Ken Wells Reports From Concord

By Ken Wells

During the last few weeks, the House has voted on hundreds of bills. There are several dozen bills still to go before the deadlines looming late in March. Some bills were passed or shot down on quick voice votes, and others had hours of speeches and debate. Here are a few highlights, and I apologize that there isn’t time or space to summarize all the important work being done.

The House passed a bill to help fund education and provide some relief from local property taxes. In this bill, money is raised for education by extending the current 5% tax on interest and dividends, to capital gains on the sale of stocks and securities.  This would effect some very wealthy individuals who make more than $25,000 in capital gains alone, and would generate tens of millions of dollars.

A bill that failed was an attempt to abolish the State-Wide Education Property Tax (SWEPT). While this bill, HB676, aimed to reduce local property taxes, the bill did not have a way to prevent the $363 million loss of school revenue caused by abolishing SWEPT from falling right back onto the towns. Work to lower property taxes while properly funding adequate public education is continuing; I’ve attended working sessions as the Education Committee’s bills are vetted by Finance and I hope there will be good news to report next month.

The House protected our local environment and jobs by blocking HB157, another attempt to kill the biomass energy industry in New Hampshire. As you recall, last fall the legislature overrode the Governor’s veto of SB356. In overriding the veto, they restored the market for wood chips produced by our local forest industry. Opponents of wood chip-fired biomass power plants tried again this session to kill it, by essentially halving the price paid for biomass – so low it would be uncompetitive with natural gas. At such a low price, it would be unprofitable to chip and transport the wood waste out of the forest. It’s important to consider that natural gas, while cheap, is not a New Hampshire product, so purchasing it sends money out of our state. In contrast, wood chip biomass is a local product, and purchasing it puts dollars in New Hampshire forest workers’ pockets and helps maintain the health of our timberlands by removing the slash that would otherwise increase fire danger if it remained in the forest.

The House passed HB166 to continue the Public Utility Commission’s role in negotiating fair electric rates with the utilities and in funding energy efficiency programs. Many Andover area residents will recognize NHSaves and Weatherize Kearsarge as energy efficiency programs supported by this legislation. (There are often Beacon articles about these programs, if you want to find out how they can help you too, to save energy and money!)

The House ensured all people would be protected from discrimination by passing HB446 which makes it easier to change gender markers on birth certificates.

The House voted to enact HB186 for a minimum wage in New Hampshire. This will help families afford a good place to live, put food on their table and purchase goods and services. Families having more money to spend will help stimulate our economy as well. Wages will increase yearly from today’s $7.25/hour, to $9.50, then $10.75 and $12.00. It is important to know that an exemption was made for seasonal farm workers, so local farms will not be severely impacted.

The House has a visionary role as well as well, gazing three decades into the future.  The House voted to establish a committee to study how New Hampshire can move toward generating at least half of its energy from renewable sources by 2040.  It is exciting to imagine that New Hampshire, long famous for the high winds screaming across Mt Washington, also has access to North America’s best off-shore wind resource, 10 to 50 miles off our coast, beyond the horizon and the Isle of Shoals. Offering more potential power than 160 Seabrook nuclear power plants, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine a determined New Hampshire becoming the “Kuwait of Wind”! Developing this resource would ensure decades of maritime activity in northern New England’s only deepwater port, Portsmouth, with lots of high-paying jobs throughout the state for our tech and construction workforce, and plenty of jobs feeding, housing, educating and entertaining that workforce.

As I write this, your representatives have been putting in extra-long days to get bills through second committees, racing to complete all the House bills before the deadline just ahead. (I’m certainly glad that my home is in Andover, and not many hours drive from the State House, as is the case for many representatives! ) Tomorrow there will be forty-one bills heard, and I want to say thank you to the many people who have phoned or written to let me know their points of view on many of these important issues. As always, you can call me at 735-5756 or email at