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What's under the Senate “Christmas tree” bills?

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This week the New Hampshire Senate voted on bills for the first time since March.  To make up for lost time, they combined dozens of bills into a limited number of so-called “omnibus” or “Christmas tree” bills (because of all the baubles hanging off the bill-branches).  Here’s a summary of the what the bills contain. 

HB 1166 – coronavirus-related regulations 

The amended version of this bill adds various requirements and protections for employers and employees related to the coronavirus.  For example, the bill requires employers to provide personal protective equipment if there are 10 or more customers or employees in the workplace on a regular basis.  The bill also puts some of Gov. Sununu’s emergency orders about unemployment eligibility and insurance coverage permanently into law. 

HB 1280 – prescription drug cost controls 

The Senate combined several prescription drug bills into this one.  In particular, HB 1280 now establishes a program to import prescription drugs from Canada.  It also caps the copayment for insulin at $30 for a 30-day supply. 

HB 1494 – public employee labor rights 

HB 1494 establishes a death benefit for some public works employees killed at work.  The Senate added several other bills related to public employees and unions.  For example, HB 1494 now establishes an occupational safety and health advisory board. 

HB 1558 – school safety issues and some business regulations 

As amended, this bill makes a number of changes related to education, particularly school safety.  For example, HB 1558 makes stricter requirements for school suspensions.  The amended bill also makes some changes to economic revitalization zone tax credits (similar to SB 661).   

HB 1582 – veterans' programs 

There are several bills combined in HB 1582, but the most notable is titled the Veterans Bills of Rights, covering everything from mental health services for veterans to loans to businesses owned by veterans.  

HB 1111 – helping broadband development 

The amended version of this bill allows municipalities to determine locations within the municipality unserved by a broadband provider (similar to SB 559). This should make it easier for towns to develop broadband.  HB 1111 also allows municipalities to group together and form "communications districts" for the purpose of funding broadband infrastructure (similar to SB 457). 

HB 1129 – local government responses to coronavirus 

This bill gives towns greater flexibility in spending due to the coronavirus emergency and allows some virtual town meetings. The Senate amendment also requires the governor to provide an online report of all CARES Act spending in a check register format.  This CARES Act reporting was tucked in a couple of bills, probably to increase the odds Sununu signs it into law. 

HB 1672 – socially-distanced voting 

Senate Democrats titled this the "Coronavirus Election Protection Act of 2020." In particular, the bill allows any voter to vote by absentee ballot and authorizes online voter registration 

HB 1234 – hodgepodge of government administration 

HB 1234 became the omnibus legislation for a slew of administrative measures.  For example, the amended bill establishes a statewide database of all health certificates for pets (HB 1627) and establishes the Lakes Region Development Authority (SB 635). 

HB 1245 – the other government administration bill 

HB 1245 became another omnibus bill for administrative legislation.  Notably, the amended bill raises the age to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products to 21 (similar to SB 248).   

HB 1491 – miscellaneous licenses 

Senators combined many bills related to licensing in HB 1491.  The amended bill makes various changes to the laws governing the regulatory boards and commissions for technical professions and health professions.  The bill also establishes a special marriage officiant license (similar to HB 1599). 

HB 578 – long-term care safety and costs 

As amended, HB 578 establishes a committee to study the safety of residents and employees in long-term care facilities. The amended bill also clarifies the cost controls for long-term care services and requires the Department of Health and Human Services to adopt rules for reimbursement of the costs of training nursing assistants.  

HB 1246 – oversight of coronavirus spending, some health care regulations 

This bill has some similarities to HB 578.  It requires the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to adopt rules for reimbursement of the costs of training nursing assistants.  It also directs the state to hire a contractor to conduct "an independent review of the COVID-19 situation in long-term care and nursing homes in New Hampshire."   

Then it gets into budget issues.  First, the bill sends some federal CARES Act dollars to long-term care and child care scholarships.  It then requires DHHS to provide the legislature with monthly reports on any budget cuts over the next year. The amended bill also requires the governor to provide an online report of all CARES Act spending in a check register format (like HB 1129, above). 

