House readies vote on health exchange

A bill prohibiting state officials from planning for a state health exchange is one of the major measures affecting business that is due to come before the House this week.The bill is expected to be voted on either Wednesday or Thursday, as the House moves toward its deadline for bills that don’t go to a second committee.Such health exchanges — which would provide health insurance to those who are not covered privately — is a hot-button issue for conservatives who oppose any cooperation with the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, as they call it.The ACA gives states a choice: set up their own exchange or the federal government will do it for them. The insurance industry and some large business groups (such as the Business Industry Association of New Hampshire) favor at least pursuing a limited exchange so that it is regulated at the local level, allowing the state insurance industry to plan for what’s coming next.They’re also concerned that a federal exchange would shut out the local insurance industry and even regional health insurers.Those supporting House Bill 1297 (which was approved by a 10-6 majority of the House Commerce Committee) maintain that a state exchange still has to follow federal rules so it makes no difference, and if enough states don’t cooperate, then ACA will end up failing.Among the other measures on the House agenda this week:• Repeal or reform or leave alone the Certificate of Need law? The original HB 1617 would have repealed the law that requires health facilities to convince a board that expensive new equipment isn’t just a duplication that will drive up health care costs. An amended bill would up the threshold of institutions affected from $500,00 to $789,995 and require the board to focus on the total health care costs of the state, not just whether unit costs will decrease or increase• Can a business make a worker go a little longer without a lunch break? Currently the law requires a half-hour break after five hours of work. Originally, HB 1574 would have eliminated the requirement entirely, but the bill was amended instead to extend the requirement to six hours.• Should the state increase the filing thresholds for the business enterprise tax, saving some 18,000 to 20,000 businesses the bother of filing the paperwork when they don’t owe any tax? HB 1418 would increase the BET threshold from $150,000 to $200,000 and the enterprise value tax base from $75,000 to $100,000. Opponents say that some of those potential filers do owe taxes — about $4 million worth — and the state has no idea how to make up that lost revenue. The House passed a similar bill last session, but it failed in the Senate.• Will the state continue to require municipalities to come up with some plan to provide workforce housing? Probably. The House Municipal and County Government Committee recommended killing a bill, 15-2, to get rid of the requirement, siding with various business organizations, ranging from the BIA to the Homebuilders and Remodelers Association.• Will paying a quarter of a penny less at the fuel pump jeopardize a program that insures residents and business in case their oil tank leaks? If lawmakers do nothing, the fee will go down to a penny — a quarter cent lower than it currently is. HB 1489 would repeal that decrease. Supporters argue that since there is no private insurance fund in place, a leak that jeopardizes groundwater won’t just threaten public safety, but could result in litigation that could destroy someone’s business. That’s why some businesses are willing for everybody to pay more at the pump. But those who want the decrease, and oppose the bill, claim that the fund has a healthy surplus, and is willing to see that surplus sink. The opponents had a 14-5 majority in the Ways and Means Committee.• Should New Hampshire be one of three states in the union that does not license money transmitters? The House Commerce Committee, by an 11-6 vote, said no. Supporters of HB 1700 — which would repeal existing licensing requirements — argue that since most of the transactions by Internet companies are across state lines, this should be regulated by the federal government. But those opposing repeal said that without licensing, consumers will be dealing by business that have no solvency requirements.• Should the state ban retailers from selling products containing biphenyl A (BPA) in containers that hold baby food? A 14-2 committee majority said that manufacturers are taking care of the matter by labeling, but supporters of the ban said mothers don’t always read labels and their infants shouldn’t suffer because of it.• Financial literacy anyone? The House education voted 12-4 to pass HB 1703, which would require that school districts teach students about home finances, budgets, investing, borrowing, insurance, checking and savings accounts and taxation despite the fact that it agreed that it was an unfunded mandate. So there might be an amendment to fix that, either on the House floor or in the Senate. For the minority, that was enough reason to kill the bill.• Barbers won’t have to go to school under HB 1431, if they learned at a barber’s side. The bill would allow a barber to replace the required 800 hours of schooling with “equivalent training and experience.” It would also allow barbers to immediately open their own shop rather than having to work for someone else for a year. But at least some barbers are concerned the bill this would allow all sorts of unqualified people to cut hair and expressed health concerns.• Ban ethanol? The House Science Technology and Energy committee voted 7-6 to do just that, if two other New England states do it first. That, supporters say, would give the states enough clout to make the oil companies and the federal government listen. It will still drive up prices at the pump, say the critics, and besides, the federal government still requires it.• Should New Hampshire oppose a low-carbon fuel standards program, which would make oil companies pay if they don’t provider cleaner fuels? Currently state environmental officials are in a learn-and-see mode before making any recommendations to join a multi-state agreement to implement one in the Northeast. The original HB 1487 would prevent state officials from participating in it. An amended version would take a position against such standards, but allow state officials to talk about it with other states, as long as it made the state’s policy clear. — BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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