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Garry Rayno's State House Dome: All eyes on House as casino vote nears

State House Bureau

May 19. 2013 2:10AM

The question that has been hanging over the Legislature all session will be decided this week: Will the state take the tentative step of legalizing one casino?

The House will decide the fate of Senate Bill 152 Wednesday. The bill, which passed the Senate on a 16-8 vote and has the support of Gov. Maggie Hassan, would allow up to 5,000 video slot machines and 150 table games in a complex costing at least $400 million.

The House has never passed a casino gambling bill, and many thought that trend would continue - until Wednesday's 23-22 vote of the Joint House Finance and Ways and Means committees to kill the bill.

The paper-thin margin has given renewed hope and - casino supporters would say - momentum heading into this week's vote.

The vote was also a wakeup call to the anti-casino constituency.

Casino supporters say Massachusetts has changed the equation by approving three regional casinos and a video slot parlor. The Massachusetts casinos give New Hampshire incentive to approve gambling, they say, because state revenues would otherwise decline by $50 million to $80 million and New Hampshire would have to bear the social and financial costs of problem gamblers while the Bay State received the financial benefits.

Hassan has pushed hard for the bill, telling House members the $80 million in casino licensing fees in her budget would help the mentally ill, the developmentally disabled, state police and the state university and community college systems.

A proposed omnibus amendment to the bill would "find solutions'' - as one of the bill's writers, Rep. Kathy Rogers, D-Concord, says - to problems raised by three subcommittees that studied the bill over the past month. The super committee never voted on the amendment because Chairman Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, took a quick motion from Rep. Patricia Lovejoy, D-Stratham, to kill the bill.

Several committee members voted against killing the bill because they did not like the way the vote was handled.

If House members overturn the committee's recommendation to kill the bill, they will have the opportunity to debate at least 10 of 17 proposed amendments.

If SB 152 passes, the Senate will include the $80 million in its budget, and that would give the House much of what it wants. But the House first has to decide what to do about gambling.
Casino supporters knew they had an uphill fight in the House after the bill passed the Senate. One of the few people willing to make a prediction, longtime casino opponent Rep. David Hess, R-Hooksett, said the House would uphold the committee's recommendation and kill the bill.

He noted most veteran House members have not changed their positions on gambling.

The wild card, though, is the 100 or so Democratic freshmen House members who have not voted on the issue before.

What you don't want to be this weekend is a representative sitting on the fence because your phone will not stop ringing and your email will be filled before you can delete it.

Let's roll the dice.

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Presidential Primary Anniversary: One hundred years ago, the Legislature passed and the governor signed a bill creating the state's presidential primary, making it the first such event in the nation.

The primary coincided with the annual town meeting day, so residents could make their presidential preference known while they attended town meeting and voted for local officials.

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Hassan, Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, House Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, primary veterans from both parties and descendants of lawmakers who helped create the primary will speak at a celebration at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in the Executive Council chambers at the State House.

Secretary of State Bill Gardner said: "On May 21, 1913, New Hampshire's top leaders showed vision in passing and signing into law legislation that created our presidential primary. For 100 years since, New Hampshire has held presidential primaries that have played a critical role in vetting and preparing the candidates who seek our nation's highest office.

"The New Hampshire presidential primary, with its focus on grassroots organizing, is truly the people's primary, which is appropriate. Our citizens play an enormously important role in our primary process, and they take their responsibilities to participate seriously.

"The event on Tuesday is meant not only to commemorate the 100th birthday of our primary, but to celebrate the citizens of New Hampshire whose long-standing commitment to the primary ensures its enduring vitality and relevance. In addition to the celebration, there will be a special presentation by the family of Representative Stephen Bullock, the author and sponsor of the original primary legislation."

Although the 2012 presidential election was held only seven months ago, potential Republican presidential candidates have already begun visiting the state.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul will headline the NHGOP's first Liberty Dinner on Monday, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was recently in the state to raise money for the Republican state senators.

Can the Democrats be far behind?

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Long Day Ahead: The Senate has a long day Thursday as it acts on every major bill the House approved this session, from the stand-your-ground repeal to medical marijuana.

The Senate held public hearings on the bills soon after they came over from the House, but has been slow to act on them.

The stand-your-ground repeal bill has no chance of passing the Senate because at least two Democrats have said they oppose it.

The Senate is also expected to kill a bill that would reinstate the state minimum wage and a bill that would increase the tobacco tax by 20 cents a pack.

The Ways and Means Committee recommends further study of a bill that would increase the gasoline tax 12 cents, although a move is expected to kill it outright.

The Senate's version of the medical marijuana bill would remove the home-grow provision, which Hassan objected to, and is likely to pass by a comfortable margin. The House will probably go along because supporters want something to pass, which didn't happen with former Gov. John Lynch, who vetoed several versions.

The Senate bill would also reduce the amount of marijuana a seriously ill person could possess from 6 ounces to 2 ounces.

A reworked version of the House-passed photo ID law would not repeal the more stringent requirements that go into effect in September and would instead delay those provisions for two years. The Senate version would restrict photo IDs to state- or federally issued identifications, which would include state college and university identification cards.

Under the Senate change, local election officials would be able to decide which identification cards to accept, so college towns such as Hanover, Manchester, Nashua and Rindge could accept college identifications. Local election officials would also be allowed to vouch for local residents without a photo ID.

A bill to decrease the amount of fossil fuel emissions allowed for electricity generating plants under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative program will also likely pass the Senate with the help of Republicans such as Bragdon, who sponsored the original bill establishing the program, and Sens. Robert Odell of Lempster and Nancy Stiles of Hampton, who have voted to support the program in the past.

And the Senate Commerce Committee is recommending a bill to allow bars to serve liquor until 2 a.m. Under the Senate version, a community would have to vote to allow the later closing; under the House bill they could opt out.

The Senate is likely to need a dinner break as well as its customary lunch break.

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