NH State Representative Tom Cormen

My votes in the NH House session
of April 6, 2023

This session was the last one before crossover, when bills that pass the House go to the Senate, and vice-versa. It was also the session in which we needed to pass the biennial budget. Strictly speaking, the House did not have to pass a budget, but had we not passed a budget, then we would be leaving the budget in the hands of the Senate, with the House getting further input only in the committee of conference (a committee comprising a few members from the House and Senate to resolve differences in a bill). So the pressure was on.

As of the afternoon of Wednesday, April 5, the Republican and Democratic leadership had several fundamental differences about specific budget allocations. Letters between them were sent in public, and I for one was not expecting an agreement to be forthcoming. Yet, on Wednesday evening, the Democrats heard from Minority Leader Matt Wilhelm that he had reached an agreement with Majority Leader Jason Osborne, and that in order to get Democrats to vote for the budget the Republicans had conceded on several points. In particular:

The main concession made by the Democrats was to incorporate HB 127, which limits the emergency powers of the governor.

Now you might ask why a bill limiting the emergency powers of the governor is included in the budget. The answer is that in the House, the budget is actually two bills, HB 1 and HB 2. HB 1 contains aggregate numbers and really says very little. HB 2, called the “trailer bill,” is where the details and policy positions are laid out. HB 2 is supposed to include only appropriations, but the fact is that it can contain whatever the House decides it contains. In 2021, for example, HB 2 contained not only EFAs but also the “divisive concepts” law. Moreover, items can be included in HB 2 even if they have not had public hearings (such as EFAs and the divisive concepts law). Yes, that is a terrible way to make laws, but it’s the system that we have.

The votes are listed below in chronological order. Before voting on HB 2, we voted on 17 floor amendments. Then we voted on HB 2, and once that passed, we voted on HB 1. When HB 2 passed by voice vote, it was the first time in decades that had occurred. After we passed HB 1, we voted on several other bills. Some of these bills had already passed in previous sessions, but because they had fiscal notes, they had to go to the Finance Committee and then back to the floor of the House. I discuss several of the amendments and bills below.

Bill Motion Type of vote My vote Result of vote Notes
Amendment 1247h OTP Division Yea OTP 351-38
Amendment 1336h OTP Roll call Yea OTP 326-63
Amendment 1290H OTP Roll call Yea 190-199
Amendment 1335h OTP Division Yea 189-194
Amendment 1292h OTP Roll call Yea OTP 199-187
Amendment 1313h OTP Roll call Yea 191-197
Amendment 1339h OTP Roll call Nay 128-259
Amendment 1299h OTP Division Yea OTP 241-143
Amendment 1272h OTP Voice Yea OTP
Amendment 1283h OTP Division Nay 158-226
Amendment 1295h OTP Division Yea OTP 249-136
Amendment 1328h OTP Voice Yea OTP
Amendment 1288h OTP Division Yea OTP 247-139
Amendment 1276h OTP Roll call Nay 167-222
Amendment 1332h OTP Division Nay 158-231
Amendment 1284h OTP Division Nay 182-205
Amendment 1333h OTP Division Nay 72-300
HB 1-A OTPA Voice Yea OTPA
HB 46-FN OTPA Voice Yea OTPA
HB 74-FN OTP Roll call Yea OTP 205-181
HB 234-FN ITL Division Nay ITL 193-191
HB 250-FN OTPA Roll call Yea OTPA 328-53
HB 330-FN-A OTP Voice Yea OTP
HB 337-FN OTP Roll call Yea OTP 387-0
HB 364-FN OTP Voice Yea OTP
HB 430-FN-LOCAL ITL Roll call Nay ITL 194-192
HB 492-FN OTP Voice Yea OTP
HB 504-FN OTP Voice Yea OTP
HB 534-FN-A OTP Voice Yea OTP Roll call on ITL failed 191-196 before voice vote for OTP
HB 626-FN ITL Roll call Nay ITL 195-194 Speaker voted to break the tie
HB 25-A OTPA Voice Yea OTPA
HB 639-FN-A OTPA Roll call Nay OTPA 272-109
HB 269-FN OTPA Division Yea OTPA 202-183
HB 445 Table Division Yea Table 378-6

Amendment 1247h

This was the Finance Committee’s amendment to HB 2 as introduced. We were told that we had to vote for it, as all further amendments were based on it. OK, then.

Amendment 1336h

This was the bipartisan agreement between the Republican and Democratic leadership. I was happy to vote for it, and it had overwhelming bipartisan support.

Amendment 1290h

The Interest and Dividends Tax is scheduled to be phased out in 2025. This amendment, cosponsored by Rep. Susan Almy of Lebanon (ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee), would have delayed the phase-out to 2027. The amendment failed to pass, meaning that the state is losing out on several millions of potential tax dollars.

