for developing robotics teams and accepting gifts, grants, and donations to make robotics available to more high school students. In order to get this bill accepted by a House and Senate conference committee, it had to be part of a bill allowing wine and liquor stores to distribute limited free tasting samples to their customers.

SB 240: Allows non-residents to be issued temporary OHRV registrations for 10 consecutive days from May through October at a reduced rate of $34, with funds going to the Department of Resources and Economic Development and the Department of Fish and Game. This will help tourism in Coos County by bringing in even more visitors to the recently developed, interconnected, extensive ATV trail system of over 1,000 miles called Ride the Wilds, the largest in the Northeast.

HB 1282: This hybrid bill establishes minimum inventory registration and reporting requirements for fuel oil dealers offering prepaid contracts for home heating oil and other petroleum products and makes failure to deliver under such contracts a violation of the consumer protection act.

More importantly, it passes on to some towns in Merrimack County House District 25, affected by the Merrimack River Flood Control Compact, the 2012 portion of funds paid to New Hampshire by Massachusetts. Salisbury should receive $25,670 and Webster should receive $8,239.

Funds for 2013 are still owed the towns by the State of New Hampshire. The House Finance Committee recommended killing Senate Bill 370 authorizing the payments, but pressure by some of us got the 2012 portion owed the towns attached to the heating oil bill by a House and Senate Committee of Conference as an amendment.

SB 207, Paycheck Fairness, updates state law to ensure that all workers, regardless of sex, can earn a fair and equal paycheck.

HB 256: Establishes a voluntary $25 Hike Safe Card for Fish and Game search and rescue operations and makes people without the card, a hunting or fishing license, or an OHRV or snowmobile registration liable to Fish and Game for the costs of a search and rescue response.

HB 1555: Makes it a crime to financially exploit the elderly and mandates a prison sentence for anyone doing so more than once.

HB 1624: Raises the juvenile age back up to 18 as suggested by advocates of juvenile justice as more appropriate when sentencing youths convicted of crimes.

I encourage you to contact me if you have questions about these bills or any other legislation. I can be reached at ElectDavidKarrick@nullgmail.com, at 456-2772, or on Facebook.