From the Dome – February 13, 2013 – Our First Report of the 2013 Session

An Article in the From the Dome Series for the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce. Originally published February 13, 2013.

By: Martin P. Honigberg and Jay Surdukowski

The New Hampshire legislature is back to work in earnest. This legislative alert kicks off our dispatches on the 2013 session – a session that will be dominated by debate and eventual adoption of the next two-year state budget. In addition, both the House and Senate will address hundreds of other bills which have been introduced in the Democratically-controlled House and the Republican-held Senate. In this edition, we bring you an update on Medicaid expansion in New Hampshire; the proposal to double New Hampshire’s Research and Development Tax Credit; a New Hampshire angle on the national gun debate spurred by the recent massacre in Newtown, Connecticut; and finally, a new feature of these alerts we call “G&C Watch.” Many Chamber members responded favorably to last year’s “Gov Watch” feature, which tracked the wide-open race for governor. In G & C Watch, we will bring timely news to you of significant developments from the Executive Council and the Governor’s Office.

I. To Expand or Not to Expand? Should New Hampshire Expand Medicaid?

Legislators and members of the public clashed at a recent hearing before the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee, which is considering a bill proposed by former House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mt. Vernon, to bar the State of New Hampshire from participating in an expanded Medicaid program. By way of background, part of the Affordable Care Act sought to expand insurance coverage to low income working people by funding expansion of state Medicaid programs. New Hampshire currently has 170,000 uninsured residents. 58,000 would become eligible over seven years under the Affordable Care Act’s expansion, with the federal government providing $2.5 billion to pay for it. The state would have to budget to spend approximately $85 million (the actual consequence to state budgeting has been estimated at closer to $18 million due to cost-savings in other areas). If New Hampshire accepts expanded Medicaid, the federal government will pay 100% of the cost to new recipients during the first three years and then incrementally decrease payments to 90% by the seventh year.

Proponents of Medicaid expansion cite to a study commissioned by the State Department of Health and Human Services, penned by the Lewin Group (prominent health care consultants). The Lewin Group estimates that 5,100 jobs will be added to the healthcare industry with Medicaid expansion and 700 fewer than that number if the state does not expand Medicaid. Proponents also believe hospitals would reduce the amount of care provided to the poor for free which in turn would minimize cost-shifting that currently occurs. That cost-shifting and drives up premiums for employee health insurance – an issue of great concern to many Chamber members.

Representative O’Brien and other opponents of Medicaid expansion, which include the Republican House leadership, believe that expanding Medicaid is an effort by the federal government to intrude into state finances and begin an “addiction” to federal money which may or may not continue to be appropriated after the year 2020. Representative O’Brien stated: “It is like any other government program: It doesn’t go away. You put the Medicaid needle into your arm…that addiction is not going to go away.” On behalf of the GOP leadership, Representative John Hunt, R-Rindge, also spoke in favor of O’Brien’s bill to bar the expansion of Medicaid, noting that expansion should only be considered when the economy has improved and the state has more money to spend.

Governor Maggie Hassan, an Exeter Democrat, is widely expected to address Medicaid expansion as part of her budget address on February 14, 2013 before a joint session of the House and Senate. Due to the significant potential impact to New Hampshire’s economy (estimated to be an addition of $2.8 billion) we will monitor this debate closely in coming months and keep you informed.

II. R & D Tax Credit Likely to be Doubled

Senator Bob O’Dell, R-Lempster, has sheparded through the upper chamber Senate Bill 1 to increase the pool of money available for the Research and Development Tax Credit to state businesses from $1 million to $2 million. The bill allows a credit against state business taxes for companies that invest in research and development initiatives. In 2012, 111 businesses shared the $1 million available for the tax credit. Majorities in both chambers in the last legislature supported doubling the tax credit, but it failed to become law when the House added an abortion-related amendment to the bill. The Senate had already voted against the House’s amendment as a stand-alone bill and refused to allow it to piggy-back on the popular tax credit legislation, so neither the tax credit increase nor the abortion bill became law.

Governor Hassan campaigned on doubling the R&D tax credit and Senate O’Dell expects the bill to easily pass both Houses and to be signed by Governor Hassan. Who says bipartisanship is dead?

