CONCORD, New Hampshire — Freshman Gov. Maggie Hassan has renewed her call for New Hampshire to compete with Massachusetts by legalizing a casino.
Hassan, a Democrat, told lawmakers on Thursday during her first State of the State speech that she hoped a special commission's work over the summer and fall developing regulations for a casino addressed concerns about the state's ability to oversee one.
"Instead of funding Massachusetts' needs, let's take this opportunity to invest in New Hampshire's priorities and help grow New Hampshire's economy," she said.
Her call came on a day when the state Senate voted to hold onto a bill to authorize licensing two casinos to see what the House does with the bill she mentioned in her speech. The House has repeatedly rejected casinos, most recently last May, when it killed a Senate bill that authorized one casino that she also supported. The new House bill contains extensive regulations for a casino and authority to license one casino with up to 5,000 video slot machines and 150 table games.
Hassan also praised Senate leaders for a bipartisan agreement announced just before her speech to expand Medicaid to an estimated 49,000 poor adults in the state by using federal funds to pay for private insurance. Hassan said providing access to health care will improve the lives of thousands of people.
"With today's positive step forward, it's clear that we can work through this together and help working people access critical health coverage," she said.
The agreement is the result of weeks of private negotiations after efforts to expand Medicaid failed at a special session in November.
The Republican-led Senate has insisted on using federal Medicaid funds to pay for private insurance through an existing state program or through the federal insurance marketplace. The House last month passed a new plan similar to one the Senate rejected in November.
Hassan and the Democratic-led House had argued last year that the Senate's timeline to move adults into the marketplace and off the state's new managed care system didn't allow enough time for new insurers to offer plans through the exchange. The two also differed on whether enrollment in Medicaid should end when the federal subsidy is reduced starting in 2017.
Few details were released Thursday about the bipartisan deal. But Senate President Chuck Morse said it sets a firm deadline of June 30, 2015, to get necessary federal waivers to implement it or it ends and the program ends in three years when federal funding drops below 100 percent unless lawmakers vote to reauthorize it.
Hassan said capturing the federal funding will advance the effort to respond to gaps in the state's mental health system. Similarly, she said, the funding would help with treatment for substance and alcohol abuse.
Hassan took a jab at federal lawmakers for not being able to achieve similar bipartisan agreements.
"I like to say that, in New Hampshire, we do democracy better than anyplace else," she said. "In the past year, we have proven this to be true despite our status as one of the few states with a Legislature split between the parties."
Senate Republican Leader Jeb Bradley agreed: "This isn't Washington. People can find a way to agree."