State House Dome: Parking garage survives after heavy lift

·10 min read

May 22—IT SURE LOOKS LIKE the Legislature will be getting a new parking garage for lawmakers kitty corner to the State House, but it wasn't easy.

The final agreement also gave Gov. Chris Sununu a small piece of a workforce housing legislative agenda he's been pursuing for three years.

The conference committee deal over the so-called Christmas Tree bill (HB 1661) was the second-to-last one to come together moments before a 3 p.m. deadline Thursday.

There clearly was some bad blood over the state Senate's tactic of rolling together more than 80 sections of various issues into one bill.

In every case but one the Senate tried to have its cake and eat it too.

In other words, they voted to go to a conference committee over a separate pet issue but also dump that matter into this catch-all bill.

The one exception was what upset state Rep. Leonard Turcotte, R-Barrington — the omnibus Department of Health and Human Services bill (SB 430) that spent millions and made many technical and policy changes.

State Rep. Jess Edwards, R-Auburn, had tacked onto that Senate bill a House proposal to allow direct-member health care centers to be exempt from state licensing (HB 1044).

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, convinced the Senate to kill the stand-alone HHS bill, insisting Edwards' plan would "devastate" critical-access hospitals operating on the margin in rural areas across the state.

In response, for four days Turcotte said nothing in the HHS bill would be part of the compromise.

"SB 430 is not going to be part of this," Turcotte said.

With the clock ticking down, Turcotte agreed to come off the committee and be replaced by House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, who signed the final deal.

The core of this bill makes sure career technical education centers and public schools work together so students can complete their courses at two venues.

"We've been working for years on this and it's a critical reform needed to fill the workforce demands of the future," said House Education Chairman Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill.

Turcotte jumps out of way

A key member of House GOP leadership, Turcotte agreed to decamp so another compromise bill in dispute could become reality.

This one will provide more than $70 million in highway and bridge aid for cities and towns and $1 million more to support body and dashboard cameras for county and local police (SB 401).

Turcotte added to the House version his proposal to reduce the number of weeks someone could stay on unemployment once the jobless rate is low.

Currently, everyone can stay on the rolls while seeking work for up to 26 weeks.

Turcotte wanted to lower it to 16 weeks once the unemployment rate reached 3% and incrementally allow it to go up to 26 weeks once the rate is at 8%.

"Why are you going after a department that works extremely well?" Senate Finance Committee Gary Daniels, R-Milford, asked.

The average duration for unemployment benefits in the state is 14 weeks, according to state officials.

Rep. Terry Roy, R-Deerfield, said with the jobless rate among the lowest in the country, there's no reason anyone should stay on unemployment for half a year.

Nearly a dozen fall

Not all 48 conference committees got to have a warm fuzzy moment.

In fact, 11 of them collapsed without any agreement on topics that included the youth behavior risk survey and homeless grants, medical freedom and immunizations and jump-starting a past relationship with the federal WIC benefits program for low-income families and farmers' markets.

House and Senate leaders also couldn't come together over legislation to preempt regulation of firearms on public property (HB 307).

The House wanted to keep cities and towns from regulating the carrying and use of firearms, but the Senate would not go for the use provision, citing existing local ordinances that ban firing guns in some parks and playgrounds.

"We can all see this is not an easy issue," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry.

"It is fairly complex and we do not have enough time to address it."

Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown and a leading Second Amendment advocate, said existing law was tougher than the Senate's version.

Sparks greet Sununu move

More than a few social conservative Republicans were seething over Sununu's announcement that he would veto the compromise over parental rights (HB 1431).

This came after House Republicans brought the bill back from the dead and got a consensus amendment to the negotiating finish line.

In a brief statement, Sununu cited concerns raised by Attorney General John Formella's office that the law could be in conflict with the state's 2019 anti-discrimination law protecting students in public schools.

A torrent of attacks followed on social media against Sununu, questioning his GOP conservative credentials.

"Sununu's opposition to this makes no sense. He's catering to a minuscule constituency of extreme leftists who hate him and will never vote for him," one critic wrote on Twitter.

"What kind of parent doesn't want to know what is happening with their kid in school?"

Maybe one thing had nothing to with the other, but by midday Thursday, Sununu had deleted his tweet about the veto promise.

With a vote remaining in the House and perhaps the Senate, conservatives were mobilizing to keep the pressure on and get the compromise to Sununu's desk.

It will take only 12 to 15 pro-Sununu Republicans in the House caucus and all of the Democrats to block its passage.

Bail reform faces big test

Making a tough sled tougher, the fiscally conservative Americans for Prosperity are sponsoring digital ads urging lawmakers to reject the bail reform compromise (HB 1476).

