NH lawmakers sometimes going against the grain
At crossover, Republicans are backing surprising bills
“It was a real stemwinder,” said Bruce Berke, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business’ New Hampshire chapter, with admiration.
“I was dismayed. It was kind of stunning,” said NH AFL-CIO Policy Director Judy Stadtman.
Both were referring to NH Senate President Chuck Morse’s tongue-lashing of his colleagues after they initially voted for Senate Bill 422, which would require businesses to give employees a week’s notice of their work schedule.
“This bill has nothing to do with schedules [but] with telling a person how to run their business,” said Morse, R-Salem, who said his own business (Freshwater Farms & Garden Center in Atkinson) would be adversely affected by the bill.
“It’s my business, and I honestly believe I do it right. I’m offended that you are trying to tell me I’m doing it wrong,” he said. “We are trying to drive the economy here in New Hampshire, not drive people out of the economy. You talk about a slippery slope. You’re on it.”
After that, the Senate reversed its vote. What was remarkable was that Morse’s frustration was directed at a Legislature dominated by members of his own party.
But when you look at some of the bills approved so far this session, Republicans aren’t always voting along party lines. At crossover, when one chamber hands over the bills it passed to the other, these bills include:
• House Bill 628, a state insurance paid family and medical leave program funded by payroll deductions.
• SB 313, continuing expanded Medicaid, a key component of Obamacare.
• HB 559, directing ratepayers rebates toward energy-efficiency programs mainly to benefit lower-income people, municipalities and schools.
• HB 1554, cutting the research and development tax credit to raise exemptions from the interest and dividends tax.
Of course, a pro-business case could be made for all of these bills, and lawmakers have passed many other bills aimed at cutting taxes and regulations — legislation that you would expect from a conservative body. But their passage does indicate that New Hampshire lawmakers are not marching lockstep with the party of President Trump and Governor Sununu.
What is going on? Part of it might be because of Republican struggles in opinion polls and the real polls in special elections.
“Frankly, they might be nervous about their chances in November,” said David Juvet, senior vice president of public policy at the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire.
In fact, the current Senate, with a 14-10 Republican majority, recently voted to abolish the death penalty, at odds with party leaders.
While the death penalty may have little to do with business, there are plenty of bills that did — roughly 350 — and nearly 200 passed, while the rest were either killed, sent to study or tabled.
Paid family leave
The big news of the session was the three-time passage by the House of a new paid family and medical leave program.
While such a program was ostensibly supported by both Trump and Sununu, the Republican legislative fought it at every step, sending it to another committee each time it passed.
Unlike other states’ programs, which are mandatory and cover everybody, HB 628 would be voluntary, with a one-time opt-out provision. Employers wouldn’t have to pay the premium, unless they want to. The program would dovetail with unemployment compensation regulations to keep the administrative burden to a minimum.
The bill’s uniqueness was almost its downfall, as critics contended that the untested program could not pay for itself and would leave taxpayers, or even employers, footing the bill — even after supporters halved benefits (60 percent of wages) from 12 to six weeks, and upped premiums from 0.5 percent to two-thirds of an employee’s salary.
But the House Finance Committee came up with a totally different plan, providing for a state mandate that employers offer private disability and family leave insurance to workers who could opt in and opt out on an annual basis.
But the alternative didn’t fly, and the original bill survived despite being called a “state-run insurance boondoggle,” by Rep. Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, on the House floor.
Business organizations were divided on the matter, partly because of the Campaign for a Family-Friendly Economy, which got 100 small businesses to sign on in support of the measure. As the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mary Stuart Giles, D-Concord, said on the House floor, a state program “would be an attractive benefit to bring the best and talented workers to New Hampshire.”
The supporters won, thanks in part to the decision by the BIA and most other business groups to stay neutral. Only the NFIB and one other trade organization opposed the bill.
“The business community has been sitting on their hands,” said Berke. “I don’t know what they are afraid of.”
Paid leave hasn’t been the only surprise this legislative session.
HB 1319, which could penalize employers, landlords and shop owners from discriminating against transgender people, also passed, though that had the support of some business groups like the BIA, which reasoned that it didn’t want to do anything to discourage people from joining the state’s depleted workforce.
And there’s HB 1201, which would require employers to pay workers who don’t take their vacation time. Opponents of the bill argued that vacation time is a discretionary benefit, not something to be regulated by the state. But once granted, the vacation pay belongs to the worker, not the employer, said Rep. Michael Cahill, D-Newmarket. That bill survived by just three votes.
