To watch the full interview on NH PBS’s The State We’re In click the YouTube video above.
We’re a few weeks away from a new year, but a new legislative session has already begun. What will that new legislative session look like? And what are some of the things that might come up for discussion this year? Host Melanie Plenda speaks with Anna Brown, Research and Analysis Director with Citizens Count and host of the podcast “$100 Plus Mileage,” about the upcoming session of the Legislature.
This content below has been edited for length and clarity. Watch the full interview via the link at the top of the page, or go t NH PBS’s The State We’re In.
Melanie Plenda: In a midterm, it’s usually the party that’s in the minority nationally that sees the biggest gains. That never materialized for Republicans. In New Hampshire, Democrats made some gains in the house. Do you think that will have an impact this on this session?
Anna Brown: Absolutely. First of all, there’s the issue of attendance. On a typical voting day, we’ll see somewhere around 30 representatives absent because they have a flat tire or a work commitment or the flu. So Republicans only have this two seat majority. The majority between Democrats and Republicans could flip on any given voting day. It will be almost impossible for either party to pass highly partisan legislation. They’re going to have to almost guarantee perfect attendance or they’re going to have to focus on those bipartisan issues because any issue where you see some people break away from your party is going to be dead in the water.
Melanie Plenda: Let’s unpack that a little. Will it change what comes up, or the way that the legislature works?
Anna Brown: I do think there is an opportunity for bipartisanship, and leaders from both sides have said they do plan to work together in the house. We’ve already seen a push to legalize marijuana that’s coming from both the left and the right. On the other hand, Republicans could use some rules and procedures to give less priority to Democratic bills. This year, for example, we saw a lot of bills just get tabled that might have had long debates or democratic priorities. That just basically puts it to the side and then the house will run out of time. There are roughly a thousand bills every legislative session so the timing of how these bills come up can be very important. There have also been previous years where Republicans held a much larger majority and still failed to agree on a budget, and that leaves a lot of power in the Senate. I suspect a lot of the big policy issues will ultimately be decided in the Senate.
Melanie Plenda: There are some of the same topics and bills that come up. What are some of those perennial favorites and what might happen with the new composition in the House?
Anna Brown: Marijuana legalization seems to come up every year. The real test is going to be whether or not it can pass the state Senate, which has historically rejected it. We did see a large turnover of state senators and in fact, the sponsor of one of the marijuana legalization bills from last year is now in the state senate. Other bills that are also from previous years: Right to Work, a proposal to raise the minimum wage; expanding firearm background checks to include more private sales; ranked choice voting; repealing annual car inspections; and even a bill about speed limits on Lake Winnipesaukee are all familiar debates from previous years, but as I noted, it’s going to be very hard for any highly partisan issue to pass. Right to Work, another abortion restriction, the minimum wage, expanding firearm background checks; I don’t suspect any of those to go forward because you would need not only every single one of the people in your party to show up and vote, you’d probably need a handful of people from the other party and that’s just not realistic.
Melanie Plenda: What new issues or unfinished business do you think the legislature might tackle this session?
Anna Brown: Republicans have already said they’re looking to bring back a parental rights bill, which critics said would force teachers to out at-risk LGBTQ+ teens to their parents. Not all Republicans got on board with that bill last year, but Sununu has said he’s open to the concept even though he also rejected last year’s bill. It’s an uphill battle, but I do think it’s going to be a battle that Republicans are going to want to fight this coming year. There are also legislative proposals related to the Education Freedom account, which I would call continuation of old business. That program allows students to take the per pupil share of state education funding and spend it on private or homeschool expenses. Republicans want to expand eligibility for the program to higher income levels while Democrats want to add more oversight or limit the program. In terms of new business there is of course the budget, and Sununu has already said he thinks the recession is coming and he told department heads to tighten their belts. I’m looking at childcare related bills in terms of, are there some workforce incentives, changes in licensing? I think that feeds into the larger workforce issue that New Hampshire is facing.
Melanie Plenda: Let’s talk more about the budget process. It’s always a bit contentious. How might that look this year given the narrow divide between parties in the House?
Anna Brown: The Senate already has a lot of power in the budget-making process. I think they will definitely have that huge role again this year, especially if the House struggles to come to an agreement. When I’m looking at what the budget will look like, I predict that it’s gonna be really economic-focused just like Senate president Jed Bradley said he wanted to focus on. I don’t think we’ll see any of those social issues combined with the budget like we did last time around. I’m recalling back to the 24 week abortion ban and the ban on teaching Critical Race Theory that was included in last cycle’s budget. It was very controversial. Governor Sununu said he only signed this abortion ban because it was part of the budget.
I don’t see that happening this time around because it would be so hard to get that sort of priority through the House, and it’s not in line with the remarks from the Senate president. The real debate on the budget that I’m interested to watch is what’s going to happen with business taxes. We’ve seen a lot of Republicans saying they want to cut taxes further. Sununu has said there’s a recession coming on the other hand, but he also generally supports business tax cuts as a way to stimulate the economy. I think that’s going to be a very interesting debate between being economically conservative and making sure you have enough revenue for when a recession comes versus that Republican priority of cut taxes to stimulate the economy.
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