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Garry Rayno's State House Dome: Gambling with changes
Proposed changes to Senate Bill 152, which passed the Senate on a 16-8 vote and has the backing of Gov. Maggie Hassan, were outlined by three subcommittees Thursday. The changes would include increasing the state's share of casino profits and how those monies were allocated; changing regulatory oversight; requiring greater investment by the casino developer and protecting charity gambling and existing entertainment centers such as the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord and the Music Hall in Portsmouth.
One proposed change would lower the licensing fee from $80 million to $50 million but increase the state tax on profits from video lottery machines (from 30 percent to 33.3 percent) and table games (from 14 percent to 16 percent).
Another change would require a greater investment by the casino developer and an extension of the license duration from 10 to 20 years. When it was time to renew the license, lawmakers could decide whether casino gambling should continue in New Hampshire.
A third change would limit political contributions by those associated with the casino. The regulatory subcommittee, which proposed this change, also: questioned whether the Lottery Commission should be the lead regulator or a separate agency should be established; said it wanted the attorney general and the Department of Safety to play bigger roles; and said it wanted all rules in place before the license was issued.
The proposed changes did not sit well with the prime sponsor of the bill.
"Never in the history of this Legislature has such a large group been put together to dissemble a piece of legislation and call it righteousness," said Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester. "What is righteousness?"
The joint committee will meet Wednesday to hear from the authors of the proposed amendments, including Rep. Pat Long, D-Manchester, who wants to protect Verizon Wireless Arena from competition from casino entertainment offerings.
The committee expects to decide Wednesday afternoon what to do with the bill. If the first motion by a committee member is to kill the bill, which is a real possibility, then all the discussion about amendments would be moot.
Instead, the amendments would be fought out on the floor of the House, which may vote on the bill May 22.
Some say the vote in the House will fail by 40 to 50 votes; others say it has a real shot at passage.
Regardless, the vote will affect everything from the budget to relations between the House and the Senate for the rest of the session and into next year.
Auto Dealers: Although Senate Bill 126 has not received as much attention as gambling, it has drawn a crowd of vehicle and equipment dealers each time it has been discussed at a hearing.
Under the bill, dealers would not have to improve or change their facilities more than once every 15 years and would be able to charge manufacturers retail prices for labor and parts when performing warranty work.
No other state has the 15-year rule, and unlike other states, New Hampshire would not allow manufacturers to recover the difference between retail and wholesale warranty costs.
The bill, being worked on by the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee, would also allow families to retain dealerships longer because it would add stepchildren and adopted children to the approved lineage.
The bill was firing on all eight cylinders even before the Senate voted, 21-2, to approve the bill. The manufacturers hoped to do better before the House committee, but instead the committee backed even more of what the auto dealers want.
Manufacturers' advertising campaigns opposing the bills have done little to turn the tide.
The committee is expected to vote on the bill Tuesday morning.
RGGI CHANGES: For two years, lawmakers have fought over the state's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which caps carbon emissions from power plants in the Northeast.
While most lawmakers in the last term wanted major changes, former Gov. John Lynch did not. After much posturing by the House and Senate during the first year, cooler heads prevailed in the second term, and the program was revised.
The biggest change shifted the money generated by the sale of allowances away from funding individual energy efficiency projects under the control of a quasi-independent commission to paying for core energy efficiency programs run by the major electric utilities and sending refunds to ratepayers.
This year, the RGGI board of directors voted to lower the emissions cap on fossil fuels. House Bill 306 incorporated the changes approved by the RGGI board, and the House passed the bill on a 190-156 vote in March.
Last week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted, 3-2, to approve the lower cap.
Americans for Prosperity, which opposed the RGGI program since its inception and funded repeal efforts in the past two years, sent an email alert to its members asking: "Are you ready to see your electric rates go up?" The email, from New Hampshire State Director Greg Moore, urges recipients to contact their state senator to voice their opposition.
"Think about how many times you turn on a light each day or how often you turn on your computer to check emails like this one. Can you imagine paying higher rates each month just so a failed program can continue?" he wrote.
Democrats targeted Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, who as a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted against lowering the caps.
Bradley, one of the architects of the state's electric deregulation law, has fought to either eliminate or significantly reduce the RGGI program for the past two years. Bradley has often said his chief concern has been lowering electric rates for New Hampshire consumers both during deregulation and while advocating changes in RGGI.
During the committee's hearing on HB 306, Bradley asked the Department of Environmental Services' Mike Fitzgerald what would happen if the bill did not pass. Fitzgerald responded that New Hampshire would have a difficult time remaining in RGGI long term.
Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein noted Bradley voted against the bill despite knowing it could end the program.
"Even Bradley's Republican colleague didn't vote with him, because they know pulling out of the program would cost the state money for energy efficiency projects that benefit the economy - without having an effect on energy prices," Kirstein said.
The Senate is expected to act on the bill by the end of the month. The outcome may not be as close as the committee vote, however. The RGGI program has enjoyed the support of Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, as well as Sens. Bob Odell, R-Lempster, and Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, and is bound to have the support of nearly all the 11 Democrats.
Tit for Tat: This is the time of year when the House and Senate begin setting strategy for the end game that is fought in the final days of the session.
The biggest battle is the budget, but there are many other battles to be fought over lesser issues, such as a portrait of Dover suffragist Marilla Ricker, who was the first woman to run for governor of this state.
Earlier this session, the House passed a resolution telling the Joint Legislative Historical Committee to acquire a portrait of Ricker and have it hung in the State House, but the Senate has refused to take up House resolutions this session, essentially saying they are a waste of time.
Last week, the House directive on the Ricker portrait was added to Senate Bill 119, which would direct the historical committee to study restoration and preservation of State House flags.
If the Senate wants to restore and preserve the flags, it has to accept the Ricker portrait.
The House tried a similar move with two resolutions the Senate refused to consider: one urging Congress to enhance medical specialty care for New Hampshire's veterans and the other to overturn the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision, which has led to the influx of massive outside spending in elections.
The two House resolutions would have been attached at a Senate resolution supporting special-use permits in the White Mountain National Forest, but that hit a road block.
Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, objected to including his resolution on veterans in the package.
"I'm disgusted with the House trying to use veterans as political pawns here," Baldasaro said. "I understand what you're trying to do, but please don't use veterans as pawns."
The resolution was tabled on a 163-154 vote.
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