Of course, the outcome of other workforce-related votes were more conventional. One bill, preventing employers from asking about salary history or opening up apprenticeship programs to the unemployed, bit the dust. The Senate passed SB 84, which would allow employers to dispense wages electronically even if the employee still wants a paper check, and SB 318, which would loosen restrictions on 16- and 17-year-olds, such as increasing their work week from 48 to 56 hours during vacation.
The one constant about the NH Legislature’s stance on energy is its inconsistency.
On the one hand, the state decided to send all proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — which charges generators their carbon emission and distributes the proceeds to the states — to energy-efficiency programs, mostly for low-income conservation, and municipalities and school districts. Previously, the proceeds were mainly rebated to electric customers.
Originally, HB 559, would have rebated all of the RGGI money to commercial customers and use all residential money for efficiency programs. But the House Finance Committee voted to do away with all rebates over the objection of the BIA, which argued that it would mean higher rates for business.
On the other hand, the House passed HB 317, which would take the authority to set your electric bill’s system benefits charge away from the Public Utilities Commission. The PUC had just raised the SBC rate to raise money for a new energy efficiency resource standard. It also passed HB 114, which would freeze the state renewable energy portfolio standard at 6 percent for new sources (like solar and wind). It was supposed to go up to 15 percent by 2020.
Over in the Senate, senators quietly helped renewable energy proponents. SB 446, which would increase the amount an entity could net meter to 5 megawatts would mean a fivefold increase that would allow larger businesses to sell excess power to their default provider, which in most of the case is Eversource.
And there’s SB 365, which would again force the default provider to buy energy not only from older “indigenous-fueled” renewable energy plants — primarily the state’s six wood-burning plants — but also local hydroelectric plants, at a rate that would mean higher electric bills.
“It will cost ratepayers $30 million a year,” said Sen. William Gannon, R-Sandown.
“There is a cost to these jobs — that’s a fact of life,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro.
The passage of SB 313 — Medicaid expansion — with work requirements that should stick this time, was not as difficult a fight as originally envisioned, though its mechanism of funneling federal money through the state’s alcohol fund, which provides money for drug treatment and prevention services, could prove tricky in the House.
The bill also relies on shifting the current 50,000 people receiving Medicaid expansion benefits from the private health exchanges to state rolls, with the expectation of large-scale savings through a managed- care program.
Other health bills that slipped under the radar were SB 590, which would add $2.2 million to the medical provider student loan fund — a priority of the NH Medical Society. But the society was not thrilled by HB 1506, allowing foreign medical school graduates to practice without a residency under a physician’s supervision.
The Senate passed another health insurance mandate, this one that would require policies to cover 3-D mammography, while the House passed a bill allowing pharmacists to prescribe birth control pills with a doctor’s standing order. Both chambers passed a total of six bills aimed at some of the practices of pharmacy benefit managers, in an attempt to control drug costs.
Taxes and regulations
Remember last year, when the R&D tax credit cap was raised from $2 million to $7 million? It meant that companies that previously only received a quarter of the credit they were entitled to got nearly all of it. This year, the House was seeking to go into reverse, cutting the cap back to $2 million to pay for higher interest and dividend tax exemptions.
The BIA opposed cutting the R&D credit cap, saying it would cause “irreparable harm” to the state’s advanced manufacturing sector, but didn’t take a position on the I&D exemption hike. The NFIB endorsed the I&D portion of the bill as a broad tax cut, but, Berke said about the R&D cut, “We don’t like to put one tax reduction against another. We hope we can have both our cake and eat it too.”
In other tax-related measures:
• Lawmakers in both chambers beat back attempts to tie future cuts in the business profits and business enterprise taxes to economic growth.
• The Senate approved SB 564, a 10-year business exemption for those associated with the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute, the Dean Kamen-inspired initiative. The bill also would offer student loan forgiveness for employees of those entities.
• SB 563, a tax credit for businesses that donate to recovery-friendly workplace programs was approved.
• SB 301 got Senate support. It would cut the rate of the real estate transfer tax by a third for first-time homebuyers.
Critics of the breaks argued that they subsidize one economic sector at the expense of others. But proponents overcame such qualms, often getting lawmakers to vote against their oft-stated principles.
Finally, lawmakers passed Governor Sununu’s various bills aimed at cutting permitting and occupational regulations, generally well received in the business community. But they have received pushback from the NH Association of Realtors, worried that by lowering the barriers for out-of-state agents to work in New Hampshire, it could hurt local ones.
“If you are a real estate agent in Lowell, you have access to New Hampshire in a way that a Nashua agent doesn’t have in Massachusetts,” said Bob Quinn, the association’s lobbyist. “This will do more damage than all the other bills passed this year to help Realtors.”
