Terie Norelli: A 2014 agenda for New Hampshire
As we begin the 2014 legislative session on Wednesday, we must build upon the accomplishments of 2013. Perhaps the most important of which was the overwhelmingly bipartisan supported budget that began restoring investments in our communities that were slashed in the prior budget. During the upcoming session we will turn our focus to addressing critical needs, promoting a stronger economy and ensuring that our state takes advantage of available opportunities to make our citizens healthier and our health care system stronger.
This session we will take up a variety of measures to strengthen our state's economy. These measures include a bill to use surplus funds (revenues above projections) to reduce "back of the budget" cuts that will inhibit the Department of Health and Human Services from providing essential services in our communities, a measure that will restore and increase the minimum wage to a level where our hard-working men and women can provide for their families, and legislation prohibiting employers from engaging in discriminatory hiring based on credit history.
In 2013 the House recognized the crisis state of our roads and bridges and acted accordingly. We passed a bill that would provide the necessary funding for a functional infrastructure for our economy and allow fiscally wise decisions to maintain our roads and bridges rather than be forced to pay exorbitant replacement costs down the road. The Senate rejected that bill, with emphasis. This term the House will consider measures to better identify and classify these bridges and to provide the Department of Transportation with more flexibility to bond projects. Without safe and reliable roads and bridges, our economy cannot function and the safety of our citizens is placed in unnecessary danger. We must take action to address these challenges now.
An important step to ensuring long term success is protection of our state's democratic governance. Civic engagement is something that is learned, and we must do more to encourage it. As we begin planning to celebrate the coming 100th anniversary of the New Hampshire primary, we must take every opportunity to share the infectious "First in the Nation" spirit with the next generation.
Without question, the single most important thing we must accomplish as soon as possible is expanding access to healthcare to 58,000 men, women and children across our state. Every day we wait to take advantage of the available 100 percent federal matching funds is a day with care not delivered to our citizens and dollars not invested in our state. With nearly all of the northeastern states engaging in Medicaid expansion, we put our state at a competitive disadvantage (and a loss of $500,000 per day) by refusing to participate in the program.
On Wednesday, one of our first orders of business will be to amend a related retained bill to include Medicaid expansion. That is the quickest we can act on the subject, immediately sending the bill over to the Senate upon passage and minimizing New Hampshire's lost opportunity.
The state of New Hampshire and all of the people need us to pass a plan that works immediately. Each day that we wait means dollars not invested in our state's health care infrastructure, care not received by men and women who desperately need it, and good jobs not created in our state.
We need to do more to encourage long-term planning and investment, to enable the state to make better choices to maximize prosperity in good times and minimize the impacts of national economic downturns. Enabling and codifying an official strategic plan for economic development is an important step in that direction. Combined with infrastructure investment, proper protections for working men and women and a robust, high-quality public education system, we can have confidence that our state will have a bright future beyond our own horizons and throughout the lives of our grandchildren.
We must not write off 2014 as an election year filled with posturing and little action. There is no better time to find long-term solutions to long-standing challenges. It will take reason and compromise, but together we can get this done.
Rep. Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, is Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives.