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2018 legislative session: From drug testing troopers to easing the hands-free ban

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader

November 26. 2017 12:49AM



CONCORD - The even-numbered session of the New Hampshire Legislature is always more free-wheeling and social-issue oriented than the odd-numbered one that the state budget always dominates.

Veteran lawmakers say a competitive 2018 election, plus the unique addition of a new speaker of the New Hampshire House, could make this one even more unpredictable.

House Republicans on Tuesday pick a nominee from among six contenders to replace Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, who won confirmation to become the next agriculture commissioner. House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff of Concord is expected to be his party's candidate.

The full House makes its pick Thursday.

"I am confident in the ability of the House to make this decision," Jasper said last week.

Meanwhile, legislators have plenty of new ideas and old favorites from among more than 700 estimated bills House and Senate members will present.

Here's a short sample of that variety:

HB 1482: State Troopers Testing for Steroids. Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, is sponsor.

This legislation would direct the commissioner of public safety to adopt rules calling for state troopers to be subject to random testing for anabolic steroids.

"There are no requirements right now at the state and local level and in this day and age that doesn't seem to make much sense," Hoell said.

"If college and professional sports as well as branches of the military think steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs are an issue, maybe it is time that we set a new standard for those who are charged with maintaining the peace."

The recent beating of a Massachusetts man by police from both New Hampshire and Massachusetts after a car chase that ended in Nashua might give lawmakers fresh perspective, Hoell said.

And there remains some concern that some in law enforcement may use steroids in order to pass their local or state physical performance tests, he added.

HB 1706: Public Boat Access to Lake Sunapee. Rep. Peter Hansen, R-Amherst, is sponsor.

The bill is an outgrowth of the controversy Gov. Chris Sununu created last summer when he blocked renewal of a wetlands permit for the Wild Goose boat access site on Lake Sunapee. Sununu concluded that after more than two decades of study and opposition from local officials, it no longer made sense to keep pursuing construction of this boat ramp. Instead, the first-term governor created a commission to come up with a plan for alternative access for a public boat launch on the state's sixth largest lake.

Hansen's measure would put the Legislature on record in support of Wild Goose and direct the Legislature to spend the $2.1 million needed to complete the project. It also calls for spending $150,000 on improvements to Birch Grove Road in Newbury and its intersection with Route 103 that leads to the boat ramp site.

"My passion for seeing this project through to the finish lies not in my affinity for boats - I never owned one - and have neither the desire to do so nor any passion for fishing," Hansen said.

"It does lie in the manner in which contrary to the New Hampshire way, the project was unilaterally killed by an individual."

HB 1100: Job Training and Work Force Planning Commission. House Majority Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, is sponsor.

Republican legislative leaders pushed back for more than a year at former Gov. Maggie Hassan's proposal to create a workforce training incentive. Hinch said this measure to reboot the issue is long overdue.

"During the state budget committee of conference process in June 2017, whether or not to fund a pilot program for a new workforce training program was one of many issues we were deliberating," Hinch said.

The Legislative Budget Assistant Office found that there were already 13 such programs in existence in New Hampshire costing more than $33 million in state and federal money.

"Needless to say, the majority of conferees decided that a new program should wait until we evaluate whether or not the current programs are effective, or how we can make them more effective," Hinch said.

"Our state is facing a labor shortage and we need to find effective pathways for our residents to participate in the workforce. But as stewards of taxpayer dollars, we should also be evaluating if those dollars and the programs they fund are producing positive outcomes."

HB 1510: Notification to Out-of-State Driver License Voters. Rep. Michael Harrington, R-Strafford, is sponsor.

The proposal would simply require that those who come to vote and have an out-of-state driver's license must be given a notice at the polls informing them of their legal requirement within six months to register their car in the state and obtain an in-state license.

"Nothing more, nothing less," Harrington said of his bill.

"As it is just informing people of existing New Hampshire law, I believe it will hold up in court if challenged," said Harrington, a former Public Utilities Commission member. "My hope is that someone who is not domiciled in New Hampshire and plans to use an out-of-state driver's license for an ID may have second thoughts when informed of the law."

Harrington said he serves on the House Election Laws Committee that heard a Deerfield voting official tell them that last November about 10 people showed up at the polls just before closing and all gave their address as Bear Brook State Park.

HB 1238: Animal Cruelty Law Changes. Rep. William Marsh, R-Wolfeboro is sponsor.

Marsh, a first-term legislator, said he owns a significant amount of property in town including land that abuts the mansion that Christina Fay bought in town that housed dozens of Great Danes until the town closed her down and the state charged her with animal cruelty.

Marsh recalls the building wasn't meant to be a residence but was built by Highwatch, a health-care provider from Effingham that offered residential treatment for head-injury victims. He led the opposition to that health-care project which ultimately went belly up and Fay bought it.

The bill would revive what had been an 1881 law, since repealed, which allowed any city or town to seek to recover from the property owner the cost of an animal cruelty investigation and prosecution.

"I was upset in June to learn that the Town of Wolfeboro incurred approximately half a million dollars in unbudgeted expenses related to this case, and that the Humane Society of the United States said the town had no recourse as New Hampshire had no cost of animal care statute," Marsh said.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, has previously said he's working on a 2018 bill with the Humane Society to make comprehensive changes to animal cruelty laws in light of the Fay case.

HB 1671: Death penalty repeal. This would abolish the state's death penalty law. Rep. Delmar Burridge, D-Keene, is the prime sponsor.

There have been several past efforts over the past 20 years to repeal capital punishment in New Hampshire. The New Hampshire House of Representatives has embraced the cause several times in the past only to have the proposal die in the Senate.

A decade ago, lawmakers created a commission to do a cost-benefit analysis of the death penalty. The commission split nearly down the middle over whether the law should be eliminated.

Burridge was visiting family outside the state last week and was unavailable for comment on this latest campaign.

HB 1270: Allow cellphone use during stop lights. Rep. Chris True, R-Sandown, is sponsor.

In 2015, New Hampshire became the 13th state to outlaw using a cellphone while driving unless, in this state's case, you are using a Bluetooth or some other hands-free technology to place a call.

The state's law permits someone only to make a hand-held emergency call with the cellphone and only after the driver pulls over to the side of the road.

According to the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine, most states with bans allow drivers to make calls at "controlled intersections" which would be equivalent to a crossing where there is a traffic light.

Rep. True could not be reached for comment.

klandrigan@unionleader.com


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