No government or limited government?
One close observer of the political scene in Concord recently characterized the attitude of the New Hampshire House as a debate between those who favor "no government" and those who favor "limited government." The observer noted that while everyone is for streamlining governmental processes, eliminating bureaucracy and unnecessary regulations, a nihilistic attitude in favor of eliminating much of the governmental function may be a bit extreme.Obviously, what the Legislature needs to focus its attention on most is the budget situation, but each measure has to be handled as well, since each bill gets a hearing and vote. So, looking through all of the chaff to find a few kernels of wheat, what is the business community looking at, especially this year?House Bill 133 eliminates the state minimum wage and has us track the federal rate, arguably eliminating confusion. Senate Bill 1, the legislation that eliminates the "evergreen clause" that automatically allows for salary step increases for public employees when contract negotiations are stalled and a contract has expired, has passed the Senate and an identical House measure will be taken up shortly. Business groups support both these measures.On economic development issues, business groups are watching House Concurrent Resolution 3, urging increased consideration and preservation of local authority in international trade and investment agreements as well as House Resolution 6, condemning the taking of a private business by a foreign government and HB 353, relative to workforce housing.There is a raft of bills changing the education funding formula. Governor Lynch and legislative leaders have pledged to come up with a constitutional amendment, but the details vary, as the governor wants to keep targeted state aid while legislative leaders want total discretion in the Legislature and/or local governmental entities. Also on education, SB 467 concerns consolidation of school administrative units, and HB 608 is relative to judicial review of state education trust fund distributions. There are also bills concerning vouchers, school choice and private schools receiving public money.On energy and regulated utilities, HB 89 requires the attorney general to file lawsuits challenging the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's cap and trade program. Attorney General Michael Delaney declared these measures unconstitutional because of separation of powers, which resulted in a call for the election of the attorney general.HB 475 repeals New Hampshire membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. It's an interesting proposal, since New Hampshire is part of a multi-state effort, and our utilities would still be affected by the initiative, repealed or not. Businesses are watching many other energy-related bills as the cost of energy and its availability are a key element in their viability. On health care, there are bills such as HB 51, changing the process for screening panels for medical injury claims, and HB 199, relative to the proceedings in front of those panels. Conversely, there is HB 114, which eliminates screening panels for medical injury claims. There are tort reform bills, health information exchange proposals, bills to eliminate recently enacted mandates for coverage of certain medical conditions under medical insurance policies, changing Medicaid and introducing managed care and other reform proposals . There are a number of human resource bills dealing with unemployment insurance, workers' compensation, immigration, wage and hour laws, right to work and the state Retirement System, including proposals to reform that system.In a year with great budget problems, there are still tax proposals that would decrease tax rates for rooms and meals, gambling, increase the threshold for taxation under the business enterprise tax, making the carryforward period for the BET credit against the business profits tax unlimited, defining reasonable compensation for purposes of BPT deductions and a number requiring supermajorities or prohibiting certain kinds of taxes altogether.Not surprisingly, but perhaps ironically, there appear to be no proposals to raise taxes, notwithstanding the state's budget deficit.This summary only scratches the surface of the proposals filed by our 400 representatives and 24 senators. Business, and all citizens, should have an interest in what these bills contain and what our Legislature does.Brad Cook is a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire.