Gary Rayno's State House Dome: Lawmakers return Wednesday; House eyes 'good time' for inmates
THEY'RE BACK. On Wednesday, the House and Senate return to Concord to begin the 2014 session.
The second year of a two-year session typically starts with a bang - at least in the House - unlike the first year, when new lawmakers have to become acclimated and brought up to speed.
The House begins at 10 a.m. and the Senate at 1 p.m. Both have to adopt new deadlines for such things as committee action, "crossover day," when all of the House bills go to the Senate and vice versa, and when they plan to adjourn.
Bills the House or Senate retained or re-referred for additional work last session have to be acted on by the end of January, which can make for a very busy month.
The House retained more than 100 bills. The Senate kept about 30.
The House will begin its work Wednesday on those bills, but the Senate will not.
Among the bills scheduled for action Wednesday is HB 525, which would increase from 17 to 18 the age a person is considered an adult in the criminal justice system.
The state dropped the age to 17 in the 1990s after surrounding states had done so and several high-profile crimes were committed by people under 18.
The House Children and Family Law Committee unanimously approved the return to 18.
INMATE "GOOD TIME": The House also will decide if inmates can earn "good time" by successfully completing education and rehabilitation programs, most at their own expense. The final prison release decision under HB 649 would still be made by the state Adult Parole Board.
The issue of how to pay for hiker rescues has long been before lawmakers, who have yet to find a solution that pleases all the stakeholders.
The Fish and Game Department is largely funded by the fees collected for fishing and hunting licenses, but the money is used to rescue lost or injured hikers, which can be very expensive. The state can charge hikers for the cost of the rescue, but most do not pay the bill.
The problem was exacerbated because the federal National Guard no longer allows state National Guards to use their helicopters in rescues as training missions and instead requires they charge for their use.
Under HB 256, hikers would be able to purchase "Hike Safe" cards, which would allow card holders to escape state charges if they need to be rescued.
People holding fishing and hunting licenses or who register snowmobiles or other off-road vehicles would also be exempt from rescue charges.
HB 675 would allow police to use mobile license plate scanners, but they would not be able to retain the data unless there is a match for criminal activity.
New Hampshire is the only state that does not permit the general use of license plate scanners, although they are allowed on bridges and at toll gates here.
The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee split on the issue.
Another bill before the House on Wednesday would increase workers compensation payments by 6 percent, which brings it back to what it was 20 years ago.
LEGALIZE HOME POKER: Another bill would allow home poker games, although they could not be advertised, and the house could not take commissions or charge a fee.
Those older than 65 would be able to use state parks and recreation areas for free, but lawmakers, executive councilors and the governor and their staffs would no longer receive free or reduced admission to the park system under SB 190, which the House takes up Wednesday.
KILL BILLS: House committees are recommending most of its retain bills be killed, including ones to give the motion picture industry tax breaks for filming in the state, to eliminate the F. E. Everett Turnpike ramp tolls at Exit 12 in Merrimack and to better regulate heating oil guaranteed price or pre-paid contracts.
The House continues its work on retained bills every Wednesday in January until the work is completed.
UNFINISHED BUSINESS: When lawmakers return, it will still be 2013 in legislative land. The House and Senate are in recess and will come out of recess to act on the three bills Gov. Maggie Hassan vetoed, all House bills.
The House will take up the vetoes first, and if any receive the necessary two-thirds majority, the Senate would vote.
One veto has a chance to be overridden, HB 183, which allows elections workers to begin "processing" absentee ballots two hours after the polls open and during the day for those received while the polls are open. The absentee ballots would still have to be counted after the polls are closed.
Some party officials objected to the bill, saying it would require observers to be at the polls whenever they are open instead of setting a time to begin processing the ballots as had been done in the past.
Hassan said in her veto message that "efficiency and transparency are not mutually exclusive, and I am confident that we can all work together to pass a bill that will achieve both before the next statewide election, and I will work with the Legislature to do so."
The bill's prime sponsor, Rep. James Belanger, R-Hollis, has said he intends to push to override.
Another vetoed bill, HB 403, would have established a committee to study end-of-life decisions.
Hassan said in her veto message that lawmakers had just approved and she signed another bill that clarified the state's advanced directives law.
"With any discussions of the complex and emotional issues related to end-of-life decisions, our focus must always be first and foremost on helping all of those in our society to fully live their lives with dignity that they deserve," Hassan wrote.
The final vetoed bill, HB 505, would have changed the makeup of the state Economic Development Advisory Council. Hassan said the changes would have made the council less representative of all the stakeholders involved in economic development..