NH Week in Review for June 11: Politics could snag budget approval

Jun 11, 2017

A conference committee of N.H. House and Senate members this week started negotiations on the new state budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

But even if those lawmakers agree on a spending package that is due to start July 1, the budget could face recalcitrant House members, particularly those conservative Republicans who make up the Freedom Caucus.

The starting point for the conference committee’s discussions is the $11.8 billion package recommended by the Senate Finance Committee.

Normally, a conference committee’s consideration would also include a House budget recommendation. But, while House budget writers recommended $11.9 billion in spending, the full House wasn’t able to muster enough consensus to even vote on the package.

Thus the rub as the final negotiations are underway to craft a state budget - the same political forces that undermined the House vote in April are likely to still be in play when the House votes within the next few weeks.

House Democrats don’t like the budget because there isn’t enough spending for things like public education and mental health care. Freedom Caucus members don’t like the budget for what they believe is too much spending. Even though Republicans control the House, budget approval could be imperiled if enough Democrats and Freedom Caucus Republicans line up against it.

The budget process has been in crisis before. Two years ago, then Gov. Maggie Hassan vetoed the budget because it didn’t contain money for negotiated contract pay raises for state employees. It was resolved, but a continuing resolution was required by the Legislature to keep state government functioning beyond the June 30 budget approval deadline.

See a Union Leader analysis here.

New laws for victims rights

Gov. Christopher Sununu on Wednesday signed four bill into law that strengthen rights of crime victims in New Hampshire:

  • SB 9, an act relative to the admissibility of proffered evidence in sexual assault cases;
  • SB 166, relative to termination of the parent-child relationship in cases of sexual assault;
  • HB 94, prohibiting certain defenses in prostitution and human trafficking cases and relative to fines assessed for certain offenses involving domestic violence;
  • HB 220, amending the title of the chapter relating to child pornography.

SB 9 has received most media attention because it grew out of the murder cases involving University of New Hampshire student Lizzie Marriott. Her killer had argued that her past sexual history was fair game for his appeal. While that history is protected from disclosure during trial, lawyers argued it wasn’t on appeal. The state Supreme Court disagreed and SB 9 permanently closes that loophole.The Marriotts were present at the bill signing ceremony. See a WMUR story here.

Sununu also signed SB 200, which ensures an attorney for defendants facing jail time because they can’t afford to pay their fines. It’s an effort to curb the illegal practice known as debtors’ prisons, which a 2015 report found was occurring in New Hampshire courts. See an NHPR report here.

Other bills that received final approval from the Legislature were also on their way this week to the governor’s desk for his expected signature. They include SB 3, which more narrowly defines residency for the purposes of voting in the state; SB 8, which is the so-called Croydon bill that allows taxpayer money for school choice; and SB 66, the fetal homicide bill.

Also in the state

Gov. Sununu announced that New Hampshire won’t be joining the U.S. Climate Alliance, which aims to cut emissions by at least 26 percent from 2005 levels and meet targets set in the federal Clean Power Plan. The alliance aims to carry on the mission of addressing climate change in the wake of the decision by President Donald Trump to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. Sununu said the state is already doing its part through its membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). See a Concord Monitor story here.

Individual communities in the state are committing themselves to the goals of the Paris accord. The cities of Portsmouth and Nashua have added their names to the list. See an NHPR story here.

The governor has recommended two appointments: Anna Barbara "Bobbie" Hantz Marconi of Stratham to serve as the next Associate Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court (see an NH1 story here), and outgoing state Public Utilities Commissioner Robert Scott as the next Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Services (see a WMUR story here).

The Executive Council approved a contract for a Florida-based company to review alleged child abuse and neglect cases closed before they were properly investigated. The review will look at only a small portion of the more than 1,500 DCYF cases that were prematurely closed out last year. See an NHPR story here.

Testimony this week by former FBI Director James Comey about his interactions with President Trump about Russian meddling in the 2016 election brought the kind of partisan response you might expect. Republicans said the president is not guilty of any wrongdoing, while Democrats argue his actions rise to the level of obstruction of justice.

"The Democrats can't talk about the issues, so they keep going after Trump on Russia," said Trump ally state Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry. "They're trying to tie him up and get the American people to turn against him, and it's not working." See a WMUR story here.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, senior member of the all Democrat N.H. delegation in Congress, said she found Comey’s testimony “very troubling” as it applied to Trump and his behavior regarding the Russian meddling. See an NHPR story here.

Over on Facebook this week we’ve been discussing the so-called “Dutch Reach” that is designed to keep cyclists from getting doored, licensing regulations for tattoo parlors, and the efforts to tighten up voter residency requirements.

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