Over the past week, state lawmakers across northern New England have been rolling up their sleeves and getting to work to start their 2015 sessions.
On Monday we learned about the major issues facing New York lawmakers; today we hear from Concord, where lawmakers in New Hampshire’s general court have their work cut out for them.
Legislators have already filed more than 800 bill requests for the session. Josh Rogers, a senior political reporter for New Hampshire Public Radio, joined VPR to talk about some of the big ones.
Concealed weapons: House lawmakers kicked off the session last week by making national headlines when they voted to let themselves carry concealed weapons on the floor of their chamber and in their office building. But it's not a new issue in the state.
"This isn't the first time lawmakers have voted to allow concealed weapons on the House floor and in the office building. Republicans, when they controlled the Legislature in 2010, put in place a similar rule. They essentially said it was a Second Amendment issue, and also for security purposes, was the argument some had made. The New Hampshire Statehouse has very limited security – no metal detectors. And so that was the balance that had been struck. Some of this is a kind of a hydrant-marking by the new Republican majority ... It did make national news, but this is somewhat well-trod ground here in New Hampshire."
Finance: There's an estimated $50-million budget gap projected for the remainder of this year. Republicans controlling the House and Senate have vowed not to introduce new taxes, which has some advocates worried.
"[Gov. Maggie Hassan] has issued a couple executive orders – freezing hiring, trying to trim spending by state agencies, and she's announced that there may be some tax holidays, where people who owe taxes could pay them without facing penalties ... Revenues last month were a little fresher than they had been before, so there's a hope that this might be chipped away at. There's also fear among some advocates ... that [dedicated] funds might be raided, or "swept," as they often say in the Legislature ... There's about $100 million that's already spoken for in the next budget, and Republicans now control the House and Senate. They say they plan to balance the budget without new taxes, and so it's going to be interesting to see how they make the balance sheet work out."
Minimum wage: There have been talks of minimum wage increases in a handful of states around New England. Gov. Hassan mentioned that in her inaugural address, but legislation isn't likely.
"I'd say they [the chances of a minimum wage increase] are quite dim. New Hampshire doesn't have a minimum wage; it's pegged to the federal minimum wage. And a bill simply to reestablish a state minimum wage at that federal rate was shot down in the Senate, which was Republican-controlled, last year. It had cleared the Democratically-controlled House. With Republicans [now] in control of both chambers, no one thinks this is likely to fly. Although there are several bills filed, and, you know, this is something that is a priority for Democrats across the country."
Casinos: The debate over whether to allow them in the state has been resuscitated.
"When Gov. Hassan made her inaugural address, she made no mention of a casino. She had backed a casino strongly in her first term. She makes her budget speech next month, and a lot of people are going to be listening to see if she mentions casinos this time. Casinos are also a priority for the president of the Republican-controlled Senate [Chuck Morse]. He's from Salem, which would be the likely location of any casino ... If there's a big enough financial squeeze come the end of the budget season, maybe this has a better chance. It did come very close to passing last time."