NH House Majority Leader hopes to pass cannabis legalization and address energy costs
The New Hampshire House of Representatives is almost evenly divided as the 2023 legislative session begins. Republicans hold a slim majority in the Legislature, but the partisan divide could change lawmakers’ approach.
House Majority Leader Jason Osborne joined NHPR’s Morning Edition host Rick Ganley to discuss his policy goals for House Republicans in the new session. Below is a transcript of their conversation.
Rick Ganley: So the House Republican majority narrowed significantly after the November election, and Republicans now hold a four seat majority with a couple of seats still open. What are your goals for House Republicans in this new legislative session?
Jason Osborne: Almost the same as last session: learn how to get along with their colleagues. That's kind of my job to help people work together and get things done. Before, it was a little more about getting all of the Republicans to work together with each other. Now, it's a little more about, 'Hey, I need you guys to reach across the aisle and work with your Democratic colleagues, as well.' And so far, it's looking pretty good. I did tell everyone ahead of time going into it that I needed them to get Democratic co-sponsors on their bills so they would have an easier time of getting them passed. And it looks like most people are doing that. So, I'm looking forward to this year and seeing what we can do.
Rick Ganley: What's the mood been like so far? It's early days, I know.
Jason Osborne: So far, so good. You remember two years ago when we got started, we weren't even really meeting together at all, and this time we are. And I think we're off to a pretty good start. I haven't seen any fights in the hallways yet, and hopefully we can keep it that way.
Rick Ganley: That's good. What specific policies are you hoping to move forward, though, this year?
Jason Osborne: So to me, anything to do with energy. I don't know that I'm quite ready to talk any details about that, but I think there's some promising ideas out there coming from both sides of the aisle, and I think they'll be able to figure some things out over in the Science and Tech Committee.
Rick Ganley: When you refer to energy, you're talking about specifically, what?
Jason Osborne: Well, the price of it, right? People are paying too much. And so when something costs too much, you've got two choices. Either we need to increase the supply or reduce the demand. I don't think people are going to reduce their demand for energy. So we got to figure out how to get more of it into this state. And I do think that there are a couple of ideas out there. Long term, we have been working on a nuclear commission over the past year. I think within the next 5 to 10 years, I think there's some good opportunity there. I think there's some good opportunity to bring hydropower down from Quebec. I do know that there's a bill in to kind of look at how we do the procurement process. Hopefully, we'll see some advancement there.
Rick Ganley: How do you think you're going to achieve those priorities that you do have in mind with this closely divided House? Again, I know you're obviously reaching across the aisle, trying to build consensus, but other policies besides, say, energy, that you see that you could really move forward with this closely divided House?
Jason Osborne: Well, I mean, the low hanging fruit to me is always marijuana policy. That's something that Republicans and Democrats have worked together on for ages and ages. And we'll give that another try this year, and we'll see what our friends across the wall do with it when we send it over to them.
Rick Ganley: And that's generally been the issue, of course, is the Senate and the governor?
Jason Osborne: Yeah. There's something that goes on on the other side of the wall that I don't quite understand. I don't know if there's some deal that's been made with Massachusetts above my pay grade where, you know, we get to keep all the liquor and tobacco money and they get to keep all the marijuana money. But we'll see.
Rick Ganley: Not touching that. The first task facing the House is writing a new state budget plan. Two years ago, Republicans earned criticism for including some nonphysical items in the budget, including a new ban on abortions after 24 weeks. Do you expect to use the budget again this year to achieve non budgetary goals?
Jason Osborne: I wouldn't expect to see that on the House side just because of our situation. I certainly would imagine that the Senate will do some of that when they send it back across to us. Kind of just force us into a situation where we have to vote for it. That's a long way off. I don't even want to speculate what that's going to look like.
Rick Ganley: You co-sponsored that cannabis bill you mentioned with House Minority Leader Matt Wilhelm. What's your early working relationship with him and other Democratic leaders been like?
Jason Osborne: So far, so good. We had a little hiccup on our first day a few weeks ago, but I think we smoothed that all over. And it's interesting. We're kind of the same age, so we have a little easier time communicating with each other than maybe I do with some of the older colleagues in the House. I think he gets me more than they do.
Rick Ganley: There's some issues with the divide in age groups?
Jason Osborne: Sometimes. There's a language barrier there, and I'm getting old enough now to where I'm seeing it with the younger people, as well.
Rick Ganley: So what other issues do you think we can expect some bipartisan support for?
Jason Osborne: So housing is a big topic that comes up in conversation. You may have seen that [Speaker Sherman Packard] created a new housing committee specifically to study that issue [and] grabbed some people out of different committees to all work with it together. Maybe [it will] shake things up a little bit and get maybe a different result than what we've seen.