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October 20. 2013 1:07AM

Garry Rayno's State House Dome: Expect new smoking ban debate


 

CONCORD -- Legislative efforts to ban smoking used to draw huge crowds to lengthy public hearings where heavy hitters testified for or against prohibition.

Eventually, smoking bans were approved at restaurants, bars, public buildings such as the State House and some private buildings.

Social, fraternal or religious organizations have continued to welcome smokers because (1) they have restricted memberships and (2) some key lawmakers — including former state Sen. Jack Barnes, R-Raymond — did not want to restrict World War II veterans' activities after they had served and sacrificed for their country.

Two bills will be introduced in the 2014 session that may change things, however. A House bill will be sponsored by Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, and a Senate bill will be sponsored by Sen. Lou D'Allesandro.
 
"I've always felt that if secondhand smoke will kill you in a restaurant, it will kill you in a social club," Vaillancourt said, noting the exemption has been debated before.
 
D'Allesandro said he was approached by members of Sweeney Post 2 and asked to put in the legislation. "I'm happy to do that for my constituents," D'Allesandro said. "They want to have a smoke-free environment."
 
Former post commander and current historian Mike Lopez said the post became non-smoking last July, noting it took about five years.
 
He said a survey was done of the World War II veterans who belong to the post's cribbage club and not one of them smoked.
 
Lopez said the post also surveyed its 1,300 members several times and eventually came to the conclusion a ban was the best thing to do.
 
After the ban was instituted, "people who stayed away came back to the post," Lopez said. "A lot of women who would not come with their husbands now come here."
 
He said they checked with other posts in Manchester and across the state. and many either prohibited smoking, limited it during dinners or were considering a ban.
 
Lopez supports the ban.
 
"Why should nonsmokers have to sit at a card game with people smoking,'' he said, "when it's not good for your health?"
 
The food and lodging industry opposed bans when they were first proposed, but eventually decided a statewide ban would level the playing field for everyone. It also didn't hurt that the ban allowed restaurant owners and managers to blame government for a smoker's inconvenience.
 
The fate of the latest legislative effort will depend on whether enough pro-ban club patrons turn out to make their voices heard over the objections of anti-ban patrons who don't mind smoked-filled rooms.
 
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Death Penalty Repeal: Concerned that his bill to abolish the death penalty would be overshadowed by the budget debate during the 2013 session, Rep. Renny Cushing of Hampton withdrew it from consideration. With the budget settled, however, Cushing's death penalty repeal bill was the first one filed for the 2014 session.
 
The Legislature last seriously debated repealing the death penalty in 2009. The House liked the idea, but the Senate killed it.
 
A 22-member study commission was appointed to consider the issue further, and members eventually voted, 12-10, to keep things the way they were.
 
In 2000, a repeal bill passed the House and the Senate, but was vetoed by former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.
 
Last week, Kirk Bloodsworth, the first American death row inmate released after DNA evidence proved he could not have committed the crime, toured the state pushing for repeal. Bloodsworth was wrongly convicted in 1984 of raping and murdering a 9-year-old Maryland girl. He was released after spending nine years in prison, two on death row.
 
On Thursday, repeal advocates will hold an event with religious, judicial and law enforcement leaders. The advocates are buoyed by Gov. Maggie Hassan's position during her campaign, when she said she supports repeal but would allow the case against the state's only death row inmate, Michael Addison, to continue. Addison murdered Manchester police Officer Michael Briggs in 2006 and is the first inmate on death row in New Hampshire since 1939.
 
Opponents of repeal, including some law enforcement agencies and past governors, have consistently noted the state's death penalty has strong bipartisan support because it is narrow in scope, covering a half-dozen crimes, including killing a police or judicial officer, murder for hire, killing someone during a rape, drug dealing or a kidnapping, or killing someone during a home invasion. The most recent expansion came in 2011 after Kimberly Cates of Mont Vernon was murdered in her home by four thrill-seeking teenagers.
 
Vaillancourt, who is also a sponsor of the repeal bill, said he believes the repeal will pass the House, but is not sure about the Senate. Most Democrats favor repeal, as do several Republicans.
 
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Special Session: The Executive Council approved a special legislative session next month to deal with Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care act.
 
The key to the debate is 13, the number of state senators who need to approve legislation. Right now there are not 13 senators who agree on any expansion plan or nixing expanding the state-federal health insurance eligibility altogether.
 
The governor's office and House and Senate leadership are trying to reach consensus on one plan that can be presented to both the House and Senate and have about three weeks reach a compromise.
 
In any event the House and Senate will meet Nov. 7 to introduce legislation to deal with expansion.
 
The next week public hearings will be held, whether Senate and House committees meet jointly remains to be seen. If there is no agreement before that point, there will likely be separate House and Senate hearings.
 
The House and Senate meet Nov. 21 for a vote.
 
The several hundred-page report from the Commission to Study Medicaid Expansion will serve as a framework for discussions, but what emerges from negotiations will look very different from the commission's proposal approved last week.
 
grayno@unionleader.com


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