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March 04. 2012 10:26PM

NH House faces host of issues after taking last week off

CONCORD — House lawmakers will be voting on a full slate of hot-button issues when they convene on Wednesday after last week's break.

The full House is expected to vote on bills concerning collective bargaining, abortion, the early release of prison inmates, decriminalizing marijuana and a requirement that students stand during the Pledge of Allegiance, among many other measures.

The union bills will be making their return appearance at Representatives Hall.

House Bill 1677 would prohibit collective bargaining agreements from including provisions requiring all employees in a workplace to pay union fees. A similar “right-to-work” bill passed the House and Senate last year, but was vetoed by Gov. John Lynch. The House failed to override the veto by 13 votes.

The current bill is one of several that legislators are considering this session that would curtail unions, particularly those that represent public employees.

Two other bills up for votes are HB 1645, which would prohibit all public employees from participating in collective bargaining, and HB 1206, which would prohibit the state from withholding union dues from the wages of state employees.

All three bills received favorable committee reports.


Abortion bills



The House also is set to vote on two bills that also received committee endorsements, concerning abortion.

HB 1659 is known as the “informed consent” bill, and it would require that physicians and clinics provide a range of information and materials about abortion to women up to 24 hours before they undergo the procedure.

Under the bill, the material would include a description of the fetus and the abortion procedure, along with illustrative images and a streaming web video.

Opponents of the bill noted that it would cost at least $107,000 to administer the program and that it would commit the state to producing materials that support the point of view of people opposed to abortion.

The other bill, HB 1679, would prohibit so-called partial-birth abortions.


Minimum sentencing



Also set for a vote is House Bill 1654, which would allow inmates to reduce their minimum sentences by completing diploma and degree programs while in jail.

The bill received a favorable committee vote.

Supporters have argued that such programs reduce recidivism, while opponents, including parole board members and corrections officials, have argued that it would undermine the state's truth-in-sentencing law.


Marijuana decriminalization



A bill that would decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is set for a vote.

HB 1526 received a committee endorsement by a 9-7 vote after it was amended to keep misdemeanor charges in place for repeat offenders. Under the amended version, the first two marjiuana possession offenses would be punishable by only a fine, not criminal charges.


Pledge of Allegiance



Finally, lawmakers are slated to vote on HB 1146, which would require public school students to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance.

Originally not expected to make it out of committee, it received an 8-4 vote in favor of passage.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Harry Accornero, R-Laconia, who has argued that it would create a more respectful atmosphere in a classroom when the pledge is recited.

Opponents say the policy could expose the state to legal action on freedom of religion grounds, particularly because of the pledge's declaration of “one nation under God.”

One hot-button issue not on the docket but widely anticipated to come up for a vote soon: a repeal of gay marriage legislation.

The House leadership has been mum about when the repeal bill might be put up for a vote.


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