III. Gun Debate, New Hampshire Style

With the tragic images of the December 2012 Newtown Elementary School shooting still fresh in many people’s minds, the New Hampshire legislature is engaged in two emotionally-charged debates relative to guns.

One of the first acts of the Democratically-controlled House was to reinstate the ban on guns in the state capitol. The House Rules Committee split on this issue, with the minority opposing the renewal of the long-time ban, which the Republican legislature lifted as its first act upon gaining power in 2010.

Prompting even more public outcry and debate is the effort by Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Penacook, who seeks to repeal the last legislature’s changes to the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law.

The 2011 Stand Your Ground law extended the so-called “Castle Doctrine,” which states that a person does not have to retreat from intruders at home before using deadly force in self defense. The last legislature expanded the definition to public places where people have a “right to be.” In other words, one could use deadly force anywhere one has a “right to be” without first retreating in an act of self defense. Representative Shurtleff, a long time law enforcement officer, believes it is reasonable to require people to formally retreat in public if it is safe to do so and only then resort to violence. The other two parts of the bill would reverse the definition relative to displaying a weapon as non deadly force (enter “Free Ward Bird” into your favorite search engine for further information) and repeal civil immunity for the use of force under the Stand Your Ground law. This provision is sought to protect “innocent bystanders” who might be maimed or killed in any shootouts ensuing in the “Live Free or Die corral.”

On January 22, approximately 200 people crowded into Representatives Hall (by far the largest room in the State House) to provide over five hours of testimony, mostly in opposition to rolling-back the Stand Your Ground provisions enacted last session. About 300 opponents of Rep. Shurtleff’s bill held a rally at the State House on January 31st. Gun lovers, tea party enthusiasts, and others have been very successful in mobilizing public opinion. One Durham legislator was quoted as noting that he had received well over 500 e-mail messages on the bill with the vast majority not constituents of his. Stay tuned for the outcome of this heated debate.

IV. G & C Watch

In this new feature, we will present select executive branch activities of note. You may have noticed Governor Maggie Hassan’s state-issued van parked in front of the State House well after closing time in recent weeks. That is because she and her staff are hard at work on the budget proposal which will be unveiled on Valentine’s Day. Right now, all of the departments have heart-shaped boxes for the Governor. Like NECCO candy heart messages which can be a mixed bag, the Governor’s budget will show us whom she loves and whom she loves less. We will bring you a special edition of “From the Dome” on the budget address and how you can participate in the budget process.

Firmly signaling that she intends to make good on her campaign vow to govern in a bipartisan and “Lynch-like” manner, Governor Hassan made a prominent Republican her first major appointment. Goffstown resident Jeff Rose, a BAE Systems spokesperson and former staffer to various GOP high officeholders, has been nominated to lead the State’s Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED). Both Democrats and Republicans embraced the nomination with junior United States Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-Nashua) tweeting within minutes of the announcement her enthusiasm for the nomination with multiple exclamation points: “@KellyAyotte: Congratulations to Jeff Rose for his nomination as DRED Commissioner by our Governor – he will do a great job for NH!!!”

Finally, the Executive Council, by a 4-1 vote, reversed a 2012 Council decision to reject close to $4 million in federal funds to conduct a study of passenger rail possibilities from Boston to Concord. This initiative is very popular with the southern commuter population of the state and the three Democrats who were elected to replace the 5-0 Republican Council majority all emphatically campaigned in favor of supporting the passenger rail study. Councilor Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, was the only councilor to vote against the passenger rail study. Councilor Sununu stated that he did not believe New Hampshire could afford rail at this time. Of interest, the matching state portion of the study was approximately $140,000, which was raised entirely with private donations through an effort primarily led by former Democratic State Senator Peter Burling of Cornish. Last year’s rail vote is believed to have at least in part de-railed Senator David Wheeler’s re-election with rail-enthusiastic Nashua being the largest city in Council District 5. Indeed, Councilor Debra Pignatelli of Nashua stated in the aftermath of the February 6 rail vote that last year’s vote to not study rail services was the reason that she sought to reclaim her seat on the council.

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This article was initially prepared for the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce “From the Dome”