Dozens of bills await action in New Hampshire
CONCORD, N.H. -- A ban on using a hand-held cellphone while driving, a settlement of a tax lawsuit with 25 hospitals and a measure allowing women who become pregnant after a rape to terminate the attacker's parental rights are among the bills Gov. Maggie Hassan still must act on.
Senate President Chuck Morse and House Speaker Terie Norelli must first sign off on the bills, but they were waiting until Hassan returned from a trade mission to Turkey. Once the bills reach Hassan's desk, she has five days excluding Sundays and holidays to act or they will take effect without her signature.
Hassan is expected to sign the hospital settlement over Medicaid rates and a tax on hospital revenues that two judges deemed unconstitutional.
The governor negotiated the settlement with the hospitals and legislative leaders to avoid deep cuts to the state budget this year to make up for lost tax revenue. St. Joseph Hospital in Nashua, which has sued over the tax, is the only hospital that didn't settle.
The tax brought in about $185 million this year and was used for Medicaid and other state spending. The agreement calls for all the money to be spent on health care after the current budget.
The hospitals would get more money for the care they provide in exchange for dropping a lawsuit over rates and putting on hold their challenge of the tax's constitutionality.
The tax rate also would drop from 5.5 percent of net patient revenues to 5.45 percent in 2016 and 5.4 percent in 2017. It could drop to 5.25 percent in 2018 if the total cost of uncompensated care provided by hospitals drops below $375 million. Uncompensated care currently totals $427 million.
The state's two rehabilitation hospitals would no longer pay the tax. A judge had ruled this winter that applying the tax to them was unconstitutional.
Hassan also is expected to sign a bill that makes hand-held cellphone use illegal while driving beginning July 1, 2015. The bill allows adults to talk on cellphones while driving if they use hands-free phones, devices built into their vehicles and two-way radios. The ban would apply while stopped temporarily but not if the driver pulls off the road. All cellphone use by minors behind the wheel would be banned.
Other bills expected to reach Hassan would:
-- Require courts to terminate rapists' parental rights when petitions are filed by women who give birth after being sexually assaulted. Under current law, termination is optional, not mandatory.
-- Clarify that New Hampshire recognizes gay marriages that took place in other states before New Hampshire enacted its gay marriage law. It would also allow gay couples from states that don't recognize gay marriage to get married and be recognized in New Hampshire. Gay couples who entered into civil unions in other states could get married in New Hampshire without dissolving the civil unions.
-- Create a program to sell "hike safe" cards that would forgive hikers for any rescue expenses if they were negligent.
-- Tighten rules for table games operated in the name of New Hampshire charities.
-- Include household pets in orders protecting victims of domestic violence.
-- Authorize a limited driver's license for first-time drunken drivers to go to work, medical treatment, school or other locations approved by a judge.
-- Prohibit fuel dealers from advertising or soliciting earlier than May 1 for consumers to enter into contracts for the upcoming fuel season.
-- Establish a 10-year highway plan that outlines a way to pay the balance needed to finish the Interstate 93 expansion.
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