Capital Comments: Repeals and Changes to Correct Legislative Errors

By State Senator Bob Odell

The legislature often is accused of making mistakes.  And it certainly happens.  Sometimes they are small; other times they are humdingers.

There are the minor errors.  Last fall, Paul Kelly, the director the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission asked me to introduce a bill (SB 367) to update laws for the agency.  The agency drafted the language, we had a public hearing and with an amendment and the Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously “ought to pass” in support of the bill.  Later on the same day, the director came back and said there was a drafting error.  It was a one word change that was necessary … an “and” for an “or.”  So, when the bill comes up at the Senate session on March 3, I will offer the simplest possible floor amendment to make sure that every word in the bill is correct.

Senator Sgambati  (Tilton) had to make a more complicated correction in legislation the Senate had passed in an earlier session.  SB 463 dealing with the regulation of mental health practitioners by the Board of Mental Health Practice had been passed by the Senate a week earlier, but a subsequent review of the bill found that there errors in the language that could affect the interpretation of the law.  Several phrases had to be changed to protect the intent of the bill.

To make the changes, she asked the Senate to reconsider its prior action in approving the original language.  If there were opposition to the changes, opponents could use that vote to kill those changes.  Everyone wanted to help on this one and the reconsideration vote was unanimous and the bill was passed once again with the corrections.

Both of these amending procedures seem mundane but the process helps insure we have the best possible language in our bills.  It also helps insure speedy approval of the bills in the House.

*  *  *

The Senate is also eliminating laws that were passed as recently as last June.  At the now famous late night session of the committees of conference in mid June, the Department of Revenue Administration suggested several laws that were passed to increase revenue by extending taxes and fees or improving the collection of taxes and fees.

Conferees were told that a very small number of hotel and operators as well as some restaurant owners collected rooms and meals taxes and then did not send them in to the department, some even shutting down and taking the tax money with them.  The Commissioner suggested we require that each operator get a $5,000 surety bond to cover the shortfall if they did not pay the meals and rooms taxes they had collected.

I remember Senator Janeway  (Webster) leaning over saying it sounded like we were punishing everyone for the misdeeds of the few.  Plus, if you have had experience getting a surety bond, it can be time consuming, an added expense and frustrating.  So, here was the legislature sticking a new burden on an industry mostly made up of small businesses because of a few who were not following the law.  SB 342 was introduced by Senator Gallus (Berlin) to remove the new bond requirement.

Department representatives came forward to let Senators know that they had found other ways to insure compliance by operators.  Thus, in a short eight months, the department decided that a good suggestion last June was no longer needed.  The Senate was eager to pass the bill and everyone looks forward to similar action in the House.  Who wouldn’t?  In a tough economy for the lodging and hospitality industry, burdening small business in that field makes no sense.  That is why the repeal vote was unanimous.  This is another legislative mistake on its way to being corrected.

*  *  *

The Senate Ways and Means Committee will be voting the first week of March on several other repeal bills.  There is one which would roll back the increase in the means and rooms tax from 9 percent to 8 percent.  That bill, SB 474 sponsored by Senator Bradley (Wolfeboro), would also eliminate the new extension of the meals and rooms tax on campsites. Many legislators would like to support this bill but there is $30 million of revenue loss involved.  A compromise might be to eliminate the campsite tax and leave the 8 to 9 percent increase in place.

*  *  *

Repeal or corrections of the new budget provisions that apply the interest and dividends tax to limited liability corporations is a very hot topic in Concord.  Again, Senator Bradley has introduced a bill to repeal this part of the budget via SB 473.  The committees of conference were told this change extending the interest and dividends tax was an opportunity to close a gap between how llcs and regular corporations are treated.  Small business owners testifying in Concord at two different Ways and Means sessions find the provisions in the budget to be a new tax on small business.

An alternative to repeal could be SB 497 sponsored by Senator D’Allesandro (Manchester) and I am a co-sponsor along with a bi-partisan team of supporters in the House and Senate.  This bill, rather than repeal of the extension of the interest and dividends tax, would make changes that would correct what we think are errors in the application of taxes to small businesses.  We have to wait to see if a possible error here will be corrected.  Stay tuned.

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