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NH Senate Roundup: Bill raising smoking age to 21 tabled

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 15. 2018 9:10PM

CONCORD — The state Senate voted Thursday to set aside legislation (SB 545) to raise the tobacco smoking age to 21.

With no debate and on a voice vote, the Senate tabled the measure and the bill’s two prime architects admitted it’s all but dead for 2018.

Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, said this cause will succeed in future years once neighboring states also raise the age to 21 and eliminate the claim a loss in state revenue would be at stake.

“It is an accomplishment that we didn’t kill the bill outright and I’m glad about that,” Watters said. “There no longer is any debate that this is a public health issue.”

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, agreed.

“I was making the argument as forcefully as I could that this would help us reduce health care costs going forward. There’s no question the personal freedom view remains very strong,” Bradley said.

Student members of the Dover Youth 2 Youth group, established in the early 1990s by the local police department, were the driving force behind this campaign.

“They made a real impression on senators and didn’t make this an easy decision for them, and that’s a credit to their commitment,” Watters said.

Last year, Maine joined California, Hawaii and New Jersey as the only states where the age limit for tobacco products is 21.

Massachusetts and Vermont lawmakers are also considering the same measure.

Opponents include the N.H. Grocers Association, the New England Convenience Stores and Energy Marketers, the Cigar Association of New Hampshire and the N.H. Vapers Association.

John Dumais, chief executive with the grocers lobby, said the bill would create a conflict between state and federal law and that 60 percent of tobacco sales are sold to out-of-state residents, many in that 18-to-21 age group.

Sticking with crosscheck program

The Senate voted to stay in the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program that’s aimed at detecting voter fraud.

Sen. Bette Lasky, D-Nashua, said while 30 states have been parties to it, the program has a history of false positives and leaves personal voter information insecure.

“Crosscheck has shown to be a system that only puts voter information at risk while disqualifying eligible voters,” Lasky said.

Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, said Secretary of State Bill Gardner wants to remain in the program and Crosscheck has beefed up the security of its database.

She said the alternative, anti-fraud program, Electronic Registration Information Center developed by IBM and the Pew Charitable Trusts would be much more expensive for the state to administer.

All Senate Republicans voted to remain in crosscheck (SB 439) while all Democrats opposed it.

Minimum wage stays put

The Senate also voted along party lines to reject a Democratic proposal (SB 554) to raise the state’s minimum wage in four steps to $12 an hour by July 1, 2021. New Hampshire has the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour, the lowest in New England.

Sen. Dan Innis, R-New Castle, said government policies don’t lead to higher wages and can only retard economic growth.

“The forces of the free market is driving up the minimum wage well beyond the numbers in this bill,” Innis said.

Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said the state prides itself in not ceding control to the federal government.

“We don’t want to be like Washington, but that’s essentially what we do when it comes to the minimum wage,” Soucy said.

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