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Legislative agenda '18: What's old is new again

State House Bureau

November 27. 2017 9:10AM

CONCORD - Opponents of allowing Medicaid to pay for sex-change surgery lost their battle before a legislative rules committee recently but will be back in 2018 with a bill that would forbid the practice.

House Bill 1560, "an act prohibiting Medicaid from paying for sex reassignment drug or hormone therapy or surgery" is one of several bills coming up in 2018 that will revisit debates from 2017.

Bills tackling familiar issues like minimum age for marriage, regulation of firearms, lead poisoning, school choice and marijuana use will also be on the agenda when House and Senate lawmakers reconvene in January.

Medicaid money is now used to pay for sex-change surgery deemed medically necessary, after a legislative committee voted 6-4 in October to approve new rules for the health-care program that serves low-income households. The vote came after more than two hours of emotional testimony over the issue of gender reassignment and whether it is ever truly medically necessary.

Sen. John Reagan, chair of the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules, said at the time that the JLCAR could only vote on the legality of the rules proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services, and not the policy questions raised by the rule.

After the vote, Rep. Carol McGuire, R-Epsom, predicted that the full Legislature would take up the question when it reconvenes, and she was proven correct.

HB 1560 seeks to settle the matter legislatively, with language that reiterates many of the arguments made by opponents of the rule change at the Oct. 19 hearing.

The bill states that enrollees in the Medicaid program "have greater medical needs than elective cosmetic surgery," and that covering sex change procedures "will dramatically increase the costs of the program for taxpayers, weakening the financial stability of the program."

Marriage bill is back

A bill in the 2017 session championed by a Dover High School senior would have raised the legal age for marriage in New Hampshire to 18.

The House voted 179-168 to indefinitely postpone HB 499, leaving intact existing state law that lets girls get married at 13 and boys at 14 with parental consent and judicial approval.

Having lost the battle to raise the minimum marrying age to 18, proponents of the change will be back in 2018 with HB 1587, a bill raising the minimum age for marriage to 16 for boys and girls.

The bill also establishes a judicial procedure and criteria for emancipation of minors, which could address some of the concerns raised by opponents of the change last time around.

Annulment of pot arrests

The decriminalization of marijuana in New Hampshire took effect on Sept. 16, so individuals with past convictions on their records should be able to seek annulments. That's the thinking behind HB 1477, an act relative to arrests or convictions for possession of three-quarters of an ounce of pot or less.

The bill does not propose blanket annulments, but rather presents a process by which individuals can petition the court to annul the arrest record, court record or both.

If the prosecutor doesn't object within 15 days, the court "shall grant the petition," according to the legislation.

In order to have an annulment request rejected, the prosecutor will have to prove that the petitioner had more than three-quarters of an ounce, the decriminalized volume now in effect.

Reining in towns

New Hampshire already has a law on the books giving the state exclusive control over firearms regulation and banning municipalities from imposing any of their own (Chapter 159:26).

But that hasn't stopped a handful of cities or towns from imposing ordinances, triggering the introduction of HB 1749 for 2018.

According to the bill's sponsors, "A growing number of towns and local boards are violating RSA 159:26."

The bill cites Milford selectmen for banning target shooting on town land and the Lebanon School Board, which has voted to ban firearms on school property and at school events on any property.

The bill would nullify such ordinances and establish legal liability for local officials who vote for them, including civil fines of up to $5,000 for each violation.

Retained bills return

Several controversial bills retained in committee at the end of the 2017 session will be back, albeit in amended fashion, in 2018. One of the most closely followed will be SB 193, allowing taxpayer funds to be used for scholarships to private schools.

Also back in amended fashion will be SB 247, designed to prevent childhood lead poisoning from paint or water. The bill calls for universal testing, new inspection programs and state funded loans for lead hazard remediation in rental properties, child care centers and single-family homes.

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