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Garry Rayno's State House Dome: Will House, Senate continue the feud?

State House Bureau

May 25. 2013 11:55PM

The next two weeks are critical for this legislative session as the House and Senate prepare to enter negotiations over the different versions of bills they passed this session.

The negotiations look to be fierce and ugly this year, foremost because the House is controlled by Democrats and the Senate by Republicans.

The Republicans' hold on the Senate is by the slimmest of margins - 13-11 - but that makes it easier for the GOP members to stay together to block Democrats' attempts to undo many of the measures the last Republican-dominated Legislature passed, including laws on photo ID requirements for voters, stand-your-ground defense and education tax credits for private and religious school scholarships.

The Senate budget writers have also adopted the last Legislature's mantra of no new taxes and fees to balance the budget that goes into effect July 1.

The Senate last Thursday killed two bills the House passed to increase revenue, a 20 cent tobacco tax increase and a 12 cent increase in the gas tax over three years.

If the manner in which the Senate killed the gas tax is a sign of what's to come, we're in for a very rough ride for the next five weeks. Not only did it reject the Ways and Means Committee recommendation to send the bill back to committee to be brought back next year, it also voted to indefinitely postpone it, which is like sticking two stakes in its heart.

The move was payback to the House for killing the Senate's casino gambling bill and then voting to reconsider it and turning that down, which means it cannot be brought back this session.

Some key House and Senate players had worked out a deal that if gambling passed the House, the Senate would go along with a 4 or 5 cent increase in the gas tax to raise money for road and bridge projects. That increase would at least pay for finishing the Interstate 93 expansion from Salem to Manchester and avoid layoffs at the Department of Transportation.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Rausch, R-Derry, was a co-sponsor of the gambling bill. He had wanted to keep the gas tax bill alive by re-referring it to Ways and Means, but his view did not prevail in the Republican caucus.

On the Senate floor, Rausch let his colleagues know something had to be done. "We're sent up here to solve problems," he said, asserting casino gambling was the "non-tax solution to roads and bridges" that Granite Staters preferred.

The end result of all this is the preferred new funding sources of the Senate - gambling - and the House - gas tax - are both dead for this session. That leaves budget writers in a precarious position.

The House will have an opportunity for payback this week with two bills sponsored by Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford. Senate Bill 153 would require legislative approval for any collective bargaining agreement reached between the executive branch and the state employee unions.

The House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee voted to kill the bill, 11-9. Here's betting the bill fails by a very large majority Wednesday afternoon.

The House Public Works and Highways Committee will also decide on Bragdon's pet project, Senate Bill 3, to eliminate one of the three ramp tolls off the F.E. Everett Turnpike in Merrimack, the largest town in his Senate district.

The chairman of the committee is Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, prime sponsor of House Bill 617, which is the 12 cent gas tax increase the Senate killed Wednesday.

Here's betting the gas tax may show up on this bill.

All this is just the preliminary.


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The Next Big Fight: Now that each body's preferred revenue source has been killed, all eyes are likely to turn to Medicaid expansion for the next big battle between the House and the Senate.

The House and Hassan favor expansion under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare.'' While the Senate has yet to decide, the Senate Finance Committee is not including expansion in its budget proposal.

Expansion would add about 60,000 uninsured residents to the state's Medicaid rolls by increasing eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Expansion would also provide state health care providers with an estimated $2.5 billion over the next seven years when the federal government pays from 100 to 90 percent of the cost of the new Medicaid recipients.

The state would have to spend an estimated $27 million, or possibly nothing, according to state Health and Human Services officials.

But GOP senators have balked at expanding the program, saying the federal government has not lived up to its promises, using special education as an example.

Last week, Bragdon said he wasn't willing to take the risk and proposed a commission study expansion for a year and a half.

He and Morse say they want more information before expanding the program, a frequent refrain from critics.

Supporters - including the Senate Democrats and Hassan - say waiting would mean the state would leave a lot of federal money on the table that otherwise would be going to health care providers, which in turn would cut down on uncompensated care costs for hospitals, which in turn would save both the state and private insurers money.

Friday, it was clear Morse has no intentions of revisiting the issue before the Senate votes on its version of the budget June 6.

The Senate Finance Committee is expected to add its weight to the fight Tuesday when it decides on a bill concerning the state and federal partnership for the state's health insurance exchange required under the Affordable Care Act.

Last week, a subdivision of the House Finance Committee heard testimony on accepting a federal grant to fully fund efforts to provide residents with information and assistance in using the health insurance exchange.

This is setting up to be almost as big a fight as the casino-versus-gas tax battle.

Medicaid expansion will be one of the major sticking points during budget negotiations between the House and Senate.

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Social Media Passwords: The Senate takes up a bill this week that would prevent employers from requiring an employee or prospective employee to divulge his or her password to social media or email accounts.

House Bill 414 would prohibit employers from requesting or requiring that passwords be given them to social media or personal electronic accounts such as email unless they were established through the employer's equipment and accessed using that equipment.

The bill would also prohibit employers from requiring an employee to add anyone to his or her account or from taking disciplinary action against an employee who refuses to divulge his or her password.

The bill would not limit an employer's right to adopt and enforce workplace policies on equipment or Internet use or to monitor an employee's use of company equipment.

A violation of the law would be subject to a civil penalty administered by the Department of Labor.

The 21st century comes to the New Hampshire General Court.

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