To set the stage for the next two years of the New Hampshire legislative session and presumably Governor Chris Sununu’s last two years in office, its necessary to point out that the N.H. House of Representatives is in a unique circumstance not seen in modern history. The current count in the 400-member House is 201 Republicans, 196 Democrats and three vacancies. A slim majority for a party caucus in a smaller body would be manageable, but with so many members it is typical for there to be 380-385 present and voting. Functionally, then, this means that the majority party could shift back-and-forth, depending on which party has more absences.
An early pattern emerging is that the House will delay action on bills that have a partisan split in committee unless it is urgent, part of the Republican Majority agenda or it is necessary to pass, like the three budget bills. This gives time for vacancies to be filled via special election. One vacancy exists due to a tie after recount, one because of resignation (the seat winner is facing prosecution) and the last because the member is home-ridden and can’t appear to be sworn in.
The virtual tie means in most cases the committees have a 10-10 makeup, setting the stage for tie votes coming out of the committee.
But the legislature is set to tackle some pressing issues. In particular, affordable / workforce housing continues to be an issue. Over the past two years Governor Sununu has pointed to aggressive zoning ordinances at the local level as a reason. The lack of inventory has caused short supply, driving up rent and selling prices as well. To address the problem, Speaker of the House Sherm Packard has appointed a Special Committee on Housing to “…identify and investigate matters related to New Hampshire’s housing crisis”
In his fourth Inaugural address, Governor Sununu did not roll out new initiatives, which are expected to be included as part of his Budget Address February 14th. But he did boast about New Hampshire status in many categories including “The Number One State for Economic Opportunity, The Number One State for Public Safety, With the Lowest Poverty Rate in America”. It may be easy for him to create his budget proposal as sings are that New Hampshire government’s f iscal discipline are leading to a surplus as the state operating budget has a nearly $60 million dollar surplus with just six months of the 24-month budget to go. Well over half of that surplus is within the state’s Business Profits Tax, paid by a limited number of major businesses, mostly in the manufacturing / tech industries.
NHRLA Priority Legislation:
Being the first year of the session we’re still evaluating legislation as it is introduced and language becomes available, but one bill that we were informed of recently is SB 26 relative to asbestos actions. This bill is similar to legislation introduced a handful of years back. It seeks to introduce transparency into asbestos-related law suits when claims have also been filed against an asbestos trust, several of which were set up at the time the asbestos manufacturers were declaring bankruptcy. Currently a trust claim may state that the asbestos exposure was a result of the plaintiff working on a particular job site, whereas the civil action may claim that the plaintiff purchased materials containing asbestos from a retailer. These are conflicting claims from the same plaintiff and would be discovered with greater transparency, without which the retailer’s involvement may eliminated, but only after expenses legal bills have been incurred. NRLA’s goal is to prevent members from being dragged into a legal proceeding frivolously and incurring unnecessary legal bills. The bill faces a tough road.