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April 03. 2013 7:14PM

House approves $124M capital budget, includes women's prison

CONCORD - A new women's prison is the linchpin of the House's proposed $124 million capital budget that was approved Wednesday on a 285-68 vote.

The women's prison is slated to be built next to the men's prison in Concord and has been the Department of Corrections' top priority for many years, but lawmakers did not agree until this year.

Women prisoners and their families recently filed suit saying the women inmates cannot participate in the same programs and initiatives as male inmates because of space limitations at the Goffstown facility.

The new women's prison will cost $38 million, roughly a third of the entire capital budget for the upcoming biennium.

Three representatives tried to have the $38 million removed from the capital budget and instead have lawmakers study alternatives to a new facility such as housing women prisoners in county jails.

Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, suggested the Goffstown facility could be expanded instead of building a new prison.

"That would keep the jobs locally in the Manchester-Goffstown area and that would be a win for everybody," he said.

But House Public Works and Highways Committee Chair Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, said additional study is not needed as five studies have been done in the last 10 years on a new women's prison.

He said his committee weighed all the options including using the excess space in county jails.

The current facility is totally inadequate, Campbell said, and the longer the state waits the more the lawsuit hangs over the state's head.

He alluded to a court decree from the federal court on the men's prison from the 1970s that still haunts the state today.

"The courts have gotten involved in the minutia of running a prison," Campbell said, "and we don't want that."

The proposed amendment was killed on a 253-98 vote.

The capital budget also includes $24 million for renovating and updating the regional technical centers in Whitefield and Salem.

Three new liquor stores are slated for Salem, Epping and Warner at a cost of nearly $20 million, although the bonds for those projects would be paid with liquor revenues, not general funds.

The capital budget also includes $7.5 million for the University System of New Hampshire, substantially less than the $35 million the system has received in past capital budgets.

The New Hampshire Community College System would receive $13 million in the House capital budget.

Also included is $472,445 to repair the State House's gold dome. The gold leaf is flaking.

A new voting machine and software for the House is also included, costing $540,000.

The capital budget now goes to the Senate for action.

grayno@unionleader.com


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