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State Senate GOP Says ‘Fighting for Families’ Is 2023 Priority

Senate Republicans want to help New Hampshire families succeed and stay healthy with a range of proposals as part of their newly unveiled 2023 legislative agenda. It covers taxes, school choice, access to healthcare, and the state’s First-In-The-Nation status. 

 “This year, we are making it our mission to focus on helping our struggling families who are facing rising costs across the board,” Senate President Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) said Wednesday at a State House press conference.” After enduring more than two years of hardships wrought by federal financial mismanagement, it is critical we continue to help our New Hampshire families.”

With the House of Representatives essentially tied between the two parties, the state Senate is likely to play an even larger role than usual in legislating. Bradley, who took over the top spot after the retirement of Chuck Morse, is seen by members of both parties as a savvy political operator who can navigate partisan political waters.

Bradley makes no secret of the fact he is focused on fiscal issues. He touted continued business tax cuts and pledged his party would “never, ever implement income, sales or capital gains tax.” He also said any budget surplus should go to property tax relief and the state’s Rainy Day fund.

While Republicans celebrated the additional cuts in Business Profits Taxes and Business Enterprise Taxes that took effect January 1, Democrats denounced them.

“These tax cuts are being downshifted to towns and WILL come back to hardworking New Hampshire families in the form of sweeping property tax increases across the board,” said New Hampshire Democratic Party communications director Colin Booth on Twitter. “But don’t expect the @NHGOP to take any credit when that happens.”

But state revenue has increased since the business tax cuts have begun phasing in, as has state revenue to cities and towns. In the last budget, the state provided $100 million to local governments to take pressure off property taxes.

Asked for data showing fewer state dollars going to cities and towns as a result of the business tax cuts, Booth declined to respond.

Senate Majority Leader Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry) focused on education in her remarks. “We will defend academic opportunities for our students by continuing to support our state’s Education Freedom Account Program and empower parents by providing transparency into their children’s learning environment.”

Carson also touted plans to “reform the state’s bail system,” which will likely undo previous changes that critics say have kept dangerous people on the streets.

“Our comprehensive agenda brings Granite Staters to the forefront. Exactly where they should be,” Carson said.

Senate Democratic Leader Donna Soucy (D-Manchester) said her conference will announce its agenda next week but previewed its goals of working on issues like property tax relief, access to affordable housing, and, of course, access to abortion up to birth.

“Protecting the civil rights of women should be one of the top priorities of the legislature and the Senate Democrats will never back down from supporting women making their own reproductive healthcare decisions,” Soucy said in a statement.

Democrats in Concord spent Wednesday trying and failing to allow for proxy voting and attendance via online video services like Zoom. Democratic House members have been suing the state for the last two years to allow members to attend sessions and vote remotely. They have yet to prevail in court, and their most recent appeal was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The other Democratic priority on Wednesday was trying to get the rule allowing members to carry concealed weapons in the State House changed. Democrats failed there as well, meaning House members will remain armed if they choose while in session.

The GOP, as part of its agenda, is also pushing for a law to protect New Hampshire’s First-In-The-Nation status in the presidential primary process. The Democratic National Committee announced new rules late last year that would force New Hampshire out of the top spot in the nominating process. Sen. Regina Birdsell (R-Hampstead) said Wednesday she plans to spearhead the effort to fight off any challenge to New Hampshire’s position.

“Unfortunately, we found that our historic tradition has been under attack by those looking to maybe repurpose it for their political gain,” Birdsell said. “Know that we will respond aggressively to anyone that attempts, like the DNC or anyone, who attempts to take that away from us.”

Thousands of Granite Staters Could Lose Health Insurance

The end of the federal COVID Public Health Emergency is coming, and that could result in tens of thousands of New Hampshire residents without health insurance. 

When the pandemic hit, some Americans were left without jobs and health insurance. The COVID Public Health Emergency allowed people who lost their insurance to sign up for their state Medicaid plan. But that help is coming to an end soon.

The Granite State is ready, though, with organizations preparing people to sign up for coverage in the Affordable Care Act Marketplace.

“I believe New Hampshire is way ahead of most other states,” said Keith Ballingall, president of Market Health Connect. “The state right now contains different partners to make sure we’re all working together.”

Market Health Connect is one of several companies working in the state to get people signed up for health insurance ahead of the ending of the Public Health Emergency.

President Joe Biden recently extended the so-called Public Health Emergency until the middle of January, creating a perfect storm for Ballingall and his team at MHC. The end of the emergency coincides with the open sign-up period for the marketplace, meaning thousands more people will be looking for coverage.

Keith Ballingall, president of Health Market Connect

New Hampshire residents who are on Medicaid through the Public Health Emergency are now getting pink letters informing them they will lose their coverage when the emergency officially ends. Ballingall and his team are reaching out to those people now to get them ready to sign up for a new plan.

Ballingall said about 50,000 people are already anticipated to be looking for health care during the open sign-up period, and another 50,000 to 60,000 will be looking because they got pink letters from the state.

“When the Public Health Emergency ends we will have a 60-day window to help,” Ballingall said.

MHC has people, called navigators, positioned throughout the state serving specialized populations, he said. New Hampshire attracts people from all over the world, and there are dozens of languages spoken in the Granite State.

“I think we’re doing a very good job having a very diverse team ourselves,” he said.

The health care navigator program is community-driven, he said, with the navigators living in their regions, understanding the people there, and able to provide real on-the-ground help.

Donna Toomey, one of MHC’s healthcare navigators, is based in the Lakes Region and reaches out to people wherever she can find them.

“I have been doing this work for over 20 years,” Toomey said. “I am very rooted in my community.”

Toomey goes to public meetings and holds open hours at town halls and tax collector offices. She talks with local police and firefighters, goes to schools and attends wellness fairs and old home days, and even meets people at homeless shelters to connect with people who will need help in the coming weeks.

Navigators like Toomey can make sure people will still be able to go to the doctor and get care even if they get a pink letter.

“We’re starting applications for the Marketplace now if people are going to lose their coverage when the emergency ends. That way they won’t lose coverage,” Toomey said.

Ballingall said navigators at MHC can work with people now and do all the necessary paperwork so that they are prepared for the end of the Public Health Emergency, no matter how many people will need assistance.

“At some point, it’s going to go back to the traditional rolls, and we’ve got to find someplace for them to go,” Ballingall said.

Many people who got a pink letter will go to a new plan on the Marketplace, though some may remain signed up for state Medicaid, he said.

The challenge is to reach so many people before the end of the Public Health Emergency. Toomey said the state has made the process as easy as possible, and applications can be done in 15 minutes. The key is to be ready before the January rush.

“I think the name of the game is sooner rather than later,” Toomey said.

People who have received a pink letter can start the process by connecting with a navigator at MHC through the website, www.hmcnh.com.