Divided control of the legislature with a Democratic governor and House of Representatives and a Republican state Senate has made for a competitive dynamic this year. Gov. Maggie Hassan took her place in the corner office and ended the year with strong approval ratings. Meanwhile, the saga of integrating the Affordable Care Act into the state trudged on as lawmakers struggled to find bipartisan solutions. Here’s a look at those and other major political happenings of 2013.
Hassan had a strong start in office when the legislature passed her two-year budget proposal in June. The $10.7 billion state budget “was not that different than what we saw passed by Republicans in the 2011- 2012 legislative session,” Andrew Smith, a political analyst from the UNH Survey Center, said in a recent interview. “There were some changes but nothing too dramatic. That reflects that the fiscal realities hadn’t changed.”
The budget amped up state services for the mentally ill and funded services for adults with developmental disabilities. It also secured increased state aid to the University System of New Hampshire and the Community College System of New Hampshire but cut some funding to the Department of Health and Human Services, the Sununu Youth Services Center, the Department of Revenue Administration and other programs.
In June New Hampshire ended the fiscal year with a $76.1 million surplus. Strong revenues in the spring resulted from several lawsuit settlements, and lower-than-expected spending contributed to reversing a state revenue that was running $41.1 million below projections in February.
Implementing the Affordable Care Act was front and center on New Hampshire’s political stage this year.
“It’s a big important issue worthy of a big fight,” Fergus Cullen, former state Republican Party chairman, told the Hippo.
Decisions on how to integrate the act divided the legislature largely on party lines.
“There is a Republican majority in the state Senate who has been either blocking things or holding out for more private-sector-friendly approaches to health care,” political analyst Dean Spiliotes said in a recent phone interview.
Hassan and the Democratic House were eager to implement Medicaid expansion and provide insurance for about 50,000 low-income New Hampshirites using Federal funds provided by the Affordable Care Act. Leaders of the Republican Senate could not see eye to eye with Democrats on a few of the details and in June blocked the state from participating in the expansion program. The decision was not final, as the state established a commission to report back in October with nonbinding recommendations. In November a special session ended in a stalemate with Senate Republicans continuing to insist on moving more quickly to provide low-income adults with private, non government-supplied health insurance. The Republicans also killed their own plan.
Two years ago Republicans passed a law prohibiting a state-run model of an insurance marketplace. Consequently, when the federal insurance exchange began taking enrollments last October, Anthem was the only insurance company offering health plans for 2014. By mid-December, federal officials gave Minutemen Health of Massachusetts approval to join New Hampshire’s Insurance exchange and Harvard Pilgrim also announced hopes to offer plans by 2015.
The state’s casino debate has been popular for decades, but it blew up this year. Hassan was the first New Hampshire governor to support bringing a high-end casino to the Granite State. The bill was squashed as the House voted to reject the legislation. Opposition argued that there are no regulations in place should a casino bill pass, so in the latest wrinkle to the debate, the New Hampshire Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority drafted and approved a casino regulations bill, which was considered by the state’s House of Representatives and Senate this month. The casino regulations bill met opposition from the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling and Casino Free New Hampshire.
In March the house voted to increase the state’s gas tax by 12 cents but the senate rejected the idea with a vote to indefinitely postpone a vote on the bill. That vote effectively blocked the senate from considering any legislature regarding the gas tax for the remainder of the two-year session.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court issued a ruling upholding the conviction and death sentence of the state’s only death row inmate, Michael Addison. Addison was convicted of fatally shooting police officer Michael Briggs in 2006. It was the state’s first death sentence in nearly 50 years. The ruling came as the New Hampshire Coalition Against the Death Penalty launched a campaign to repeal the death penalty in the state. Hassan said she would be in support of the bill but only if it did not invalidate Addison’s sentence.
New Hampshire became the 19th state to legalize medical marijuana, but it did so with one of the most restrictive laws in the country. Hassan signed the bill in July and said, “By providing strong regulatory oversight and clear dispensing guidelines this bill addresses many of the concerns that were expressed throughout the legislative process.”
Many established Republicans have taken a pass on running for major offices in 2014.
“It’s the 900-pound gorilla you can’t ignore. We have proven candidates expressing suspicion that [New Hampshire] is shaping up to be a blue state,” Cullen said.
John Sununu declined to run for a U.S. Senate seat, turning down what would have been his third head-to-head with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Senate Majority leader Jeb Bradley ruled out the New Hampshire Senate run and former Republican 2nd District Congressman Charlie Bass issued a statement he will not run for U.S. Senate in 2014 too. Republican Executive Councilor Chris Sununu said he will not run for governor, the U.S. House or the U.S. Senate, opting to seek re-election for executive council.
As seen in the December 26th, 2013 issue of The Hippo