February 02. 2013 10:54PM

Garry Rayno's State House Dome: Gionet calls his casinos proposal a 'jobs bill'

State House Bureau

One of two casino gambling bills lawmakers will take up this session has been published.

Rep. Edmond Gionet, R-Lincoln, is the prime sponsor of House Bill 665, which would establish two casinos in New Hampshire, one in the White Mountains and one in a county bordering Massachusetts.

"This is not a budget bill, and I don't intend it to be one," Gionet said. "It's a jobs bill. We've got highways and bridges in really bad shape, and some folks want surcharges on registrations and a gas tax increase to fund that. I don't think so."

Gionet is not new to casino gambling bills, having introduced them as recently as last year. It was Gionet's bill that former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Stephen Stepanek used for his casino gambling plan that was killed by the House, even with the backing of much of the former House leadership.

Gionet said he used his experience with the gambling issue to develop the figures he used in the bill.

This time around, Gionet wants the winning bidders to invest at least $10 million in a casino, but said it would really be up to the winning bidder to decide how much to invest and how many machines and table games would be needed.

Under his proposal, a casino license would cost $10 million, with a yearly renewal fee of $1 million.

The state would receive 49 percent of the take for video lottery machines, with $75,000 of that money earmarked for gambling-addiction programs run through Health and Human Services and 3 percent going to the host community.

Under his bill, the state would receive 8 percent of the table game gross.

The state's share of the money generated by the casinos would go into the highway fund to fix the state's crumbling roads and bridges.

Gionet estimates that each of the casinos would produce about $100 million for the state.

"It's information I collected over the last 10 years, and I feel pretty comfortable with it," Gionet said.

The Legislative Budget Assistants Office was unable to determine how much money the two casinos would raise for the state.

"We have problems. We need jobs, and I have a formula here, if applied, is a win-win situation," Gionet said. "Until we have enabling legislation, we'll never know, and in the meantime, the monkey's on taxpayers' backs."

A public hearing has not been scheduled for Gionet's bill.

An expanded gambling proposal is also coming from the Senate, sponsored by Sens. Chuck Morse and Lou D'Allesandro, two longtime proponents of casino gambling.

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Reform Oversight: The state could be a step closer Monday to implementing one aspect of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, working with the federal government on a health insurance exchange.

The Joint Health Care Reform Oversight Committee meets Monday, and the key item on the agenda is what the state will do about a health care exchange, a requirement of the act.

State law currently forbids the state to set up its own exchange, but there is room for the state to partner with the federal government. Gov. Maggie Hassan, however, has to request that arrangement in a letter to federal officials by Feb. 15. To date, that letter has not been sent, but could be soon, according to those in the know.

So the question is: What role will the oversight committee play in the exchange decisions?

Senate Republicans, who hold a slim majority in the upper chamber, are concerned Hassan may try to do an end run around the committee and set up the partnership by executive order.

The committee is split down the middle, with three Republicans and three Democrats. The three Senate members are Republicans Jeb Bradley and Andy Sanborn and Democrat Peggy Gilmour.

The three House members are Democrats Cindy Rosenwald and Ed Butler and Republican John Hunt.

According to Hunt, the question is whether Hassan will send the letter without the committee's blessing.

"The issue is how much involvement do we want to have," he said. "You have to assume we do have a role to play."

Bradley noted the Feb. 15 deadline is coming for the state to decide whether to have a partnership with the federal government or let the federal government run the exchange by itself. That's a decision the Health Care Reform Oversight Committee has to make, he said.

"Right now, I'm a little skeptical with a partnership," he said. "I do not want to see a partnership morphed into a quasi-exchange under some other name."

The first meeting of the committee since the new Legislature took over was scheduled for Thursday, but was canceled. Those reading the tea leaves assumed the letter from Hassan must be coming or some other arrangement was being negotiated, but the real problem was that the Senate was meeting at 10 a.m. and the meeting was scheduled for 9:30 a.m., leaving little time for discussion.

Also, the Senate members had not been named at that point. Senate President Peter Bragdon officially named the three members Friday.

Monday's meeting should be interesting.

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Almost Déjà vu: The state's domestic violence laws are considered some of the best in the country by victim advocates, but as was the case last year, some lawmakers want to significantly change them.

Rep. Daniel Itse, R-Fremont, is the prime sponsor of House Bills 502 and 503, which will have public hearings Tuesday before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, beginning at 1 p.m.

House Bill 502 would prohibit a police officer from arresting a suspected abuser unless the police officer witnessed the abuse or the victim filed a criminal complaint in court.

House Bill 503 would prohibit a police officer from arresting a suspected abuser or stalker unless the victim filed, or had previously filed, a criminal complaint.

"These bills are direct attempts to dismantle New Hampshire's domestic violence laws," said Amanda Grady Sexton, director of public policy for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. "They would turn back the clock to the '70s, when there was no protection for victims."

The bills are similar to one Itse introduced last year, which was killed

by the House, but even more dangerous, according to Grady Sexton.

She said HB 502 would change the state's presumptive arrest policy so that an officer who saw a beaten victim could not arrest the suspected abuser on the spot.

She said HB 503 would take away law enforcement's ability to arrest someone for violating a stalking or domestic violence protective order until the victim had filed a criminal complaint with the court.

Itse could not be reached for comment.

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Rail Again: The Executive Council will vote Wednesday on the Capitol Corridor Rail and Transit Study, which the last council refused to fund.

"The Capitol Corridor Rail project is back on track," said District 2 Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern. "The potential from this project is huge: attracting new workers for growing New Hampshire businesses; speeding tourists, shoppers, and business visitors to our state; lessening traffic on I-93 and Route 3; easing commutes; and amplifying the growth of new Granite State bus routes and the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport."

The last council turned down the study on a 3-2 vote.

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John King Remembered: During last week's Senate session, District 18 Sen. Donna Soucy remembered the man who held her seat two decades ago: John King, who died last month.

King served five terms in the Senate, beginning in 1991. King, who grew up in Manchester, had spent most of his early working life in education, both as a teacher and as school principal in Manchester schools, and then headed the state's Probation Department for 20 years before serving in the state Senate.

King will long be remembered for his work to increase the amount of revenue sharing for cities and towns. His bill increased the amount of rooms and meals money that went into the revenue-sharing pot, and during the boom years of the mid- to late-90s, the money grew substantially.

Now, revenue sharing has been suspended for several biennial budgets and is not likely to return anytime soon.

In her speech honoring King, Soucy noted King always had a smile on his face and was always true to his word.

"I'm humbled to be following in his footsteps," Soucy said.