Legislators, advocates, and citizens all deserve an honest presentation of the state budget. A lot of unvetted language was added late to the budget that’s being spun like a top. It is important for everyone, regardless of political background, to have the facts. Let’s correct the record on three provisions added late in the process: 1.) Family leave; 2.) Emergency powers; and 3.) Mandatory ultrasounds.

Paid family and medical leave insurance are critical for so many reasons, from attracting and retaining young working families, to leveling the playing field of hiring between small businesses and big corporations, to caretaking for our seniors often aging in place, to combating the opioid and mental health crises, and, yes, to even dealing with a pandemic. Unfortunately, this critical insurance wasn’t in place during the COVID pandemic, which is part of the reason why so many working families and small businesses fell so far behind.

The importance of paid family and medical leave insurance is why it has garnered bipartisan co-sponsorship in 2017/2018 (HB 628), in 2019 (SB 1), and in 2019/2020 (HB 712). All three were labeled an “income tax” by the naysayers. HB 2 contains family leave language that has not been vetted by the full House and Senate process with public and stakeholder input – similar language was actually removed by House lawmakers. This is a blatant attempt to provide the naysayers cover for their opposition to comprehensive paid family and medical leave over the past five years. Ironically, it suffers from the same, and even greater flaws, that the naysayers say existed in HB 628, SB 1, and HB 712.

Specifically, Section 464 on pp. 206-207 of the CoC report of HB 2 creates a brand-new insurance tax.  Next, Section 466 beginning on p. 207 of the CoC report on HB 2 establishes a government-run insurance pool through, with the very words in the purpose statement describing it as: “…a mechanism established by the state in conjunction with the state government employee FMLI plan.” Regardless of your view on government-run insurance pools, let’s at least call this what it is: a government-run insurance pool. And Section 464, beginning on p. 203 of the CoC report on HB 2, lays out what some have argued to be an “income tax,” with a safeguard in proposed RSA 21-I:100, III on p. 204 of the CoC report on HB 2 that: “Premiums for individual pool coverage shall not exceed $5 per subscriber per week.” The $5 per week number didn’t come from nowhere. In fact, $5 per week was the average estimated payment under my bill in 2019, SB 1.

To be clear, insurance plans like HB 628, SB 1, or HB 712, or like the proposal in HB 2, are not “income taxes”.

However, if you are one of the folks who said HB 628, SB 1, and HB 712 were an “income tax”, then you must also say the same about the language in HB 2.

I’ll also note I’ve noticed a number of the provisions from the paid family and medical leave bill I authored (SB 1 in 2019) have been copied and pasted into HB 2.  While imitation is the greatest form of flattery, I must admit the haphazard inclusion of my language into HB 2 results in an inconsistent hodgepodge, to put it mildly.

Regardless of your view of the merits of paid family and medical leave insurance, this is one of the most poorly crafted pieces of legislation I’ve seen.

That’s why going through the full legislative process is so important. That’s why the vetting of the people’s legislature is so important. That’s why real reform of emergency powers of the executive is crucial. But that doesn’t happen in HB 2.

Unilateral government, regardless of the person or party in the corner office, is just not good for our democracy, and it is inconsistent with our Constitution. I may have been the only candidate ever to run for governor pledging to relinquish powers, and I have long advocated for the legislature, regardless of the party in charge, to reassert itself, including in a column for the Union Leader with Bob Clegg entitled: “Bipartisan Concern for Diminished Role for Legislature.”

HB 2 does not make any substantive reform of emergency powers. To be sure, there are plenty of new requirements for a governor to provide notice(s) to the legislature, but the substance of their powers is not changing from existing law.

Specifically, you’ve heard that HB 2 will authorize a vote to end a governor-declared emergency.  However, that’s already the law, as Bob Clegg and I pointed out in our column. A concurrent resolution of the legislature can end a governor-declared emergency under existing law.  The reason the language in Section 459 of the CoC report on HB 2 on pp. 199-200 is being pitched as a “compromise” is because of a Senate rule that requires 2/3s vote for resolutions to pass the Senate. What isn’t said is the Senate can simply change their own rule by majority vote to allow resolutions an up-or-down vote, or it could create an exception for an up-or-down vote on emergency power resolutions only. You don’t need to change a statute to change a rule. This isn’t a “compromise.”

Next, you’ve heard the spending power of the governor in a declared state of emergency has changed. It has not. Section 460 of the CoC report on HB 2 on p. 201 allows a governor to continue spending without approval of the legislature if health and safety demand it. This is not substantively different than how a New Hampshire Superior Court judge has already interpreted the existing law – under which the governor cut legislators out of fiscal decisions regarding more than a billion dollars in federal aid.

Simply put, the language in HB 2 isn’t real reform of emergency power by any objective measure.

A real change in HB 2 is a new government mandate that all women get ultrasounds before seeking abortion care – at all stages of pregnancy. To be clear, according to standard medical guidelines, an ultrasound is not always necessary. But requiring it is a barrier to care, costly, and shaming towards patients. Government-mandated ultrasounds can be found on p. 17 in Section 39 of the CoC report on HB 2, with a specific requirement that “…health care provider shall conduct an obstetric ultrasound examination of the patient.”

There are plenty of adjectives for this government intrusion into the relationship between a doctor and patient – misogynistic, oppressive, and unnecessary. But there is one description everyone should agree on: costly government mandate. Since these mandated ultrasounds are not medically necessary, it’s unlikely insurance companies will cover the cost, which can be hundreds of dollars. And for insurance carriers that do, the costs of these ultrasounds will then be spread to all of their other existing customers in higher insurance costs.

Whatever your view on government-imposed healthcare mandates, they should always be fully vetted and go through the full legislative process – not simply get tacked onto HB 2 at the eleventh hour.

There’s certainly a lot of problems with this budget, particularly those tacked onto HB 2. That’s what happens when unvetted policy language is added late in the process. I’m hopeful legislators will ignore the broad-based political arguments and honestly consider the actual, real provisions in the budget before casting their vote – and I’m hopeful advocates and the public will continue to stand up, speak out, and provide valuable input.

That’s the only way New Hampshire gets a budget that is reasonably workable for everyone, regardless of political party or station in life.