NH Legislative Preview: Let the committees of conference begin

Crucial negotiations begin over key pieces of legislation as session clock winds down
Statehouse With Seal

(Dave Cummings/New Hampshire Bulletin)

Cutting business taxes, a key housing bill, reducing unemployment benefits are among a few of the items that may or may not survive the upcoming week of dealmaking in the NH Legislature.

Unlike in businesses, these deals are negotiated out in the open in committees of conference, with panelists from both the Senate and House of Representatives appointed by their respective leadership negotiating the differences in their versions of the same bill.

At least two of these committees began work on Friday and multiple conferences start Monday morning. To view the back-and-forth, both chambers are streaming the sessions and will post the videos for a few days. The House stream can be found here and the Senate stream can be found here.

The committees could decide on compromise language, which both chambers must approve by May 26 before the bill goes to the governor to sign or veto. To keep track, check the updated schedule of committee sessions.

Negotiations over House Bill 1221, scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Wednesday is fairly straightforward. The House version would cut the business profits tax rate by a point, to 7.5 percent, but the Senate tacked on a one-time payment to towns to help them contribute to the state retirement system in the hopes of lowering property taxes too. So the question is whether that Senate amendment or the entire bill survives. There is always the small possibility that something new can be thrown into the mix, though that is generally frowned upon.

Negotiations over HB 1661 will be more difficult. An obscure bill originally addressing regional career technical education agreements, now has all sorts of things attached to it, including the House amendment for a new parking garage, and Senate amendments with language from other bills the House refused to pass. That includes Senate Bill 400, known as the “community toolbox” bill, would have created a “Housing Champion” certificate program and instituted other incentives for municipalities to ease zoning restrictions to allow affordable housing, but the House tabled that bill. The Senate resurrected its attaching in HB 1661, thus tying the need for workers to find a place to live with the need for lawmakers to find a place to park. Preliminary discussions started Friday and will continue Monday at 11:30 am.

Negotiations over SB 401 involves another tradeoff. The Senate wanted to use surplus money from the general fund to provide $70 million to municipalities to fix bridges and roads, including a road to assist in the redevelopment of the Balsams resort in Dixville, which has long been touted as key economic development boost in the North Country. But the House tacked on language from HB 1337, which would chop 10 weeks off the current 26 weeks of unemployment benefits to recipients when the state’s jobless rate falls below 3 percent, as it is now. The bill would add a week of benefits with each half-percent uptick until it reaches the full 26 weeks when it hits 8 percent. The Senate killed that bill on a voice vote on April 14. Negotiations on that are scheduled to start Tuesday at 12:15 p.m.

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