CONCORD — Partisan disputes before a key House committee Wednesday demonstrated the increasing likelihood that the 2020 legislative session could end abruptly this month.
House Speaker Stephen Shurtleff, D-Concord, convinced his Democratic colleagues to back his plan to extend deadlines for acting on House bills to June 30.
“Right now we don’t have rules to finish out the rest of the session,” Shurtleff said.
The House Rules Committee voted, 5-4, to adopt Shurtleff’s plan.
The new schedule calls for the House to wrap up work on its own bills on June 11, when the full membership meets for a session at the Whittemore Center at the University of New Hampshire.
The House would then have to act on all Senate bills by June 25 and complete its remaining work by June 30.
But all House Republicans on the panel opposed this move. They maintained they were not included in talks to bring the Legislature back since it ended sessions in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It appears as if the process was abandoned and decisions were made exclusively by your legislative team and you informed us after you finished. This was not supposed to be how it was going to work,” said House Republican Leader Dick Hinch of Merrimack.
GOP minority has power
Although Democrats control the majority in the House, the deadline changes will require a two-thirds vote.
So if House Republicans maintain their opposition, the deadlines will not be adopted and virtually all pending legislation in the House and the Senate will die.
The same rules committee turned back a priority of House Republican leaders, a bill that would suspend a law to raise the state’s two main business taxes next Jan. 1.
The pandemic has caused state revenues to plummet.
The current state budget includes a provision that calls for those business taxes to go up if state revenues fall at least 6% short of their estimates.
“This is not rocket science; it is a way to demonstrate the Legislature is focused on jobs and we want to help our small businesses rise out of this pandemic,” Hinch said.
Biz tax hikes now likely
Rep. Lucy Weber, D-Walpole, said the precise rate of state taxes on business profits and business activity will not affect hiring decisions.
“I think it is very unlikely the change in the businesses’ tax rates is going to make a difference whether they are going to remain in business or not, because there are many other stressors that affect this decision,” Weber said.
Gov. Chris Sununu has urged the Democratic-led Legislature to block any business tax hikes.
After the 6-4 vote against his plan, Hinch said he would take this fight to the full House on June 11.
The rules panel endorsed discussion of a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would allow the Legislature in the future to meet remotely during any state or federally declared emergency.
“I never thought I would see the day we would not be able to meet in our historic chambers, where we have met since 1819,” Shurtleff said.
If the Legislature endorses this amendment, it would go to the voters as a question on the general election ballot in November.
House Republicans on the panel opposed taking this up and said any change to the Constitution should not be rushed through the Legislature.
All 10 committee members did endorse considering a final bill that would permit bars and restaurants to sell “growlers,” which are refillable, glass containers of beer.
Rep. Andrew Prout, R-Hudson, said his measure would help these businesses struggling during the pandemic and help them sell beer from kegs that has a shelf life before it’s got to be thrown out.