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June 30. 2012 10:48PM

Garry Rayno's State House Dome: Photo ID still has federal hurdle


 

FACING POSSIBLE NEGATIVE RULING: Lawmakers and others were celebrating the override of Gov. John Lynch's veto of the photo identification bill, but the celebration may have come a little too early.

The pending law must be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice because any significant changes in state election laws — and requiring photo identification is a significant change — have to be reviewed.

New Hampshire — the only Northern state affected — and 15 other states are subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which seeks to eliminate discriminatory voting practices that bar or hinder voting by minorities.

New Hampshire was snagged in the 1968 presidential election when 10 towns were identified with less than 50 percent of adults voting in the a presidential election, a violation of the act.

The new law needs “preclearance” by the feds before it can be implemented. The Department of Justice has 60 days to make its determination, which could mean the decision comes a couple of weeks before the Sept. 11 primary.

The pending law was sent to the federal agency last week after the override.

The bill has essentially two photo identification procedures: one for this year's elections (the Senate version) and much more restrictive procedures for elections after September 2013 (the House version).

Some wonder whether the DOJ will give a split decision by okaying this year's procedures but not those for future elections.

Nobody believes the DOJ will simply approve the new law. The department has already found several state photo identification laws in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

It has blocked similar laws in Texas and South Carolina. South Carolina is suing over the ruling.

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STATE REVENUES: Revenues for June — the last month in the 2012 fiscal year — are about $10 million below plan.

A big tourist weekend could make a significant swing in the numbers, but early indications are the lottery and most of the sin taxes are down significantly for the month.

Lottery revenues have been down all year, with a brief respite when the Mega Millions jackpot was setting records. For June, lottery revenue is expected to be down more than $6 million.

Beer, liquor, cigarettes and charity gaming and racing are all below projections for June.

Business taxes, as they have for much of the year, are doing better than anticipated and have cushioned what could have been a more significant shortfall.

However, if revenues do fall short by $10 million, the yearly shortfall could be in the $40 million range, which is just about what the state believes hospitals still owe in the Medicaid Enhancement Tax.

That money is due early this month and probably would be counted in the 2012 fiscal year, but whether the state receives all it believes hospitals owe remains to be seen.

The hospitals and state and federal Medicaid officials have been going back and forth for some time over the tax, and it is anybody's guess what the final outcome will be.

Without the $40 million, the state will most likely end the fiscal year in the red.

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2013 BUDGET QUESTIONS: Today marks the beginning of the state's 2013 fiscal budget year, and it begins with several significant issues.

The most troubling for lawmakers is the Medicaid Managed Care Program, which is projected to save $16 million during the fiscal year.

Lawmakers approved the program in 2011, but its implementation has been slowed by more than a few speed bumps.

A protracted battle over the contracts for three companies to run the program lasted into early summer, though it was supposed to be finalized just after the first of the year.

All that has been settled, but what has not is the waiver the state needs from the Center for Medicaid Services to actually put the program in place, scheduled to happen Jan. 1.

Ten of the state's major hospitals sued the state over Medicaid reimbursement rates and the reduction in money hospitals receive under the disproportional-share program that helps hospitals with the cost of patients who do not or cannot pay their bills.

Those hospitals and others are pushing the federal center not to approve the waiver, believing the managed care program would further reduce the money they receive for services they provide Medicaid patients.

Without the waiver and the managed care program, that is a potential $16 million hole.

Lawmakers already know about a $48 million settlement with the federal Medicaid office over an issue dating back to 2004, when Craig Benson was governor.

The settlement is spread over 24 months, but $27 million of it is owed in the 2013 fiscal year and was not included in the biennial budget.

House Speaker William O'Brien believes the Department of Health and Human Services should find the money in its budget, but others do not think that is possible.

Other potential problems include the prohibition against taxing Internet access and greater tax deductions for businesses. Together, they account for a $10 million to $15 million hole that will need to be made up somehow.

In New Hampshire, it is never easy to raise money.

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NO FREE TICKETS: The Legislative Ethics Committee has ruled lawmakers and staff cannot accept free tickets to the circus.

House Chief of Staff Greg Moore asked the committee for a ruling on bulk gifts to legislative offices, his intention being to redistribute the tickets to lawmakers and staff.

At issue are 400 (aren't there 400 members of the House?) free tickets to circus performances.

Printing on the free tickets indicates the value to be $7.50, which is well within the $25 limit on gifts; however, the total value of the 400 tickets is $3,000.

The promotional material noted the tickets are intended to admit one child free, and each ticket allows one adult free admission, as well.

A telephone call to the circus indicated the value of an adult ticket was $32, which brought the total to nearly $40.

Ethics Committee Chairman Marty Gross noted none of the exemptions to the law prohibiting gifts greater than $25 applied. The exemptions are for such things as charity or political events.

Explaining the committee's 7-0 decision, Gross wrote: “Nothing in RSA 15-B or the Ethics Guidelines distinguishes between gifts to individual legislators and legislative offices, even where the intent of the donor is redistribution to individual legislators or employees. On the contrary, to create such a distinction would open up a new loophole in the law, whereby donors could use substantial gifts to curry favor, merely by enlisting a legislative official, officer or employee to receive the bulk donation, and then act as intermediary for distribution of tickets in amounts less than $25 to individual legislators and employees.

“This would also require the official or employee to put a value on the individual ticket and to police distribution so that no individual would receive tickets in excess of that amount. It would also create the appearance of a patronage opportunity for the recipient of the bulk gift.”

With no distinction in the law, no bulk donation worth more than $25 would be allowed, he said.

So lawmakers can cross off free admission to the circus and to other attractions, as well, including the New Hampshire Motor Speedway and other racetracks, Fisher Cats and Monarchs games.

It's just not as much fun being a “volunteer legislator” as it once was.

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ACA ADS TO AIR: Conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity will spend $9 million nationwide, including money here, responding to the Supreme Court ruling on the federal health care reform law.

A television ad began airing Friday in New Hampshire, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

“President Obama's health care law is irresponsible and unaffordable. It is bad policy for our country, and if the Supreme Court will not rule it unconstitutional, then it is up to Congress to fully repeal the legislation,” said AFP-NH state Director Corey Lewandowski.

“At Americans for Prosperity-New Hampshire, we will continue to fight against this policy until Washington, D.C., finally responds and throws out this harmful law.”

This is likely the first of what are bound to be many more millions spent by both sides of the issue in this, an election year.

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Garry Rayno may be reached at grayno@unionleader.com.


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