Jun 4, 2015 4:00 PM
NH1 News Political Report: June 4, 2015 - The must-read, weekly NH political tip sheet
Sometimes a change in political custom can make all the difference.
There’s no question House Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, is banking on that with his unusual decision to place himself on the team of House negotiators for a two-year state budget deal.
Veteran observers can’t recall the last time a House leader put him or herself in the room making the final deal.
Why? The speaker’s first job is to try and keep all 400 members satisfied and that role is to manage and support whatever the position of the full House ends up being - not to create it.
Second, let’s get real. At the end of the day all state budget negotiators are supposed to report back privately to the speaker on what’s going in or what’s coming out.
He or she hasn’t needed a seat at the table.
The much smaller Senate always has been and will be different. With only 24 members, the Senate president can and often has been brokering the outcome and then presiding over its passage.
So why would Jasper break with tradition?
He’s been in a unique place from the start, elected not with a Republican majority but instead by a small band of supporters with the rest of Democrats who didn’t want two more years of ex-Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon.
Jasper has managed to keep the GOP caucus pretty well ini line but for the notable exceptions you’ve seen in the New Hampshire Political Report (see item) below.
But the budget is the most important bill of the year and we already saw last spring Jasper’s budget team had some difficulty getting their own House in order.
You may recall the House Finance Committee sent deep cuts in the Department of Transportation’s budget only to reverse itself a week later after the House membership soundly rejected the idea.
The worst kept secret is whatever the final budget deal looks like, it will be tougher getting it through the House.
If it looks a lot like what the Senate did, for example, Democrats loyal to Governor Maggie Hassan won’t be for it.
But neither will many conservative Republicans who can’t be happy that it increases state spending by more than $110 million over the two-year period.
The campaign for sweeping workers’ compensation reform fell flat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives Wednesday due to some very strange bedfellows.
Conservative Republicans aligned with ex-House Speaker Bill O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, teamed with Democrats to derail a House GOP leadership plan that had the strong backing of business groups and the insurance industry.
The House rejected placing more strict limits on what medical providers can pay to injured workers.
The New Hampshire Political Report was the first last week to spell out the grand compromise that Manchester Republican State Rep. Will Infantine crafted.
Rather than a medical fee schedule - which business groups wanted most - Infantine said his plan was guidelines that could be exceeded due to the geographic location of the injury, the complex nature of the case or the high-cost specialists needed to treat it.
Lebanon Rep. Andrew White, the House Democrat leading the opposition, disagreed.
"You can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig and this is still a fee schedule,’’ White declared.
O’Brien kept a relatively low profile during the debate but left no doubt where he stood.
"This is price fixing and from an administrative point of view just carrying it out would be a bureaucratic nightmare,’’ O’Brien said.
The vote was 198-132, an unusually strong defeat for Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, and his leadership team thata made this reform a top priority.
The House did pass a bill spelling out what are ``reasonable fees’’ and making providers prove whether they are. The Department of Labor would resolve any disputes.
The stripped-down bill now goes to the Senate that had been itself divided over a fee schedule.
Clearly some industry advocates will want the Senate to simply kill this measure; since it would only any future push for a fee schedule.
This battle has already had plenty of twists and turns; there have to be at least a few more left.
Finally to make matters worse for industry groups, the State Senate late Thursday night endorsed the House-passed changes (SB 133) on a voice vote.
Their only hope is to try and rally enough support for their failed compromise this fall as the Senate did kick back to committee a separate bill (SB 3) for a fee schedule.
What happened in the Senate to blow up the bill to eliminate jail time for first-time marijuana possession?
Technically, the House-passed bill (HB 618) isn't dead; it's been put on the table by a 13-11 vote.
But there's next to no hope of reviving this one given how dug in both sides are and how stunning was the collapse.
What is known that there were six Republican and nine of 10 Democratic senators who voted not to kill the bill.
Then it gets very murky. Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett, moved to strike a key provision that prevented anyone with a first offense violation from losing college financial aid, housing or other benefits.
After a lengthy, closed-door caucus of GOP senators, five of the six GOP senators bailed voting to take that section out, gut the bill and render it useless.
Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, was the only one of the six to stick with the careful compromise Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, and Sen. David Pierce, D-Hanover, had crafted; Bradley went with 12 other GOP senators to take that section out.
Sen. Andrew Hosmer, D-Laconia, had voted to kill the bill; when that failed, he fell in line with the rest and voted not to take the section out.
Matt Simon, New England director of the Marijuana Policy Project, doesn't blame Bradley or the Senate GOP for the surprising result.
Simon said Gov. Maggie Hassan and her team caused it by ending her long opposition to the idea but then offering so many caveats on what she would support that it gummed up the works.
"This made the whole process so confusing and disruptive that it fell apart,'' Simon said.
For their part, Hassan's team insisted they made a sincere effort to forge consensus including meeting with the opposing police chiefs and anti-substance abuse New Futures group in hopes of dampening their determination to kill the bill.
It's worth noting just before the Senate Republican huddle, Finance Chairman Jeanie Forrester, R-Meredith,publicly scolded colleagues for preparing to end marijuana possession as a crime hours after it nearly doubled spending on substance abuse prevention and treatment in the Senate budget.
Keep in mind as the chief architect of the budget, Forrester delivered for many of these same Republican senators finding money for their favorite projects along with enough space to ``afford'' two business tax cuts.
Whatever took place, some Democratic operatives say it's a bad omen for Hassan being able to work - and trust - the Senate GOP as they work on a compromise to the state budget and other major bills in the closing weeks of this session.
The assumption many in the business of electing public officials is that nobody bothers to watch or care how legislation is actually put together.
Too arcane, too much detail, too much sitting around waiting for a breakthrough.
All that can be true but consider these two examples of when the sausage making was the difference between winning and losing.
2003: Then-Republican Gov. Craig Benson becomes the first governor in generations to veto a state budget presented to him by the all-Republican led Legislature.
Lawmakers and Benson agreed on a continuing resolution to keep the government running past a July 1 deadline.
Ultimately, Benson ended up signing a second budget that made only modest changes to it but the damage was done.
Benson’s war with GOP lawmakers was surely one factor that led to his upset defeat at the ends of Democrat John Lynch in 2004.
2009: Ex-Gov. Lynch and the Democratically-led Legislature struggles to close a tight state budget during the worst of the recession.
With Lynch’s blessing, House and Senate budget writers embrace a new tax on limited liability companies along with taxing for the first time campground rentals and gambling winnings.
The LLC tax was so unpopular and brought in so little month that Lynch and the Legislature gladly wiped it off the books nine months later.\
Again, however, the episode left a mark with voters.
Lynch hung on to win re-election in 2010 but state Republicans rode unrest about tax and fee spending by Democrats and parlayed it into a 3-1 majority in the Legislature.