One of those bills is SB 557, which would set up a board of housing development appeals, aimed at giving developers a way to dispute municipal zoning and planning board rejections without having to go to court.
|Bill Number||Bill Description|
|HB559||Ends RGGI rebate. Sends all money to efficiency programs.|
|SB365||Requires default providers buy power at above market prices from older, smaller biomass, hydro and waste to energy plants.|
|SB446||Raises net meeting cap from 1 MW to 5 MW, allowing larger businesses, municipalities and small power producers to sell excess power to the grid at a rate to be set by the PUC.|
|SB577||Requires PUC to consider whether to continue to subsidize Burgess BioPower plant.|
|HB114||Lowers renewable portfolio standard target for new sources (like solar and wind) from 15 to 6 percent.|
|HB141||Permits PUC to modify renewable energy portfolio standards according to expected annual output.|
|HB1689||Repeals the repeal of the pollution prevention program.|
|HB317||Prohibiting the PUC from increasing the system benefits charge without legislative approval.|
|SB452||Allows residential owners who install a leased solar power system to receive the renewable fund incentive payments.|
|SB575||Establishes requirements for and restrictions on electric vehicle charging stations.|
|HB1550||Requiring electric bills to include the cost of compliance with renewable energy standards.|
|SB313||Move Medicaid expansion participants off the exchange onto Medicaid; adds work requirements and managed care.|
|HB1816||Enhanced screening for Medicaid managed care, and requires managed care organizations to meet the federal medical loss ratio provision.|
|HB1506||Allows foreign medical school graduates to practice without a residency under the supervision of a physician.|
|HB1741||Relative to payments for covered prescription medications under the managed care law.|
|HB1746||Relative to the practices of pharmacy benefit managers.|
|HB1791||Allowing pharmacists to disclose information relative to lower cost drugs.|
|HB1809||Prohibits balance billing.|
|HB1822||Making birth control pills available directly from pharmacists by means of a standing order.|
|SB189||Requiring insurance policies to cover 3-D mammography.|
|SB354||Prohibits pharmacy benefit managers from claw backs and gag clauses.|
|SB546||Reduce the number of lives necessary to form purchasing alliances for health insurance from 3000 to 250.|
|SB590||Adds $2.2 million the state loan repayment program for medical providers who promise to practice here.|
|SB591||Prohibits pharmacy benefit managers from requiring pharmacists pay for a third party accreditation to participate in a managed care network.|
|HB1201||Requires company pay for employee’s earned but unused vacation time.|
|HB1319||Prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity.|
|HB628||Sets family and medical leave insurance program paid for through employee payroll deductions.|
|HB1624||Requires the state to consider the wages and benefits paid by the vendor when evaluating qualified lowest bids from vendors located in New Hampshire.|
|SB318||Allows 16- and 17-year-olds to work longer hours and shields employers from surprise inspections involving child labor laws.|
|SB497||Creates a cause of action for a person who has been discriminated against in employment or housing due to pregnancy.|
|SB84||Allows employers to pay workers electronically even if they want to be paid with a paper check.|
|SB301||Cuts the real estate transfer tax for first-time home buyers.|
|SB557||Establishing a board of housing development appeals.|
|HB1515||Allows using gasification process to “burn” combustion construction and demolition debris.|
|HB305||Clarifying lessee liability for month-to-month leases.|
|SB334||Relative to temporary licensure of professionals from nearby states, including real estate agents.|
|SB461||Increases the requirements for continuing education for license renewals of real estate brokers and salespersons.|
|SB459||Makes it easier for out-of-state real estate broker or salesperson to get a license in New Hampshire.|
|HB1104||The governor’s initiative to streamline permitting, administrative procedure and business filings.|
|HB1554||Proposes increasing exemptions under the interest and dividends tax and decreasing the total amount of research and development credits.|
|HB1763||Adds an additional fee for low mileage vehicles that goes to highway fund.|
|SB563||Gives $1 million of total tax credits against business taxes to companies which donate to recovery friendly workplace initiatives.|
|SB564||Exempts regenerative manufacturing firms (associated with the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute) from business taxes for a decade and forgives the student loans of those working in that industry.|
|HB124||Cuts registration fees for new jets but increases the fees for smaller air craft and ups aviation fuel taxes.|
|SB565||Cuts registration fees for new jets but increases the fees for smaller air craft. Does not raise aviation fuel taxes.|
|HB1686||Extends the education tax credit — which is now just against business taxes — so that it can be taken against the interest and dividend taxes.|
Requires recipients of research and development tax credit to take a survey, which includes information about the type of research conducted and the number of jobs created.