Rep. Ross Berry, R-Manchester, and Bradley went through many hoops to get this agreement, but opponents are hoping the House sees the final product as too similar to one they already rejected twice this session.

Law enforcement is on board and lobbying hard to pass this one.

Reaction to Sununu Center

The State House collapse of a bill to chart the future of the Sununu Youth Services Center (SB 458) was about more than just moving the closing date for the Manchester detention center.

The Disabilities Rights Center, Department of Health and Human Services and juvenile justice advocates worked on language to make this new facility the place to put juveniles as a "last resort."

These policy changes would ensure a 12- or 18-bed facility would be plenty big, since many juveniles would be placed at programs in less-restrictive settings.

This one will have to come back up again early in 2023.

Another senator leaving

Three-term State Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, became the fifth Republican incumbent to confirm he won't be filing for re-election.

As Senate Ways and Means Chairman, Giuda has been a principled social and fiscal conservative in his six years in the House and six in the Senate.

Giuda endorsed State Rep. Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton, chairman of the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee, to replace him.

Senate redistricting moved Giuda's hometown of Warren into Senate District 1, but Giuda said he had planned to move further south so he could run again.

Lang has done battle with Belknap County Republicans, so there could be a primary in this red-leaning district.

Last week, Lang spoke to Sanbornton Republican David D. DeVoy II, who in the past ran against Giuda, and offered to endorse DeVoy to replace him in the House.

Another rematch on tap

As expected, ex-state Sen. Shannon Chandley, D-Amherst, will try to avenge her 2020 loss to Daniels in Senate District 11.

The race was the closest of the 24 that went to a recount. Daniels won by 159 votes.

Last week featured a blast from the past. Dan Feltes, the 2020 Democratic nominee for governor, signed on from Iowa with a letter to support a House Democratic victory fund-raiser last weekend on the 40th birthday of Victory Committee Chairman and Rep. Matt Wilhelm of Manchester.

Feltes recalled the House was lost to the GOP in the last election by 756 votes across 14 seats in the 400-member chamber.

Keene Dem seeks Senate

Three-term state Rep. Donovan Fenton, D-Keene, became the first to declare he's running for the State Senate District 10 seat that Keene Democrat Jay Kahn is stepping away from this fall.

A member of the House Transportation Committee, Fenton also has served on the New Hampshire Canadian Trade Council and other local nonprofit groups.

Others likely are going to be interested in this very Democratic-leaning district.

Keno expansion

House Ways and Means Vice Chairman Patrick Abrami, R-Stratham, stood firm and got the expansion of Keno he wanted — without video screens.

The House and Senate on Thursday likely will pass this bill letting grocery, pharmacy and convenience stores sell Keno tickets. Currently they can only be bought at bars and restaurants with liquor licenses (HB 355).

Abrami blocked the attempt to let these store owners decide whether they wanted video screens.

"It's not a good look, and I'm glad we prevailed on that one," Abrami said.

Morse heads to border

Senate President Morse leads a delegation that includes four county sheriffs who will tour the southern border at McAllen, Texas.

The announcement came from Morse's State Senate committee. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott extended the invitation.

Immigration is a key issue in Morse's U.S. Senate bid. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., visited the border last month.

Meanwhile, former Londonderry town manager and GOP Senate hopeful Kevin Smith got a big third-party lift.

As we first reported on social media, a new Super PAC, Stand for N.H., began a $450,000 advertising buy on TV, cable and digital outlets promoting Smith's conservative principles.

The contact for the new Super PAC is Stephen DeMaura, an alumnus of the N.H. Republican State Committee and national GOP strategist who's worked for Walmart and 2016 presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina.

Injured rep gets a hand

Legislative negotiators embraced a compromise to put New Hampshire on the cutting edge of promoting cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin in New Hampshire.

And they did it while the bill's biggest proponent was in an Elliot Hospital room.

State Rep. Keith Ammon, R-New Boston, had been recovering from a serious automobile accident.

House Majority Leader Osborne and House Commerce Chairman John Hunt, R-Rindge, stepped in to make sure Ammon's pet cause hit pay dirt.

2022 Democratic candidate for governor Tom Sherman got his own piece in that compromise bill (HB 1503), a weaker version of his "Buy America" plan that encourages, but does not require, large public works projects to use U.S.-made steel.

Sununu backs incumbents

During a pretty sleepy Executive Council meeting Wednesday, Sununu stuck with what has been working with appointments.

He asked the council to give new terms to New Hampshire Lottery Commissioner Debra Douglas of Concord, Deputy Adjutant General Warren Perry of Bow, Fish and Game Commission member and ex-Rep. Eric Stohl of Colebrook and University System Board of Trustee Jaime Burnett of Concord.

Kevin Landrigan is the State House bureau chief for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at klandrigan@unionleader.com.