CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — After a week's break, New Hampshire's Legislature returned to work Monday with a March 27 deadline to act on hundreds of bills, including key measures to expand Medicaid coverage to 50,000 poor adults, an increase in the gas tax, casino gambling and a repeal of the death penalty.
The Senate is scheduled to vote Thursday on its plan to finance private insurance with federal Medicaid funds. The bill is expected to pass the Republican-controlled chamber and has a good chance of passing the Democratic-controlled House by early April. New Hampshire is one of six states that have not decided whether to expand Medicaid under the federal health care overhaul law. Currently, 25 states plus the District of Columbia are expanding and 19 states are not.
Estimates vary of the number of adults who would sign up for coverage. The state believes about 50,000 will enroll while a 2012 study from the Lewin Group predicted that 58,000 would enroll.
The proposal hinges on New Hampshire winning federal approval to use Medicaid funding to buy private coverage. Under the proposal, the state would seek a federal waiver by March 31, 2015. If the federal government doesn't approve a waiver by then, the expansion would end and the 38,000 adults would lose coverage.
Critics have argued the state should get any necessary waivers before enrolling the adults. They believe that once taxpayer subsidized coverage is provided, lawmakers will lack the courage to end it.
An increase in the state's gas tax has been knocking around for years. Senate Transportation Chairman Jim Rausch's bill proposes calculating increases using the Consumer Price Index. His first calculation would be based on the difference in CPI from 2003 to 2013. Later increases would be every four years and Rausch estimates they would average a penny.
The 18-cent tax would rise about 4 cents per gallon in July and is expected to raise $32 million annually. It has not been increased since 1991 and is the lowest in New England.
The full Senate will vote March 13 on the bill, which would still need House approval if passed. Gov. Maggie Hassan has said she will sign it.
There's consensus that the transportation fund needs shoring up, said Senate Republican Leader Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro, but he questions whether a tax is the right way to do it.
"Working families are pretty hard-pressed," he said. "When you're pinching pennies, as a lot of our friends and neighbors are, a lot of us are concerned about raising the gas tax."
All eyes will be on the House on Tuesday when it takes up a measure to allow casino gambling. The House has never passed a gambling bill and last year killed a Senate bill that was supported by Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan.
The New Hampshire Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority, which was created after the House killed the Senate's casino bill, recommended legislation that would license one casino with up to 5,000 video slots and 150 table games.
Last month in her State of the State address, Hassan renewed her call for New Hampshire to compete with Massachusetts by legalizing a casino.
A measure to repeal the death penalty, which has not been carried out in New Hampshire since 1939, would not affect the only convict on death row in the state. Michael Addison was convicted of killing a Manchester police officer in 2006.