In the words of the old Yankee sage, Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
The first week of the 2020 legislature looked a lot like the 2019 version. Whether a different ending waits at the end of the session remains to be seen, but is not likely in an election year.
Just to remind those with short-term memories, which in the current political environment appears to be most everyone, Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed 57 bills. The House sustained his last two vetoes at the beginning of Wednesday’s session with only Republican votes.
Block voting was prevalent in the House last week, not so much in the Senate, with partisan lines firmly established.
The House revisited issues like paid family and medical leave, minimum wage, Medicaid expansion work requirement, independent redistricting commission and net metering, all bills Sununu vetoed last session and is expected to do so again if the bills progress through the legislative process to his desk.
The Senate also approved several bills Sununu vetoed as well.
You might ask, “Why go through this exercise if you know the outcome?” Remember what Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
But politics thrives on insanity, so Democrats will again remind voters that the governor is not really in favor of paid family and medical leave for everyone, that his proposed plan falls short of what polls indicate people support.
Sununu and Republicans — as they did again Wednesday — called the Democrats’ plan nothing more than an income tax and then touted the governor’s voluntary plan as doable.
Democrats will reinforce their contention the governor does not support clean energy and instead is in league with the fossil fuel industry by again passing a bill expanding net metering to larger organizations and municipalities.
Sununu and Republicans will tout his recent backing of an all-GOP-sponsored, three-bill package to promote clean energy that Democrats said fails to address climate change.
Democrats will remind state residents Sununu and Republicans don’t want their wages to increase by opposing raising the minimum wage up from a region-low of $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour over five years.
Republicans will say doubling the minimum wage is a job killer and hurts small businesses.
The Medicaid expansion work requirement will also be part of the political jousting with Democrats calling it expansive and onerous, noting it could eliminate health insurance for 17,000 low-income folks.
Republicans say the work requirement was a bipartisan agreement two years ago, and eliminating it shows Democrats cannot be trusted.
Any number of other issues will be debated in similar fashion between now and the end of the session at the beginning of June.
Other issues will also be hotly debated like abortion and gun restrictions.
Three bills would create greater restrictions on abortions. One would do away with the judicial consent bypass in the parental notification law for minors.
Another would prohibit abortions due to a fetus’s sex, potential for Down Syndrome or genetic abnormalities, and punish providers who violate the provisions, as would another bill that would prohibit abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.
Numerous bills would revisit provisions for purchasing a firearm. Although Sununu vetoed almost identical bills last session, lawmakers will again debate backgrounds checks on all commercial firearms sales and a waiting period before taking possession of a firearm.
Other bills would restrict carrying guns on school property, do away with gun manufacturers’ limited liability protections and establish a committee to review instances of children accessing their parents’ firearms.
Bills will seek to repeal Republicans initiatives to tighten voting requirements by changing the definition of residency and voting domicile, and other bills would allow voters more leeway in using absentee ballot, Similar bills were vetoed by Sununu last session.
With 57 vetoes, there are numerous opportunities to revisit battles pitting the Democratically-controlled legislature against the GOP governor and his party’s lawmakers.
The House and Senate mostly finished work on 2019 bills last week in two House sessions and Senate session.
Granted most of the 200 or so bills were recommended for killing, either directly with inexpedient to legislate recommendations or indirectly with interim study. With interim study, the next legislature has no obligation to act on whatever conclusion is reached and in most cases ignores the last legislature’s findings.
Both the House and Senate tabled several bills that could be brought up again before the end of the month, but that is not a sure thing.
Instead, lawmakers will focus on new battles over taxes, social service programs and energy as well as other issues that have the potential for hot button exposure prior to November’s general election.
Some of those battles commence this week as public hearings begin on the 2020 session’s bills.
Taxes on Tobacco, e-cigs and electronics
There are several tax bills dealing with public hearings this week.
Thursday the House Ways and Means Committee hears two bills concerning smoking.
House Bill 1477 would increase the tobacco tax by 12 cents a pack bringing the total to $1.90 a pack.
The increase is projected to produce an additional $12.4 million in annual revenue.
House Bill 1699 would increase the tax on e-cigarettes to 40 percent of retail cost. The state’s biennial two-year operating budget contained changes to the e-cigarette tax, but this bill would increase the cost to e-smokers some more.
The Legislative Budget Assistant was unable at this time to determine what the impact would be on state revenues.
Wednesday appears to be another banner day for House Ways and Means Committee.
A proposed constitutional amendment, CACR 17, would allow a new broad-based tax to be enacted only if the revenue is used to reduce property taxes. In other words, the proposed amendment would create a “lock-box” for any revenue raised by a broad-based tax, which could be an income, sales, property or value-added tax, to be distributed for property tax relief.
The proposed amendment does not set up a distribution formula for the money.
The amendment is similar to a proposal 30 years ago when lawmakers grappled with the state Supreme Court’s education funding decisions. Instead, lawmakers created the Education Trust Fund.
And on Wednesday, the Education Trust Fund would be the beneficiary of a new sales tax on electronics.
House Bill 1492 would impose a 4.3 percent sales tax on televisions, computers and video games and their related equipment; smartwatches, and cell phones.
The Department of Revenue Administration says it is unable to determine how much the levy would generate.
A bill with a public hearing Tuesday before the House Health and Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee would require the state’s Medicaid program to reimburse pharmacists for doctor or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) ordered drugs to help someone stop smoking.
House Bill 1600 has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.
Next week is the beginning. Much more lies ahead.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org