I am against eliminating the Interest and Dividends Tax. It is wonderful that we live in a state that does not tax the income we earn from our labor, but this tax applies to income gained by sitting on your butt. Removing this tax is a favor to the wealthy, as people of more limited means receive very little, if any, in interest and dividends. I posted this opinion on Twitter and received many personal attacks in response, including some calling me a socialist or a communist. There was a particularly personal attack from a sitting Republican member of the House. I waited a day to respond, but by then he had taken it down. I hope to meet him in person before too long, just to point out some things we have in common. As you know, my approach is to make friends, not enemies, even among people with whom I disagree.

Amendment 1313h

This amendment would have protected a little under $100 million in the education trust fund from going into the general fund. It failed by just a few votes.

Amendment 1299h

This amendment eliminated the provision for the Northern Border Alliance Program, where New Hampshire would patrol the northern border with Canada. As that is really a federal responsibility, several Republicans voted with the Democrats to pass the amendment.

Amendment 1288h

This amendment requires that when an immigration checkpoint is going to be set up (remember the one on I-91 in Hartford, VT a few years ago?), public notice must be given 24 hours in advance. As with Amendment 1299h, several Republicans voted with Democrats to pass it.

Amendment 1276h

This amendment would have expanded eligibility for EFAs to 500% of the poverty level. Needless to say, I was against it. I was surprised to see so many Republicans against it as well, with it failing 167-222 on a roll call vote.

HB 74-FN

When an employee has earned vacation time but is terminated in good standing because of layoff or the company being sold, this bill requires the employer to pay the employee for earned vacation time.

HB 234-FN

This one hurt. This bill, sponsored by my Democratic colleague on ST&E, the amazing Rep. Rebecca McWilliams, was originally tabled by the House, but then brought back late in the afternoon on February 23 when we saw that the Democrats briefly held the majority on the floor. We took HB 234 off the table and passed it, 177-167. But because it had a fiscal note (which is really should not have had), it went to the Finance Committee and back to the floor, where it was killed.

What would this bill have done? It would end a practice known as “REC sweeping.” It’s a bit complicated, but here’s the tl;dr. Suppose you have some solar panels on your house. You’re producing renewable energy. Each megawatt-hour of renewable energy generates one REC, or Renewable Energy Certificate. Although each REC has monetary value, many homeowners do not file the necessary paperwork to collect their RECs. Meanwhile, the utilities are required to purchase a minimum number of RECs, and if they don’t, then they have to make even more expensive Alternative Compliance Payments, which go toward funding renewable energy. “REC sweeping” allows utilities to just take unclaimed RECs. To put it bluntly, the utilities are allowed to steal RECs. This practice is not just an unconstitutional taking, but it also reduces the prices for RECs, which makes it even less likely that a homeowner would bother to file for them, which reduces the prices even further, … . So why would someone vote against ending REC sweeping? Because if the utilities bought enough RECs to fulfill their requirements, energy prices would go up by a tiny bit. In the long run, however, stable sources of renewable energy are not only resistant to price spikes like we’ve seen for natural gas, but they also help fight climate change and preserve our health. (Yes, I know that was a rather long tl;dr.)

In the Sour Grapes Department, had HB 234 passed the House, it probably would have been killed in the Senate, and if not in the Senate, then Sununu would almost certainly have vetoed it.

HB 430-FN

This was another one that hurt because we had passed it on February 23, but then it came back to the floor because of the fiscal note. This bill would have required that in order to apply for an EFA for a student entering second grade or later, the student must have attended a New Hampshire public school or public chartered school for at least one year. The point of EFAs is that they are for students who do not thrive in public schools. How do you know whether a student thrives in a public school if the student has not attended one? This bill was killed 194-192. Had one more Republican voted against the ITL motion, it would have tied at 193-193 and the ITL motion would have failed.

HB 626-FN

You would think that EFAs are administered by the New Hampshire Department of Education. You would be incorrect. They are administered by a private contractor that skims 10%, and the Department of Education has little oversight over the EFA program. This bill would have moved EFA oversight into the Department of Education. The ITL motion would have failed, except that Speaker Packard voted in favor of ITL to break the tie and kill the bill.

I have not yet met the Speaker. I’ll say this, however: although I may disagree with many of his policy positions, he conducts House sessions in a fair and neutral manner.

HB 25-A

This is the budget for capital improvements throughout the state.

HB 639-FN-A

The bill to legalize cannabis. I voted against it on February 22. I seriously considered voting for it this time because it’s expected to contribute about $50 million to the Education Trust Fund annually—eventually. In the end, however, my original reasons for voting against it prevailed in my mind. To be fair, I also knew that the bill would pass so that my vote against it would not be decisive.