June 9 - New Penalties Adopted For Driving Without a License

This article appeared in the E-Ticker News June 9, 2014

NH House Happenings

By Rep. John Cloutier

New Penalties Adopted For Driving Without A License

Compromise legislation which should help our state government avert a significant loss of tax revenue as well as benefit critical access hospitals like Claremontʼs Valley Regional, has been adopted by New Hampshireʼs House of Representatives.

On June 4 the House, by an overwhelming 278-72 roll call vote, approved the Committee of Conference Agreement regarding Senate Bill 369, relative to the MET (Medicaid Enhancement Tax). Approval of this compromise version of the bill came after about 15 minutes of debate, and after the billʼs seven-member committee of conference, consisting of four representatives and three senators, had agreed to the compromise the previous week. But the compromise might have never had happened had it not been for an agreement reached a few days earlier by Gov. Maggie Hassan and 25 of the 26 New Hampshire hospitals. An agreement in which all 25 hospitals, except Nashuaʼs St. Joseph Hospital, decided to drop their lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the present MET Tax approved by the previous legislature in 2011 in exchange for Senate Bill 369ʼs compromise version. This was a lawsuit that was headed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court after two lower superior court judges had declared that the present MET Tax is unconstitutional.

Senate Bill 369ʼs compromise version was adopted later on June 4 by the New Hampshire Senate. It now proceeds to Gov. Hassan for her expected signature. The billʼs prime sponsor as well as the key legislator instrumental in getting the the compromise adopted by both House and Senate is New London Sen. Odell, who used to be Claremontʼs state senator.

Specifically, in regard to the MET issue, MET revenue in combination with matching federal funds has been part of the Medicaid program to help reimburse critical access hospitals for uncompensated care. Uncompensated care that the hospitals provide to Medicaid patients. Because of the lawsuit by 26 hospitals, it is likely that if Gov. Hassan had not negotiated the agreement with them, and Senate Bill 369ʼs compromise version had not been passed, then the hospitals would not have made their MET payments later this year. Consequently, New Hampshireʼs government would have been responsible for a total of $380 million in payments for uncompensated care. A money total which would blown a huge hole in the stateʼs operating budget. Furthermore, health insurance premiums for non-Medicaid policyholders might have drastically increased in order for hospitals to help pay for their uncompensated care. Finally, some of the stateʼs critical access hospitals might have closed because they likely would have been un- able to recoup all such uncompensated care costs.

More specifically, under Senate Bill 369ʼs compromise version, the MET rate would decline from its current 5.5 percent to 5.45 percent on July 1, 2015, and to 5.4 percent on July 1, 2016. Also, the tax rate would be reduced to 5.25 percent, if total uncompensated care costs fall below $375 million in our state beginning on July 1, 2017, a situation which I learned could occur because of the Medicaid expansion recently approved by the legislature, and increased access to health insurance for our low-income citizens as a result of the Affordable Health Care Act, popularly known as “Obamacare.”

Additionally, the MET program would cost New Hampshireʼs operating budget an estimated total of $138 million over the next two budget bienniums between July 1,2015-2019. Also, only the 26 hospitals will directly pay the tax. Finally, all revenue raised from the MET would be placed in a trust fund, and used exclusively to support Medicaid hospital services for our eligible low-income citizens.

For readersʼ information, I did vote for Senate Bill 369ʼs Committee of Conference Agreement. I voted “yes,” because I believed our state could not afford to lose $380 million in money from the operating budget. Furthermore, I believe our state needs to do whatever is feasible to strengthen the financial condition of critical access hospitals like Valley Regional, which are now struggling with deficits caused by providing uncompensated care.

In other action on June 4, the House adopted, by a 207-120 roll call vote, a Committee of Conference Agreement regarding House Bill 1188, which is relative to paycheck equity. The billʼs committee of conference agreement simply prohibits employees from requiring male or female employees to refrain from discussing their wages with other employees. House Bill 1188ʼs compromise agreement had been earlier approved by the Senate and now goes to Gov. Hassan for her expected signature. The billʼs prime sponsor is Keene Rep. Charles Weed. I voted for House Billʼs compromise version because I believe it would strengthen the Federal Equal Pay Act of 1963 which requires both men and women to be equally paid for the same type of jobs.

Also adopted on June 4, by a 252-86 roll call vote, was the Committee of Conference Agreement regarding House Bill 1135, relative to penalties for driving without a license. Under the billʼs compromise version earlier adopted by the Senate, any motorist who is guilty of driving with a license that has been expired for not more than 12 months, would be guilty of a violation (the lowest level of criminal of- fense) for the first offense and a Class B Misdemeanor (a higher-level crime) for a second or subsequent offense. Finally, any motorist, who has never had a license would be guilty of a Class B Misdemeanor. The billʼs prime sponsor is Hampton Rep. Robert Cushing, its compromise version now goes to Gov. Hassan for her consideration.

For readersʼ information, I voted for the compromise version of House Bill 1135 to help improve highway safety. For anyone to con- tinue driving without a license for a long period of time after it has expired, or simply drive without a license at all, is inexcusable, in my opinion.

Email: jocloutier@comcast.net