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Garry Rayno's State House Dome: NH legislative session winding to a close

June 14. 2014 6:20PM

The curtain has come down on the legislative session except for vetoes from Gov. Maggie Hassan, and there will be one or two.

Like any session, there are winners and there are losers, and some that fall somewhere in between.

The biggest losers this session were advocates of death penalty repeal and the casino gambling industry.

While the death penalty passed the House by overwhelming margins twice, it died in the Senate on a 12-12 vote and then again when it was killed without debate.

Casino gambling passed the Senate with the backing of Hassan and there was great hope for a House bill developed by the Gaming Regulatory Oversight Committee over the summer and fall, but it died by the same 20-vote margin that doomed casino gambling during the 2013 session.

A Senate casino bill was twice rejected by the House, the first time by a single vote, the second by 20 votes. Gun control or background check advocates met a similar fate as gambling as did those who want to decriminalize marijuana and tax its sale and allowing medical marijuana patients to grow their own medication.

Raising the minimum wage was killed in the Senate, the labor unions top priority, but paycheck equity, another priority sailed through.

The biggest winner by far was the hospital industry which will have more paying patients than every before through both the passage of Medicaid expansion or the NH Health Protection Program, and the Medicaid Enhancement Tax settlement after two superior courts ruled the tax unconstitutional.

Not only will hospitals and health care providers get all of the more than $200 million in MET money returned in either uncompensated care help or health care services, they receive a guarantee of up to 50 percent for large hospitals and 75 percent for small rural hospitals for uncompensated care.

Another big winner is the construction industry which has seen better days and been slow to rebound out of the recession.

The 4-cent increase in the gas tax will mean $32 million in new road and bridge projects over the next two fiscal years and in the future help pay for the completion of the Interstate-93 expansion project from Salem to Manchester.

Although you cannot say crime victims are winners, legislatively they received a great deal more protection from laws passed this session, including Joshua's Law, named after Joshua Savyon, who was killed by his father at a visitation in Manchester last summer, which establishes the crime of domestic violence.

Other bills passed this session make it easier for the mother of a child conceived during rape to end the perpetrator's parental rights, increases the penalties for human trafficking and includes household and domestic animals under the domestic violence protection statute.

Public safety was another big winner as laws passed establishing an up to 25-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics, banning hand held cell phone or electronic device use while driving, and allowing first time drunk driver offenders to have limited driving privileges with the use of a interlock ignition device to detect alcohol use.

Heating fuel users will have a little more protection against dealers who fail to live up to pre-buy contracts or fail to deliver fuel on time or when needed, and 17-year olds will no longer be adults in the criminal justice system.

Some industries and groups were both winners and losers like Public Service of New Hampshire, which was able to beat down a bill nearly requiring Northern Pass transmission lines be buried, but may have to sell or retire its fossil fueling burning generating facilities because of legislative action.

The biggest single winner was Hassan who may not have been able to convince enough House members to vote for casino gambling and provide another source of revenue, but did convince the Senate to work to expand Medicaid eligibility, settled what could have been very costly lawsuits with hospitals, rehabilitation hospitals and patients of the state mental health system, and signed a gas tax increase that funds the final phases of the I-93 expansion project and begins to fix some of the worst of the state's crumbling highways and bridges.

Capital Budget

The second year of the current biennial budget has yet to begin, but the 2016-17 capital budget process has already begun.

Public hearings will be held Monday and Tuesday on departments' requests for construction and renovation projects, design work and equipment totaling $227 million in general fund spending.

The requests range from $23 million in new computers and related equipment for the Department of Health and Human Services, to $7 million for a new Portsmouth Traffic Circle liquor store.

Other projects include $14.7 million in work on Merrimack County Superior Court, $20 million for renovating community technical education centers and $38 million for the University of New Hampshire for an integrated science facility.

Gov. Maggie Hassan opens the public hearing on the capital budget requests at 10:15 a.m. Monday in Rooms 210-211 of the Legislative Office Building.

First up will be the University System of New Hampshire.

The hearing continues will continue Tuesday from 9 a.m. to about noon in the same room.

Key Match-Ups

Some key primary races are shaping up in the state Senate that could well determine which party will have control of the Upper Chamber come December's organizational meeting.

Three Republican senators were already targeted for their support of Medicaid expansion: Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro, David Boutin of Hooksett and Nancy Stiles of Hampton.

Two of the three have primary challengers more conservative than they are: Boutin will face Rep. Jane Cormier, who moved from Alton to Hooksett, and Stiles will face Steve Kenda of North Hampton.

Both challengers are business owners who have the backing of the Republican Liberty Caucus, whose chairman, Aaron Day, promised primary races for every Republican who backed Medicaid expansion.

As of Friday afternoon, Bradley did not have a primary challenger.

Another interesting race is in District 8, where Jerry Little of Weare, a longtime New Hampshire Bankers Association president and former press secretary to John H. Sununu, is facing J.P. Marzullo of Deering, the state GOP vice chairman, who has been endorsed by the RLC. The two seek to replace Sen. Bob Odell, who is not running for reelection.

District 8 is a swing district that leans slightly Republican but includes towns such as New London and Grantham, where most Republicans are more moderate than conservative.

The winner faces one-term Democratic Rep. Linda Tanner of Sunapee, a long-time educator in the Kearsarge Regional School District, which comprises a good part of the district.

In the District 17 Republican primary there is a rematch from the 2012 election as Loudon farmer Howard Pearl challenges incumbent Sen. John Reagan of Deerfield.

Reagan has generally followed the Republican leadership and did not vote for Medicaid expansion. Pearl is viewed as the more conservative in the race. Although the district is largely Republican, the right Democrat could make it interesting.

The Republican match-up in District 18, where the winner will face incumbent Donna Soucy of Manchester, could be telling as Rep. George Lambert of Litchfield faces Manchester school board member Robyn M. Dunphy. Lambert is considered the more conservative and as such would have a more difficult race against Soucy.

Another race to watch that has implications in November is in District 12, where former Rep. Kevin A. Avard of Nashua is taking on current Rep. Michael McCarthy, also of Nashua.

Avvard is considered the more conservative of the two candidates, which make his race against Democratic incumbent Peggy Gilmour of Hollis a more challenging contest.

Two Republican primaries drew a crowd of hopefuls, although the outcome in the heavily Republican districts will do nothing to add to the Democrats' total in November, District 19 and District 11.

Former Senate President Peter Bragdon of Milford is not seeking reelection, and that opened the flood gates as four candidates filed for the primary, Rep. Gary L. Daniels of Milford, Merrimack Selectman Daniel Dwyer, Merrimack attorney Dan Hynes and former Merrimack Rep. Maureen Mooney.

And in District 19, three candidates stepped up to run in the Republican primary to replace retiring Sen. Jim Rausch: Rep. Regina Birdsell of Hampstead, Derry GOP town chair Jim Foley, and current Rep. and former state Sen. Frank V. Sapareto of Derry.

The only Democratic primary is in District 15 with the retirement of former Senate President Sylvia Larsen of Concord. In the primary, Concord School Board member Kass Ardinger Concord takes on Concord Legal Assistance attorney and lobbyist Dan Feltes.

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