Key bills seem headed to oblivion with conference committees at loggerheads

With new language added, cryptocurrency, homeless aid measures stir differences between Senate, House

The NH Senate and House are controlled by the same party, but that wasn’t what it sounded like as initial committees of conference tried to work out their different versions of bills passed by each body.

Of course, there were many times on Monday when both sides could agree on several bills. Both sides compromised on bills about PFAS remediation and easing up on small hazardous waste generators (House Bill 1547), establishing a Medicaid dental benefit (HB 103), giving day care centers that are being investigated more of a fair shake (HB 230) and a bill giving hospital patients the right to designated a loved one to visit (HB 1439).

But then there was HB 1503, amended by the Senate to include language to support an old industry – steel – in a bill that seeks to promote an up-and-coming industry – cryptocurrency. The House bill would update the Uniform Commercial Code, relative to exempting “the exchange of open blockchain tokens from certain securities laws.”

Rep. John Hunt, R-Rindge, said at the conference committee that it was “offensive” to add language to a bill that would require the state ot only use U.S. steel for large contracts, since it could raise the prices of state contracts.

The House had previously passed the steel bill – Senate Bill 438 – but then attached the language of HB 1171, a bill that would have eased cosmetology licensing requirements that the Senate sent to study at the end of last month.

“If we start pointing fingers at each other, it’s important to realize that the Senate didn’t fire the first shot,” Sen. Sharon Carson. R-Londonderry. “What do you want to do? Do you want us to walk away?”

Hunt said that the cryptocurrency bill would eventually pass, so if the Senate wants to “fall on its sword … (when) here we have this golden opportunity and to put in a taxpayer subsidy to an old industry is not appropriate. It opens up a can of worms.”

“If it opens up a can of worms, we will take them as we get them,” Carson replied. “We have companies that manufacture steel here, and they provide good-paying jobs. We are protecting those business and keeping those people working.”

While both sides talked vaguely about setting up another conference committee, as of Tuesday morning nothing was scheduled, and that wasn’t a good sign for the measure. Conferees have until Thursday to sign off on all bills.

Homeless funding

Similarly, the Senate’s attempt to load the language of three other bills onto HB 1662 – which deals with privacy obligations at the state Department of Health and Human Services – seemed to be going nowhere at the conference on Monday.

One of the Senate amendments would have added $5 million in funding to aid the homeless, but the Senate conferees added a twist: The money would go to the towns based on Medicaid enrollment rather than homeless shelters.

There were two arguments behind the change: lots of homeless people don’t reach the state’s shelters which combined have space for 965 people. Estimates of the number of homeless people in the state range between 1,500 and 4,000.

Second, it might be a better use of the state’s resources to prevent homelessness rather than just shelter people. House members were intrigued by the idea but rejected it for several reasons: It was not part of the budget process; it would be hard for each town to figure out how to spend the money; and it wasn’t in the original language of either version of the bill.

The second amendment – formerly SB 209 — would have allowed employers to pay workers electronically, even if the employee would rather get a paper check. This wasn’t the way the debate was framed by either side. Carson presented it as a way to give employees more options, including a debit card.

“We are so far behind the times,” said Carson, arguing that this is the way the state distributes welfare benefits. “Only private employers are mired in a system suited to the 1940s. It’s time we joined the modern age.”

But House members were concerned about some of the safeguards the Senate put in to protect workers when it comes to debit cards. “;They shall be liable for late payment of wages whenever the replacement wages are provided after the designated payday,’” quoted Leonard Turcotte, R-Barrington. “Really?”

The House conferees’ biggest objection is the requirement that an employer would have to replace a lost, stolen or damaged card within 24 hours of being notified. What if this should happen over the weekend? Turcotte asked. He said the law should simply say the employer should inform the worker how he or she is to be paid and pay them that way.

The third add-on to HB 1662 was the language of SB 355, which would require that large online marketplaces that handle transactions themselves, such as Amazon and eBay, have to disclose sales of high volumes of merchandise. The bill, strongly supported by the NH Retail Association, would help law enforcement agencies track down criminal operations that buy up stolen merchandise from brick-and-mortar stores and dispose of it online.

House members continued to oppose including the language. Nonetheless they agreed to continue negotiations at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

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