Lastly, the bill allows pharmacists to administer any COVID-19 vaccine.  This also pops up in HB 1639, below. 

HB 1264 – PFAS, PFAS, PFAS 

Many bills regulating polyfluoroalkly substances (PFAS) are now combined in HB 1264.  In particular, this bill now establishes maximum contaminant levels for perflourinated compounds (PFCs) and creates a low interest loan program for certain water and waste water systems affected by PFAS contamination (somewhat similar to the concepts of HB 1603 and SB 641).   

HB 1623 – telemedicine  

As introduced, this bill would allow health care providers to prescribe medication to treat substance use disorder by telemedicine. The Senate amended the bill to more broadly enable health care providers to use telemedicine, with insurance coverage.  

HB 1639 – miscellaneous health care regulations 

This amended bill covers everything from long-term antibiotic therapy for tick-borne illness (similar to HB 1287) to medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorder in county jails (similar to SB 600).  The amended bill also allows pharmacists to administer a COVID-19 vaccine. 

HB 705 – victim rights and sexual assault laws 

This bill combines many other bills related to crime and victim rights. In particular, HB 705 now removes the statute of limitations for lawsuits based on sexual assault and incest (similar to SB 508) and establishes various requirements for colleges and universities related to sexual violence (similar to SB 679).   

HB 1162 – child protection 

This bill was introduced to clarify adoption laws for unmarried couples.  The amended bill incorporates several other pieces of legislation related to child protection. In particular, HB 1162 now expands the authority of the Office of the Child Advocate to oversee programs and services to children (similar to SB 295).   

HB  1247 – housing assistance after coronavirus 

At one point the Senate was considering a bill that would set aside CARES Act funds to help renters and homeowners.  HB 1247 is still aimed at housing assistance, but after Gov. Sununu created a Housing Relief Program, senators removed the big ticket spending in favor of some softer regulations.  For example, the amended bill requires landlords to offer tenants a 6-month repayment plan for rent missed during the coronavirus emergency. 

HB 1645 – criminal justice reform 

HB 1645 combined a few bills related to criminal justice.  In particular, the amended bill requires members of law enforcement to report law enforcement misconduct to the Police Standards and Training Council (similar to SB 470 and HB 1217).  The amended bill also prohibits the use of chokeholds by law enforcement officers.  

HB 1135 – naming landmarks, genocide in education 

The amended version of HB 1135 incorporates several bills naming landmarks in New Hampshire.  For example, the bill names a portion of Route 49 in Campton, Thornton, and Waterville Valley in honor of Specialist Marc P. Decoteau. HB 1135 bill also requires Holocaust and genocide prevention education in schools (similar to SB 727). 

HB 1182 – transportation bills 

Since the House failed to act on the ten-year transportation improvement plan (originally written as HB 2020), the Senate added it to HB 1182. The amended bill also allows the Department of Transportation to suspend or reduce some projects in the ten-year plan as needed to offset decreased revenue due to the coronavirus emergency.  

Other bills 

The Senate passed a few other bills that don’t qualify as Christmas trees. 

As amended, HB 685 requires insurance plans which cover maternity benefits to provide coverage for emergency or elective abortion services. 

HB 731 increases the minimum wage to $10 per hour in 2021 and $12 per hour in 2023. 

HB 1454 gives local school boards the power to choose whether to accept credit from alternative extended learning and work-based programs approved by the state board of education. 

HB 250 requires the state to contract with dental managed care organizations to provide dental care  under Medicaid.  

What happens to these bills next? 

All of the above bills have to go back to the House of Representatives for another vote.  Any bill that passes the House then heads to Gov. Sununu for a signature or veto.  Sununu is likely to oppose some bills, such as the "Coronavirus Election Protection Act of 2020."  Any bill he vetoes will have one more chance for a veto override by the legislature in the late summer or early fall. 

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