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In making NH laws, not everything is a hot-button issue

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 28. 2013 10:29PM

CONCORD - If some state legislators muster enough support, house pets will receive equal treatment under domestic violence laws, certain dogs will have their own Veterans Day, and people will be able to officially vote for nobody on a ballot and legally cheat on their spouse.

These are among the proposals being pitched by lawmakers for the 2014 session. Each year, members of New Hampshire's Legislature, which with 424 members is one of the world's largest legislative bodies, introduce Legislative Service Requests, or LSRs. These are precursors to formal bills and are submitted to the state Legislative Services Office, which is asked to draft a bill from the requests.

Not all of the proposals involve obvious hot-button issues such as abortion, gambling or health care.

Rep. Katherine Rogers, D-Concord, said one of her LSRs, which would establish a Canine Veterans Day, is designed to honor dogs and their handlers who served in the military and police services. The date set aside would be March 13. Rogers said her proposal would not be intended to compete with Veterans Day or Memorial Day.

"There is a long history of dogs in the military, in the police forces ... saving a lot of lives," she said.

She acknowledged she is a dog lover.

"Oh, of course. But my dog is far from a military dog. He's a pug," she said.

If Rep. Charles Weed, D-Keene, gets his way, state voters will be allowed to declare they don't like any of the candidates in an election by casting a vote for "None of the Above."

Weed said he hopes the specter of being embarrassed by losing to "None of the Above" might make some legislators "deal with real issues."

"It's all about responsiveness," he said. "Let's make people accountable."

If "None of the Above" won a plurality, Weed's proposal would call for a new election to be held, he said. The same candidates could run again if they chose, but Weed said that if he ever lost an election to nobody, he might consider not putting his name on the ballot again.

"I believe I'd be pretty well humiliated," he said.

The LSR to include domestic animals in the domestic violence protection statute was submitted by Rep. Leigh Webb, D-Franklin.

The proposal calls for animals to be included in statutes that apply to such things as protective court orders that would require an accused abuser to stay away from the animal.

Other requests that might not be considered headline makers include:

--- A proposal to repeal sugar packet requirements, by Rep. George Lambert, R-Litchfield. The law in question, RSA 143:6-a, requires establishments to serve sugar in individually wrapped packets or in a covered container that pours sugar through a hole no larger than three-eighths inch in diameter.

That law took effect in 1971.

It was a time, Lambert says, when politicians were passing a slew of laws, some of them downright "absurd," to use his description. How did Lambert come across this one, amid 12,000 pages of legislation? He was browsing the RSAs for a talk about "absurd" laws when he saw this particular statute.

"It shouldn't be on the books to begin with," he said.

--- An LSR that would authorize friends of animals license plates, by Rep. Linda Massimilla, D-Littleton. The idea would allow vanity plates, to be designed later, at a cost of $30 that would fund grants for animal welfare organizations.

-- A proposal to repeal the crime of adultery, by Rep. Tim O'Flaherty, D-Manchester. The current law classifies adultery as a Class B misdemeanor.

-- O'Flaherty has also submitted an LSR that would categorize poker as a game of skill rather than a game of chance. The move could cost the state nearly $1 million in gambling revenue, according to the state Legislative Services Office, because it may remove poker from the purview of the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission, which has jurisdiction over games of chance.

Poker, via popular charity card games such as Texas Hold 'Em, accounted for 64 percent of the state's charitable gaming revenue in fiscal 2013.

-- An LSR to make June 10 National Freedom Day, by Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth.

-- A proposal that would require state police to wear a camera to record interaction with the public, by Rep. Kyle Tasker, R-Northwood.

The Legislative Services Office estimates that the program would cost the state more than $500,000 to implement, including the purchase of cameras, and an additional $260,000 to $270,000 in later years for maintenance and additional technical and support employees.

-- A proposal to define "farm stand" in New Hampshire as an "on-farm retail operation which only sells products produced on that farm, including homestead products, eggs, cheese and raw milk sold by a producer-distributor producing less than an average of 80 quarts of milk a day."

A farm stand may be off-site with certain conditions under the proposal by Reps. Laurence Rappaport, R-Colebrook, and Robert Theberge, D-Berlin.

-- An LSR to establish a specific penalty for simple assault of a sports official at a sports event. Senate Minority Leader Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord, is the prime sponsor of a bipartisan group behind this bill.

A person convicted of simple assault of a sports official would be fined "not less than $500" and potentially subject to participate in counseling or community service, or temporarily banned from attending sports event, as determined by the court, according to the bill.

The LSRs submitted may be withdrawn at the request of the sponsor, including when there are multiple bill requests proposing the same thing.

Others are dropped without much explanation. The state's LSR list online shows 700 requests for 2014. As of Dec. 26, the number of LSRs withdrawn totaled 96.

Some LSRs stem from constituent requests. Some are modeled after other laws.

Union Leader staff reporters Garry Rayno and Dan Tuohy contributed to this report.

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