In three weeks the House and Senate will return to Concord for a new legislative session and although election year sessions are typically quiet affairs, next year could prove an exception.
During this session come January, lawmakers will have their hands full with two issues in particular: the opioid crisis and whether to continue the state’s expanded Medicaid program.
So far more than 40,000 New Hampshire residents have health insurance under the expansion, a major piece of the federal Affordable Care Act. But New Hampshire’s program is set to expire at the end of next year unless lawmakers decide to continue the Medicaid expansion. If they do, they’ll have to come up with the money to do so, as federal funding is set to drop beginning in 2017.
And that is where Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley says the debate lies.
“There are still unanswered questions – how we are going to pay for it, is a big question," Bradley said. "So, that is going to take some careful consideration with different parties to make sure that there is a revenue source to pay for this, that it is not funded by New Hampshire taxpayers."
But while Medicaid expansion will likely be a controversial issue, the opioid epidemic will likely be first on the State House docket. A legislative drug task force wrapping up its work this week plans to fast track bills to increase penalties for fentanyl, ramp up drug prevention efforts in schools, and create a hotline for those battling addiction.
Hundreds of other bills will be taken up come January as well.
There’s one regarding the federal Real ID program, which requires states to share certain personal information on its residents with the feds. New Hampshire is one of four states that don’t participate.
The same issue has been a divisive one in the past due to privacy concerns. But starting in 2020, residents without a Real ID license will have to undergo extra screenings at airports or show a passport, even for domestic flights.
A bill filed by Rep. Sherman Packard of Londonderry would make individual participation optional.
“Instead of having to make a family of four go out and spend $600 on passports, they can get a Real ID compliant license," Packard said. "If they don’t want to, they don’t have to – it’s not anything that is mandatory, its completely voluntary."
A few other bills this session have been influenced by national news.
There’s one to prohibit the sale and experimentation on fetuses, a response to controversy this summer over Planned Parenthood’s practice of taking fees from researchers for fetal tissue.
There are also bills tightening the state’s gun laws after a recent string of mass shootings around the country. Rep. Kathy Rogers of Concord is sponsoring legislation to crack down on so-called "straw purchases". She also wants to require gun owners to have liability insurance.
There have been few major changes to New Hampshire’s gun laws in recent years, but Rogers says she’s optimistic.
“Everyone agrees that the violence out there is not a good thing and we need to do something about it – it’s just how we do it,” she said.
There is also a bill to limit voting rights to full-time state residents. Gov. Maggie Hassan vetoed a similar measure earlier this year. Rep. David Bates of Windham argues this change is needed to root out voter fraud.
“Frankly, I think our (presidential) primary is at risk," Bates said. "We not only have national leaders on both parties making statements that could move things away from New Hampshire. On top of that if there is a lack of confidence in our elections that could hurt us as well."
And there are also some – shall we say – more obscure bills.
There’s one allowing alcohol to be served in hair salons, one banning bestiality and one to change the state’s motto from “Live Free or Die” to “Scenic.”