May 26 - The House Side of Committees of Conference Works

This article appeared in the E-Ticker News May 26, 2014

NH House Happenings

By Rep. John Cloutier

The House Side Of Committees Of Conference Work

Both New Hampshireʼs House of Representatives and Senate are approaching the end of the 2014 Regular Legislative Session, with just a few more weeks of business left.

Under Part 2, Article 15 of the New Hampshire Constitution, all regular legislative sessions must end no later than July 1 of every year in order for representatives as well as senators to receive mileage for attending House and Senate meetings in Concord. This year the 2014 Session is tentatively scheduled to conclude by June 4 and 5 for both bodies. But if Gov. Maggie Hassan vetoes any legislation passed by both within a few weeks after June 5, then we representatives and senators could return for a one-day meeting in June to take up the vetoes.

Meanwhile, both House and Senate are presently meeting in committees of conference on various bills, seven-member committees consisting of four representatives named by House Speaker Terie Norelli and three senators named by Senate President Chuck Morse. These committees meet in attempts to resolve differences and/or agree to compromises regarding bills passed by one legislative body, but which the second body has amended, amendments with which the first has concerns or disagreements. Under House rules, all committees of conference and their seven members have until Fri. May 30, at 4:00 p.m. to reach agreements or compromises on disputed bills as well as sign off on the committee reports for such bills. If any of the seven members do not sign off on the report, then the disputed is normally defeated for the year.

Most legislative pundits believe that the most important committee of conference of the 2014 Session will the one for Senate Bill 369. This bill would make changes to New Hampshireʼs Medicaid Enhancement Tax, popularly known as the “MET Tax.” The MET Tax, which helps our stateʼs hospitals provide health care to low-income citizens, has recently been declared unconstitutional by two lower court judges. Gov. Maggie Hassan is now appealing these decisions, to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which could reduce state tax revenues if the Supreme Court ultimately agrees with them.

Senate Bill 369 first passed the Senate, but the House on May 15 by a 247-28 roll call vote adopted an amended version of the bill. An amended version which would provide to the courts and our citizens a “clarification of the legislative findings and intent” that constitute the previous legislatureʼs intent to tax the services of both hospital inpa- tient and outpatient facilities. Legislative intent should provide for the “consistent, equitable, and rational taxation” of revenue from “two separate and distinct types of facilities as allowed under federal law. The just-described statement is according to Hooksett Rep. David Hess, who wrote the report for the majority of the House Ways & Means Committee recommending adoption of the amended bill.

Furthermore, Rep. Hess stated that the amended Senate Bill 369 also contains severability and contingency clauses which deal with the possibility of the Supreme Court declaring that the MET Tax unconstitutional in its current form. Under these severability and contingency clauses, the MET Tax base would be expanded to specifically include the four types of out-patient health services, the exclusion of which led the two lower courts to find the MET Tax unconstitutional. It also ex- empts from the tax 12 categories of health care entities and activities and establishes a $500,000 threshold of net patient services funds for the four just-mentioned types of out-patient services. This $500,000 threshold must be exceeded before the new MET Tax could be imposed. They would also immediately drop the tax rate from 5.5 to 5 percent and tie the determination of future tax rates to the amount of revenue received the previous rate. These provisions should help in- sure “revenue neutrality”, or in other words guarantee that the any new MET tax raises no more revenue than the previous tax.

For readersʼ information, I voted for the amended version of Senate Bill 369 in regard to the MET Tax. I voted for the amended Senate Bill 369 because I believe our state legislature needs to improve the MET Tax, a complicated tax, which if not improved, could result in a revenue loss to our stateʼs budget, especially if the Supreme Court declares the present MET unconstitutional. Hopefully, the senators on the billʼs committee of conference will eventually either agree with the House version of the legislation, or work out a reasonable compromise on this important measure with which my fellow representatives and I can concur. 

This year I am on three committees of conference for three disputed bills. They include House Bill 1203, which would repeal some provisions by how state government sells the property formerly containing the Laconia State Prison, and before that, the Laconia State School. Also there is House Bill 1350, which would raise the threshold from $5,000 to $10,000 before a town would have to hold public hearings after receiving unanticipated funds during a budget year. The only reason I am on this committee of conference for a bill, originally recommended by the House Municipal & County Government Committee, is that the Senate added a non-germane amendment in regard to funding for two CTE career technical & educational) centers in Dover and Salem which cater to high school students and are usually funded thru the stateʼs capital budget. This is a budget for which my Public Works & Highways Committee is responsible. Finally, I am chair of the committee of conference for Senate Bill 321, which would make changes to the motorist service signs program for New Hampshire highway travelers that our State Department of Transportation now runs.