Garry Rayno's State House Dome: Legislature facing hot-button issues
By GARRY RAYNO State House Bureau
The next legislative session begins Jan. 8, or as the New Hampshire Constitution says: "the first Wednesday following the first Tuesday in January."
Three of last session's biggest issues will be back: Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, casino gambling and a gas tax increase. All three issues were killed in one form or another last session.
Also, lawmakers will debate whether New Hampshire should repeal the death penalty law. The repeal bill's prime sponsor, Rep. Robert "Renny" Cushing, D-Hampton, has introduced similar bills before. Cushing's father was murdered by an off-duty Hampton police officer about 25 years ago.
Both the House and the Senate approved repealing the death penalty during Jeanne Shaheen's tenure as governor, but lawmakers failed to override her veto. In recent years, the House approved repeal, but the Senate killed it.
Most observers believe repeal will be approved by the House, but Senate passage will be very iffy. Hassan has said she would sign a repeal bill as long as it was not retroactive, so Michael Addison's death sentenced would not be commuted. Addison killed Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs in 2006.
The second year of a legislative session often showcases hot-button issues in order to put lawmakers on record going into an election.
Bills on abortion are numerous this session, with one that would declare life begins at conception and another that would include fetuses under the wrongful death statute.
Rep. Kathy Souza, R-Manchester, wants outpatient abortion clinics to be licensed and the state to collect statistics covering "terminated pregnancies."
Both sides of the gun rights debate have filed bills, including proposals to require background checks, restrict ownership for the mentally ill and prohibit firearms in public places.
On the other side, firearm records would be exempt from the right-to-know law, out-of-state residents would be able to carry firearms in the Granite State and state law enforcement would be prohibited from enforcing federal gun laws if they conflicted with the state's.
Tax changes are also proposed, including lowering the rooms and meals tax and changing its distribution.
Rep. David Hess, R-Hooksett, wants to change the business enterprise tax so that nonprofits and charities such as hospitals would no longer be exempt.
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The state's largest electric utility, Public Service of New Hampshire, would be required to sell its electricity generating plants under a bill proposed by Rep. David Borden, D-New Castle, House Science, Technology and Energy Committee chairman.
Electronic benefit transfer cards issued to welfare recipients are the subject of several bills, mostly limiting what could be purchased with the cards. Tobacco, alcohol or lottery tickets would be prohibited.
Implementation of the Common Core State Standards for education would be delayed or adoption by the state rescinded under proposed legislation.
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Bills have also been proposed to exempt many state products from federal regulatory approval, such as state foods from Federal Food and Drug Agency oversight.
For the first time in several sessions, a bill has been introduced that would require a deposit on bottles and cans.
And an attempt will be made to prohibit smoking in veterans halls and other social organizations' facilities, which have long been exempt from state no-smoking laws.
With the partisanship turned up after the special session defeat of Medicaid expansion, this should be a bruising session.
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The House has to act on the 100 or more retained bills in the first three session days of the 2014 session, while the Senate usually takes its time with the bills it holds onto.
Among the bills the House will have to deal with are several on the controversial Northern Pass transmission project and requirements for wind farms.
The one bill that is recommended to pass would encourage the developers of Northern Pass to bury the lines, which Public Service of New Hampshire has already said is prohibitively expensive.
Another bill would raise the age of minority for a juvenile in the criminal justice system from 17 to 18 years old.
The House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee could not decide what to do with former Senate President Peter Bragdon's bill to establish a recovery fund for the victims of Financial Resource Management.
The House Public Works and Highways Committee did decide what to do with Bragdon's bill to eliminate the Exit 7 tolls on the F.E.Everett Turnpike. They want it killed.
The House Resources, Recreation and Development Committee believes senior citizens should still be able to use the state park system for free, unless it involves ski areas, but wants to do away with free passes for politicians and their staffs.
Although expanded gambling will have a lengthy debate in both the House and Senate again this session, one new game of chance may fly through.
The House Ways and Means Committee wants the Lottery Commission to establish keno at bars and restaurants.
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Executive Council Race:
The endorsements in the race to replace the late Raymond Burton of Bath as the District 1 Executive Councilor came fast and furious last week on the Republican side, where there is a three-way primary.
Former state senator and gubernatorial candidate Joe Kenney of Wakefield kicked things off with District 6 Sen. Sam Cataldo's endorsement.
Then three prominent Republican state Senators lined up behind former Belknap County Commissioner Christopher Boothby.
First was Senate Finance Chair Jeanie Forrester of Meredith, followed by Senate Ways and Means Chair Bob Odell of Lempster, and then Friday Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro.
"Sen. Bradley, just like Sens. Forrester and Odell, have been pillars of our state, and represent what's right about New Hampshire politics," Boothby said.
The only Democrat in the race, Grafton County Commissioner Mike Cryans of Hanover sent out a fundraising email this week.
"Over the last week, I've traveled all across the district - from my home in Hanover to where I grew up in Littleton. Up to Coos County and throughout the Lakes Region, I am so excited to meet with the great people of this district and share with them my vision," he said, and then asked for people's help noting he served with Burton as a Grafton County Commissioner, who had such a passion for the North Country.
"With that same passion, I am running for the Executive Council to continue this service and to work with Governor Hassan to effectively advocate for a state government that brings an innovative approach to creating jobs and fostering economic development," Cryans wrote.
The primary for the District 1 seat is January 21 and the special election March 11.
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State Senate Campaign
Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett, made it official last week he would run for reelection.
In 2012, Boutin was in a close race with former Manchester Board of Education member Kathleen Kelley, so this time he is taking no chances.
Last week Boutin hired Andrew Provencher to serve as a campaign consultant for his 2014 reelection campaign for District 16.
Provencher is a Manchester native and veteran of political campaigns throughout New Hampshire.
Like Old Times
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission Region One Office hosts an open house and public hearing Wednesday to discuss Seabrook Station owner NextEra Energy Seabrook, LLC's testing programs and plans to address concrete degradation in light of its request to extend the nuclear's plant's operating life.
Among those signed up to testify is Stephen Comley, a Rawley Mass. nursing home owner who fought the plant's operation dating back to 1970s.
Comley contends shoddy construction and equipment make the plant - and others like it - unsafe and has demanded regulators do something about it.
He wants the meeting to be recorded because he intends to bring new concerns to the hearing, but the agency does not intend to do that.