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June 19. 2013 9:41AM

House, Senate at standoff over vaccines, voter registration bill

CONCORD -- House and Senate negotiators were at a stand-off Tuesday over legislation that would both change the identification requirements for voter registration and also expand the base of entities that pay into a fund that purchases children's vaccines.

The logjam may be broken, however, when another two-pronged bill is dealt with during another committee of conference on Wednesday.

That bill combines a bill that adjusts the state's renewable energy portfolio standards with legislation that would align the state's small group market insurance rules with those of the federal Affordable Care Act.

The four bills are essentially pawns in a chess match being played out by the House and Senate as they approach a Thursday afternoon deadline to sign off on committee of conference reports.

The Democratic-controlled House attached the ACA-insurance bill that both it and Gov. Maggie Hassan want, but was killed by the Senate, to the renewable portfolio standards bill that the GOP Senate desires.

In retaliation, the Senate attached the voter registration provision, which had been earlier killed by the House, to the children's vaccine bill that is a favorite of the House.

At the conference committee meeting Tuesday, Rep. Laurie Harding, D-Lebanon, called the vaccine bill critical.

For about a decade, individual and small group plans have been assessed a fee, which is now $26, to go to the New Hampshire Vaccine Association, a public-private cooperative which in turn purchases vaccines for children.

The vaccine bill would expand the assessment to large group plans and the growing number of self-insured.

Harding said the expanding number of self-insured has resulted in a drop in contributions of about 22 percent. She also said the fund, which she said is a "very reputable and well-known program," could receive an additional $400,000 if the bill is passed.

"One would hope the Senate might reconsider," Harding said.

Rep. Ed Butler, D-Hart's Location, told the Senate conferees, "Even though we understand that voter registration is important to you, you understand it would be impossible for us to support the amendment having already non-concurred. And we ask you to understand the importance of the vaccine bill."

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, responded that "my renewable portfolio standards bill became the subject of the same" type of maneuver when the House combined it with the ACA-related bill, which it had earlier passed and the Senate had earlier killed.

Bradley said after the meeting the portfolio standards bill is a "very important issue" to the North Country forestry industry.

Also in the mix in the maneuvering is a separate voter ID bill, which remained in limbo Tuesday after committee of conference negotiations broke down on Monday.

Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett, said he offered to continue discussion with House conferees on that bill, but he said his offer was rejected.

However, late Tuesday there was a sign that there may be progress on that front with the committee of conference on that bill tentatively set to resume talks.

The separate voter registration bill at issue would change current law, which says, that to register, one must show that he or she is domiciled in New Hampshire. To do that, current law says, one must sign a form acknowledging that he is subject to the laws of the state, "including laws requiring a driver to register a motor vehicle and apply for a New Hampshire's driver's license within 60 days of becoming a resident."

A Superior Court judge ruled last fall the reference to motor vehicle laws caused confusion and ordered the state to remove the language from the voter registration forms before the 2012 election. The question for future elections is still pending before the judge.

The bill passed by the House removed any reference to motor vehicle laws. But the Senate inserted similar, but not identical, language as current law.

The Senate version says a person registering to vote must sign a form acknowledging that he is subject to the laws of the state, including laws that "may" require a driver to register a motor vehicle and apply for a driver's license within 60 days of becoming a resident.

The House non-concurred with that language, saying the difference was irreconcilable. At that point, the Senate attached it to the vaccine bill.

House and Senate conferees are scheduled to negotiate the renewable portfolio standards and the attached ACA bill on Wednesday, and then to resume negotiations on the vaccines expansion and attached voter registration bill, as well as the separate voter identification bill, on Thursday.

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