The 2021 NH Legislature is entering the home stretch. The focus will be on the budget. There will be several negotiations between the Senate and House leadership and the Governor, trying to find a budget they can all support. That won’t be easy given the influence of the free staters and libertarians in the Republican party. The Senate has until June 3 to pass its version of the budget. Negotiations between the House and Senate will occur in conference committee thru June with the final budget due on Gov Sununu’s desk by June 30. It would be nice if the Republicans found, that due to splits in their own party, they cannot pass the budget on their own. Instead they would have to negotiate with Democrats on the final version. Isn’t that how representative government is supposed to work anyway.
The full House will hold a 2 day session on June 3 and June 4 to finish up its work on Senate bills. Since only bills with significant Republican support were passed by the Senate, it is likely that all the bills will actually be voted on during this two day session unlike the three day cross-over day session that left over 70 bills without a recorded vote by the April 9 deadline. The Senate continues to hold regular full Senate sessions. The next one is scheduled for May 13.
We do have good news on the revenue front. Revenues continue to exceed expectations and are now over $166 million above estimates. That means the Senate has more revenue to work with than the House had. The Governor is also making plans to spend $50 million in recouped CARES Act money. He will also have control of nearly $1 billion in American Rescue Plan money that is coming to the state. Money as I pointed out that no Congressional Republican voted for, but for which many Republican Governors, including Gov. Sununu, are eager to take credit.
The Governor is flush with cash and the Senate has more than the House had when they made their budget. So, it seems to me that it is time to write our Senators and urge them to use a significant part of this excess money to meet their obligations to share revenues with municipalities and local public schools.
Headed for Final Vote
HB 285 is on the fast track to be adopted by the NH Senate on May 13. It will then be sent to the Governor for his signature. This bill is sponsored by four state representatives from Derry and Derry’s State Senator. It requires the town or city clerk to investigate persons with substantially the same name, date of birth, and residency as someone noted on a death certificate or a change of address on a vehicle registration. The investigation is to determine if these individuals are one and the same person. A full match requires immediate removal from the checklist without any notice to the address of record.
Bills Headed to Public Hearing — Immediate Action Required
Public hearings on HB 292 and HB 555 are scheduled for Monday, May 10, by the Senate Election Law Committee. HB 555 allows certain prisoners to vote in NH elections. According to Justice Gatston of Reale Justice Network in Kansas City, three out of five people in jail are there because they can’t post bail. HB 555 would allow these prisoners to vote. This is a rare expansion of voting rights rather than the raft of voter suppression bills across the country.
If an absentee voter has the absentee ballots sent to an address other than that on the voter checklist and does not show the clerk a photo id prior to election day or does not provide a notarized signature with the absentee ballot, HB 292 requires the moderator to compare the absentee ballot application signature with that on the ballot affidavit, As noted before, signature comparisons have been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire. The Senate is likely to prefer its version of voter identification requirements as outlined in SB 54.
Besides making the names and addresses of those requesting an absentee ballot a public record 60 days after the relevant election, HB 291 also requires the Secretary of State to create a report of absentee ballot activity with a focus on multiple absentee ballots sent to a common address, think nursing home. This seems like a lot of extra work with no evidence of abuse of the system. No public hearing has been scheduled for HB 291.
Bills Awaiting Committee Recommendations
Five bills have had public hearings in both the House and the Senate. They are awaiting a committee recommendation by the relevant House or Senate Election Law Committee. HB 523 requires a same-day voter registrant who has no photo id to have their picture taken as a requirement to be registered. That voter is already required to have their photo taken before being allowed to vote that same day. Hopefully the Senate will kill this redundant bill.
SB 31 returns eligibility requirements to vote absentee to the pre-pandemic list. It also requires the Secretary of State to notify the state where a voter has previously voted that they are currently registered to vote in NH.
SB 54 places identification requirements on absentee voters more specific and less arbitrary than HB 292.
SB 83 doubles the cost to candidates who request a recount.
SB 89 was amended by the Senate to address some issues raised in the Windham recount. It requires the Secretary of State to report the number of over-voted and blank ballots. It also gives the Attorney General the authority to recount ballots if required to complete a complaint investigation.
Public hearings were held on the House budget bills (HB 1 and HB 2) last week. As noted above, state revenues are coming in higher than expected. Now is the time to tell the Finance Committee to use some of this extra revenue to meet its obligation to share revenues with municipalities and public schools.
SB 135 would fill the $90 million hole left in the House Budget by adjusting adequacy aid based on student enrollment in the 2019/2020 school year. The House held a public hearing and a full committee work session. It is expected to make a pass or fail recommendation on the bill on May 20.
HB 315 allows communities to combine (aggregate() local electric customers to negotiate lower electricity rates. The full Senate will consider the recommendation for passage by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee on May 13.
SB 91, among other things, clarifies the community aggregation rules for electric customers. It is a companion to HB 315. The House Science, Technology and Energy Committee held a public hearing on SB 91 and has a full committee work session scheduled for May 17.
SB 78 would continue the appropriation of the renewable energy fund to the public utilities commission. The House has held a public hearing and a full committee work session on the bill. We await the final House Science, Technology and Energy Committee recommendation on SB 78.
Although there are many bills I’ve written about in my newsletters that have been held in committee, they are unlikely to resurface before the 2022 legislative session. If they do, I’ll let you know.