GOP welfare fight could cost NH $2 million

Posted Oct. 01, 2011, at 6:18 a.m.

CONCORD, N.H. — A standoff is developing between Republican leaders of the House and Senate that could cost the state more than $2 million.

Senate President Peter Bragdon has asked the House to drop plans to change a Senate bill, SB 198, that he says would create delays in plugging a loophole in the state’s welfare budget.

Speaker of the House William O’Brien wants to change the bill with language that would block extension of the marital master system, which handles most divorce cases.

Despite Bragdon’s concerns, O”Brien said through a spokesperson Wednesday he is “100 percent committed” to the amendment.

The bill can’t take effect until both House and Senate agree to a single version. The Senate passed the bill on Sept. 7 and went home until January. Gov. John Lynch has said he will sign the Senate’s version as soon as it gets to his desk.

This is not the first clash between O’Brien and Bragdon. Last week, as O’Brien urged the House to pass $35 million in budget cuts on Oct. 12, Bragdon said the Senate won’t take up the bill until January. Managing the budget is the governor’s job, he said.

SB 198 requires Social Security disability income to be considered when a person applies for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). It is considered a technical change that fixes an oversight in the budget bill. The difference to the state is $8 million a year in extra welfare costs, about $700,000 a month.

Bragdon warned in a letter to O”Brien, House Finance Chair Kenneth Weyler, R-Kingston, and Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, that when lawmakers left town in June, the Legislature “was supposed to be done for the year.”

He said it’s wrong to bring a supposedly part-time citizen Legislature back to Concord all the time.

“We believe people should be able to serve and also work or run a business. We certainly don’t expect legislators to be in Concord all year long,” Bragdon wrote.

O’Brien’s office said he will meet with Bragdon about his concerns, “but the House remains 100 percent committed to moving forward on eliminating the marital masters as outlined in the Speaker’s amendment.”

O’Brien is personally pushing the marital master issue. He wants to be sure the system is done away with as courts shift to a new circuit court system.

Conservatives in the House are suspicious of the masters, whose work must be reviewed and approved by a sitting judge.

(c)2011 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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