IT’S NOT OVER UNTIL IT’S OVER
Yogi Berra, the famous catcher for the New Yankees probably didn’t have the vote killing the casino bill in mind when he made his famous comment. Most lobbyists and political observes thought the vote would be closer than the 199-164 vote taken by the House killing SB 152. While the 35-margin may suggest that the bill will not reappear, some lobbyists are saying don’t count the gambling bill out just yet. It’s possible that backers of casino gambling may try some legislative maneuvering to bring the issue back up. And don’t rule out the possibility of a Special Session being called by the Governor. It wouldn’t be the first time that a Governor has had to call back the Legislature to deal with a budgetary crisis. The Senate budget will be a “raise less spend less budget”. It certainly will come in below the House passed budget and well below Governor Hassan’s budget. The Governor could be finding herself with a budget dilemma that will make it difficult for her to govern over the next two years. Don’t rule out the possibility of a veto or a refusal to sign the two-year budget into law.
LET THE POLITICAL GAMES BEGIN
It really didn’t come as a surprise to most State House pundits that the Senate was not going to play nice after the House defeated the gambling bill. Within 24-hours, the Senate struck back at the House by killing state tax increases on gasoline and cigarettes voting along party lines (13-11). In addition, the Senate killed the House passed state minimum wage bill and the controversial law allowing citizens to use deadly force to protect themselves in public places. Besides killing the gas tax bill (HB 617), the Senate drove a stake in the heart of the bill by voting to indefinitely postpone the measure. This means that even though the House included the hike in the budget bill they passed, the Senate is precluded from taking it up in budget talks in the coming days. The door did not close completely on the cigarette tax hike. The budget negotiators can include the subject in upcoming budget talks. The 20-cent increase would generate $20 million and increases the tax from $1.68 to 1.88-a-pack. House critics, along with convenience stores and grocers, said increasing the tax would be potentially disastrous to their business.
Facing a May 30 deadline, the Senate Finance Committee returns this Tuesday to complete its work on a proposed operating budget. Expect to see the room filled with lobbyists hoping to avoid drastic budget cuts to their clients. The full Senate is expected to vote on the operating budget on June 6. The two-year spending plan takes effect July 1, 2013.
ONE FOR THE LOONS
The House gave approval to SB 89 banning lead sinkers and jigs weighing one ounce or less beginning June 1, 2016. Proponents prohibiting the use of lead sinkers have argued over the years that lead sinkers have been the primary cause of loon deaths in the state. Loons digest the lead when they eat smaller fish that have swallowed sinkers and jibs. Opponents said no evidence has come forward to back up this claim. Because of changes to the bill, it must now return to the Senate where it members can either agree or disagree to the changes and form a Committee of Conference to work out the differences.
ONE FOR THE ROAD
The Senate gave approval to HB 576 allowing communities to set closing time for bars at 2 a.m. instead of the current 1 a.m. However, unlike the House version allowing the change state wide, the Senate amended the bill to leave it up to the cities and towns to vote whether to allow the added one-hour. The House must now decide whether to go along with the Senate change.
FREE TO LIVE ANOTHER DAY
The Senate said no to legislation that would have allowed scuba divers to take five lobsters a day. HB 259 passed by the House would allow scuba divers to take up to five lobsters a day during the month of September. Cost of the license would have been $35, the same as the license for recreational lobster and crab, which also limits the number of traps to five.
There will be a change in how the State Liquor Commission will be managed. The Senate went along with two bills that will change the operations of the state monopoly. House Bill HB 599 would put a single commissioner in charge of the state agency along with a deputy instead of three commissioners. The second bill, HB 686 would require the Liquor Commission to seek Governor and Council approval for contracts greater than $10,000. Currently, the commission is exempt from needing Council approval. The House will now act on the Senate changes. Interesting to note that this is not the first attempt made by the Legislature to reduce the size of the Liquor Commission. Former Governor Hugh Gallen made an unsuccessful attempt during his term to reduce the Commission to one person.