New Hampshire House adds ‘poison pills’ to municipal infrastructure, Medicaid bills

As legislative session moves towards its end, lawmakers’ brinkmanship emerges

Want to give $70 million to municipalities fixing bridges and roads, including the road to assist the revival of the Balsams resort? Cut unemployment benefits by 40 percent, said the NH House to the Senate Wednesday.

Want to use federal funds to extend postpartum coverage for working families who make slightly too much to qualify for Medicaid? First require business who mandate workers to get vaccinated to exempt those who conscientiously object to the vaccine, the House said again.

The two amendments – sometimes called “poison pills” because they could kill what the Senate wants by attaching amendments that the Senate doesn’t want – is part of the brinkmanship that comes at the end of the legislative session, though those who are actually being pushed to the brink are outside the State House.

In the case of Senate Bill 401, it’s municipalities that could use the infrastructure money as well as contractors who could get that work. About $4 million of that money would be designated to a road crucial to the development of the Balsams, which has been touted as key to the revival of the North Country.

The amendment in question used to be House Bill 1337, which would chop 10 weeks off the current 26 weeks of unemployment benefits when that the jobless rate goes below 3 percent, as it is now. The bill would add a week with each half-percent uptick until it reaches 26 weeks when it hits 8 percent. The Senate killed that bill on a voice vote on April 14.

In the case of SB 407, the affected party would be women whose income is 138 percent to 196 percent of the federal poverty level, just high enough to disqualify for Medicaid. The bill was unanimously endorsed by the House Finance Committee. But the House voted, 162-153, to add the language of HB 1210 – a bill strongly opposed by the Business and Industry Association that would have mandated that employers that do business with state government grant exceptions to any vaccine mandates, without any documentation.

That would put healthcare facilities in a bind, since federal law requires those contracting with Medicare and Medicare only provide religious and medical exemptions.

Other businesses objected to HB 1210 because they don’t like the state telling them who they have to hire or retain or how they should protect their employees and customers. The bill does suggest that businesses would work out a reasonable accommodation with those who defy company vaccination policies but is silent on what happens if an accommodation can’t be reached. The Senate was expected to send HB 1210 to study on Thursday.

But both of these bills were approved by the House Wednesday and will to a conference committee, where the House and Senate will try to negotiate their differences. There might be some horse trading to keep alive the bills and/or the amendments, but in such cases it’s common for both to die.

Vaccine incentive nixed

Not all of the House actions on business-related legislation was of the poison pill variety.

The House simply killed SB 319, which would have allowed insurance companies to offer incentives to those who get vaccinated, as they already can for encouraging exercise, weight loss and smoking cessation. Vaccine hospitalizations cost $62,000 on average and $256,000 in severe cases, said Rep. Anita Burroughs D-Glen.

“This will be passed down to all of us,” she said.

While opponents said insurers can already offer incentives, supporters said that the insurance industry was seeking more clarity in state law, since federal law is rather vague on vaccination incentives.

Opponents also argued that insurers would punish those who don’t vaccinated, besides just forgoing the incentive.

“There is nothing to protect them from discrimination and adverse treatment,” said Rep. Jeffrey Greeson, R-Wentworth.

The House didn’t kill SB 355 but did send it to interim study. The bill would require that large online marketplaces that handle transactions themselves, such as Amazon, would have to disclose high-volumes of certain merchandise by high-volume retailers, like Amazon. The bill, strongly supported by the NH Retail Association, would help law enforcement track down criminal operations that buy up stolen merchandise from brick-and-mortar stores and dispose of it online.

Opponents of the bill said that have been no complaints from consumers getting the stolen or fake goods from these third parties, or if there were, Amazon would refund their sale, no question asked. The only ones being hurt, said committee chair Rep. John Hunt, R-Rindge are “not the consumers but the corporations” and therefore the law shouldn’t be in the Consumer Protection Act but, in a criminal law.”

The law does affect consumers, since “it makes sure that the goods they are buying are legitimate,” said Curtis Barry, a lobbyist for the NH Retail Association. The bill would prevent “people who steal in high qualities from hiding in the shadows,” and if there were a problem with the language or the statute the law it was in, “this was the first I heard of it,” Barry added.

The House did pass SB 367, which would allow for “advanced recycling,” without it being treated as a solid waste facility. The process heats plastics into a kind of chemical soup to make new products, with the goal of making sure plastics don’t go in the landfill. There was a last-minute amendment on this bill too, but it was to add suggestions to the state Department of Environmental Services that it rule out converting plastics into fuel (in which case, it would come under solid waste laws) and make sure where the plastics come from.

The bill would give a “clear regulatory structure for the emerging industry,” according to supporters, but opponents said it still left unanswered questions, and the state should wait while the Environmental Protection Agency draws up its own rules.

The House passed the bill, 198-128. Since it had been unanimously supported by the Senate, there is a good chance it will become law.

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