New Hampshire House and Senate to give their final verdicts on key bills
In session on Thursday, lawmakers will vote on conference committee recommendations
Will business taxes be cut? Will a watered-down weakened affordable housing bill pass? Will keno spread to convenience stores?
These and other questions will be answered Thursday when the full House and Senate meet for nearly the last time this session. Representatives from each body worked out compromises on a slew of bills last week, but both of their respective bodies still have to vote to send these bills to the governor.
House Bill 1221 would cut the business profits tax rate from the current 7.6 percent to 7.5 percent starting in January, but the Senate added on an amendment that would give a one-time payment of $28 million to cities and towns designed to help them offset retirement system payments with the goal of reducing property taxes.
HB 1661 will contain some of HB 400, the workforce housing “community toolbox” bill that the House tabled but was backed by business groups, the construction and real estate industry, housing advocates and Gov. Chris Sununu. But many of the tools have been removed along the legislative process.
Early on, the Senate removed the “Housing Champion” program – rewards for municipalities friendly to the development of affordable housing – and last week negotiators dropped language to automatically allow municipalities to construct housing in economic development and revitalization zones. Now it can be done only if the governing body gives the go-ahead. Also removed was language that would have barred towns from adding age restrictions on affordable housing, and the mandate that they allow it the same incentives provided for senior housing. Now it is just something they can choose to allow.
The bill still does keep some housing provisions: It speeds up the approval process in both the local and court levels, and it requires that local boards at least give a reason to reject a development, and it does outline a statewide training program for localities.
There are also some other provisions of interest in this omnibus bill, including a $2.4 million Medicaid reimbursement rates for hospital birthing service, which may help keep open maternity wards in struggling hospitals in the North Country. And there is the original underlying bill, which expands career and technical high school access.
But the big reason the House may support the bill is that it contains $9.4 million, the first payment toward what is expected to be a $30-plus million parking garage for them.
HB 355 expands Keno from bars and restaurants to grocery stores (primarily convenience stores) in areas that already voted for it. (Municipalities that approved keno, will not get to vote on this expansion separately.) This is another source of income for stores, since they get 8 percent cut of sales. The House version forbids keno screens, however. The Senate wanted to allow it but backed off, so it looks like this bill will go through easily.
Bridges and roads
SB 401 would provide $70 million for municipal roads and bridges, including $4 million for a key road for the redevelopment of the Balsams resort in Dixville, key to the economic revitalization of the North Country. The House tacked on a bill that would cut the maximum duration of unemployment benefits from 26 to 16 weeks when unemployment is low, as it is now, but the Senate didn’t think it was necessary and stood firm. Negotiators from the House backed off, but during negotiations one House member warned the Senate that the House may not vote for the extra spending without the unemployment cuts. We’ll see if that comes true on Thursday.
Cryptocurrency and steel
HB 1503 would adopt the new Uniform Commercial Code for “controllable electronic records,” more commonly known as cryptocurrency, to exempt it from various security laws starting next year, and to provide a framework to jump-start the industry here. The Senate added language from a bill requiring that the require its contractors to use domestic steel in projects costing over $1 million. The House balked at that, saying that the protectionism would drive up the price of such contracts. A compromise calls for the state to would give the bidding edge to contractors using domestic steel should the bids be equal in value.
Senate Bill 271 would keep the Burgess bioenergy plant in Berlin going another year. Critics of the plant and the bill oppose ratepayers paying subsidies to the plant, but supporters maintain that it’s one of the larger generators in the state and is a crucial customer for low grade wood in the region, and is a renewable and reliable back up with energy costs skyrocketing.