What’s old is new again: issues revived for 2020

Legislation requests offer preview of next session

Legislators have finished submitting their requests for bills for the 2020 session, and it looks like next year will see both new debates and a return of several old favorites.

So far, all we know about these bill requests — or LSRs, as they’re known by insiders — are their titles. The full text of the bills will start trickling out over the next couple of weeks, with all bills likely available sometime around mid-December.

Here’s what we know based on the information available so far.

Road repair funding debate gets bumpy

Right now, state funding for repairing New Hampshire’s roads and bridges largely comes from the gas tax. But gas tax revenues are going down as cars get more fuel-efficient. Last year, the state considered raising the gas tax, but a House committee studying it over the summer recently recommended that the bill be shot down. An alternative proposal is the creation of a road usage fee. That’s an additional annual car registration charge, which is higher for vehicles that are more fuel-efficient. A House committee is still studying that issue. Whatever that committee recommends, a road use fee will be up for debate again in 2020 with two LSRs filed.

Renewable energy debate is renewed

For two years, attempts to raise the state’s cap on the size of solar facilities that can participate in net metering have been vetoed. Prepare for year three. The debate about subsidizing biomass power also returns for its third run, up against both Sununu’s proven disapproval and a negative court ruling. Five other LSRs relate to the state’s renewable energy requirements for utilities or funding for renewable energy/energy-efficiency projects. Titles for those bill requests are slightly more mysterious, so it’s anyone’s guess what they’d actually do.

Plastic bans avoid getting dumped

Democratic legislators this year fought hard to reduce New Hampshire’s use of disposable plastic products. A statewide ban on single-use straws was shot down in the Senate, but a bill that would let towns pass their own plastics bans is still alive and kicking in the House.

Another one of last year’s plastics bills was thoroughly amended to institute a 10-50 cent fee on plastic bags. So we’ll see that hit the House floor in January. Two new plastics bills for 2020 suggest a return of the plastic straw debate and the intriguing “surcharge for certain single-use plastics.”

Marijuana high on the legislative agenda

The question of legalizing marijuana in New Hampshire stalled in the Senate in 2019 after the Senate Judiciary Committee held on to it for study over the summer. There’s no record of committee activity since May, making the fate of that bill unclear.

Two new bill requests will ensure that the issue stays on the table for 2020, each of them boasting a key committee chairman as a sponsor. The inside scoop is that LSR 2211 will legalize adult use and create a commercial market for sale, while LSR 2201 will just legalize use and home-growing with no sale allowed.

Growing marijuana for medical use will also be back on the radar. A move to allow qualifying patients to grow their own was vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu this year, and legislators failed to get enough votes for an override. Two bill requests for 2020 relate to allowing home cultivation of medical marijuana, but they face an uphill climb convincing Sununu to reverse his position.

Learn Everywhere debate extends into 2020

Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut sparked both interest and controversy this year with his Learn Everywhere program, aimed at expanding opportunities for earning credit outside of school. The state board of education would approve these ELO — extended learning opportunity — programs run by businesses or nonprofit organizations. That’s the rub of the debate, with school districts arguing they should still be able to decide which programs they’ll give credit for.

An attempt to introduce a local control element to Learn Everywhere failed this year when it was vetoed by Sununu, but the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules voted in October to delay a proposal from the state Board of Education to require high schools to grant students credit for extracurricular programs approved by the board.

In 2020, three proposed bills relate to extended learning credits and, most likely, the Learn Everywhere debate. Two include high-profile bipartisan sponsors, which could mean they’re compromise measures with a better chance of avoiding Sununu’s red veto pen.

A vacation for the school funding debate

One of last year’s hottest issues, school funding, appears to be taking a break for 2020. No major LSRs have released as of this writing. As for the education funding bills held over from the last session, all signs point to them receiving a quick thumbs-down vote from the committee studying them. It appears legislators have decided to give the year-long education funding commission time to do its work before deciding their next steps. The only other action around property taxes is limited to smaller-scale changes to exemptions for different people or property types. For those following this issue, watch the study commission and prepare for a big debate in 2021.

Barrel full of gun laws

Democrats couldn’t get a single one of last year’s gun control bills past Sununu’s veto pen. This year, they staunchly return to the fray with even more. Some are a return of old favorites, from background checks and wait periods to prohibiting firearms in schools. Others are new to New Hampshire and include repealing limitations on liability for gun manufacturers, banning large-capacity magazines and requiring that commercial firearms sales include a locking device.

Voter residency debate comes home

While challenges to two recent changes to the state’s residency rules for voters wend their way through the courts, legislative attempts to turn back that clock continue. Two bills that would have done so this year were both vetoed by Sununu, but at least one LSR — “relative to the terms resident, inhabitant, residence and residency” — is likely aimed in the same direction.

Other hot topics

The 2020 LSRs also reveal a flurry of activity around a few other issue areas, signaling they’ll be a priority on the legislative agenda next year.

  • Eight bills about ATVs, many of them related to controversy over ATV use of public roads
  • Five PFAs bills, proving that the issue of PFAS contamination is far from fully resolved
  • At least 10 bills related to animal cruelty and animal rights, from a ban on declawing cats to penalties for leaving your dog in a hot car
  • Six bills modifying the state’s rules for lobbyists, including one asking them to write legibly on their paper forms.

And finally …

The next legislative session will also see action around the exhilarating issue of “roadable aircraft.” Is it time for New Hampshire to pioneer the era of the flying car? In addition, at least one legislator wants the state to consider repealing its rules around “weather modification experimentation.” Will that mean less snow or more? We can’t wait to find out.

Jackie Benson is content editor for Citizens Count, a nonpartisan civic engagement nonprofit. To learn more about these issues and related legislative bills, visit CitizensCount.org.

Categories: Government