CONCORD — The State Senate returns Tuesday for its first session in three months as leaders hope to pass a few dozen bills while meeting in Representatives Hall, the cavernous chamber of the House of Representatives.
Senate President Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, decided to have her 24-person legislative body convene in the chamber that can seat 400 so that members could maintain a safe distance from one another.
The agenda is jam-packed as senators have authored nearly 350 pages of amendments that they want added to House-passed bills.
The major topics include raising the minimum wage, allowing consumers to buy imported prescription drugs from Canada, the state’s 10-year highway plan and how to spend nearly $200 million provided by the federal government to address COVID-19.
Over the past few weeks, Senate committees have hosted virtual public hearings online so that they could propose these sweeping changes.
The maneuver is meant to get around the House of Representatives not extending its deadlines and so that in the future the pending legislation won’t require a two-thirds, supermajority vote. Senate leaders have said adding their changes to House-passed bills will mean they will go back to the House needing only an up-or-down, majority vote on concurrence.
Soucy has made raising the state’s minimum wage a top priority of hers while serving in the Legislature. The state has no state minimum of its own, so the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour has applied here since 2011.
The pending bill (HB 731) would adopt a state minimum wage of $10 an hour as of next Jan. 1 and it would go up to $12 on Jan. 1, 2023. Tipped employees such as restaurant waitresses would have to be paid at least $7.25 an hour under this bill.
Sununu backs Canadian drug imports
Gov. Chris Sununu testified in favor of having New Hampshire consumers and businesses be able to purchase cheaper drugs from Canada (HB 1280).
This bill would also seek to save state government money by changing how it uses pharmacy benefit managers who act as middlemen between the buyer and the drug makers.
The Senate will also vote on legislation (HB 1645) that would ban all police officers in the state from employing chokeholds to subdue criminal suspects. This ban has been sought in many communities since George Floyd of Minneapolis died after a police officer placed his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Election law reform is also before senators as Sen. Melanie Levesque, D-Brookline, authored a rewritten bill that would permit any voter for any reason to get an absentee ballot and to allow all residents to register to vote online (HB 1672).
The proposed 10-year highway program (HB 1128) would include the removal of a ramp toll off Exit 11 of the F.E. Everett Turnpike in Merrimack. Two years ago, the Executive Council voted to eliminate the toll charged at the ramp, but only the Legislature has the authority to spend the $600,000 it would take to remove the toll plaza.
There are several bills dealing with insurance laws including one that would require all health insurers that cover maternity benefits to also include coverage for elective abortions (HB 685).