PHOTO ID: Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice informed state officials the redistricting plans for the two congressional districts and the five Executive Council districts passed muster.
To date, the federal agency has approved the four redistricting plans lawmakers drew up that needed approval under the provisions of the 1964 Voting Rights Act.
New Hampshire must run election-law changes by the Department of Justice because about a dozen communities failed to see 50 percent of their adult population voting in the 1968 presidential primary election. The turnout was too low.
The department will next review the New Hampshire law requiring photo identification to vote in November's general election.
Many observers have been watching to see what happens in Pennsylvania, which has a law very similar to New Hampshire's, also passed by a Republican-controlled legislature.
Late last month, the Department of Justice announced it would investigate the Pennsylvania law to determine whether it discriminates against minorities.
In New Hampshire, the department's review will determine whether the agency believes requiring photo identification in order to vote discriminates against minorities or other segments of the population, such as those living in poverty or the elderly.
Since 2010, 11 states have passed voter ID laws, mostly because of arguments heard here in New Hampshire: that they are needed to prevent voter fraud. Opponents claim the laws' real intent is to reduce the number of likely Democratic voters.
In all states, the key phrase is “government-approved photo identification,” which literally means a driver's license, military ID or state-issued identification card. In New Hampshire, those without an acceptable identification card have to fill out a challenged-voter affidavit to vote.
For this year's general election, New Hampshire voters will be able to offer other forms of photo identification, including students IDs, but not after September 2013.
Some suspect the Department of Justice may let the photo ID law stand for this election but block implementation in the future when the requirements become much more stringent.
In any event, the department has already blocked voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina, and decisions are pending in several other states.
The Department of Justice has until several days before the Sept. 11 primary to make a decision.
In the primary, voters do not need to have a photo ID to vote, although they may be asked for one under the law passed this year.
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LIQUOR COMMISSION: The last month has not been pretty for the Liquor Commission.
The attorney general is investigating how several hundred cases of wine disappeared from a Portsmouth liquor store when it was moved from one location to another in the same plaza. And last week, allegations of illegal lobbying for the Liquor Commission to kill a bill to allow grocery and convenience stores to sell liquor reappeared after the Attorney General's Office dismissed the charge as unfounded the week before.
The volatile situation is not going away anytime soon, as both House Speaker William O'Brien and Executive Councilor David Wheeler have filed right-to-know requests for additional information from the commission.
Wheeler said the additional information that comes out “just brings more questions.”
He wants information on the warehouse contract and on the commission's dealing with a state brewer as well as notes on meetings between the commissioners and opponents of the grocery store bill.
O'Brien has already received more than 90 pages of information from his first right-to-know request to the commission and filed three others last week seeking information from a consultant who spoke to the commission; records of all enforcement and licensing division investigations involving state store operations; and records on requests for proposals for warehousing liquor for the commission.
Amid all the inquiries, what has not been lost on key lawmakers — O'Brien and Senate President Peter Bragdon included — is a 2009 law that allowed the Liquor Commission to “act more like a private business.”
The proposal was pushed by then-commission Chairman Mark Bodi, who has since resigned.
The change was included in the fiscal 2010-11 biennial budget and established a separate enterprise fund for the commission.
Under the change, lawmakers do not have line-item control over the commission's budget, and the Executive Council does not have to approve commission contracts.
The change was intended to give the commission greater flexibility to adapt quickly to a changing retail environment and ultimately to produce more revenue for the state through liquor sales.
O'Brien said lawmakers need to rethink that decision, but not necessarily return to the old format.
“We need to look at how the Liquor Commission is run with three commissioners with individual authority in three different areas,” O'Brien said. “Maybe that is not the way to go. Maybe we should be looking at a CEO, like with a large corporation.”
Former senator and now gubernatorial candidate Maggie Hassan was the prime sponsor of the amendment that created the independent Liquor Commission. O'Brien said Hassan's amendment has to be reversed.
“Three years down the road and it's turned out to be a disaster,” he said.
Hassan's amendment will likely be brought up again before the political campaigns are over.
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LEADING THE NATION: Once again, New Hampshire is first, but this time we're not talking about its place in the presidential selection process.
Lawmakers this year redid the state's renewable energy standards.
Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley sponsored Senate Bill 218, which became law last month, and he said it is intended to enhance opportunities for existing producers of renewable energy in New Hampshire, especially the wood-burning electricity-generating plants and small hydroelectric producers.
Bradley said the previous law was unfair, making it more difficult for older providers to stay in business while helping new plants start up.
“I felt it was important to level the playing field, so that existing plants were not disadvantaged,” he said, adding the bill will protect about 500 jobs in the North Country.
But what is unique about the bill is it offers new opportunity for thermal energy produced from burning wood to be counted in the state's renewable energy law. Over time, this provision should enhance job growth and economic opportunity for the forest products industry, property owners and energy related businesses, he said.
Charlie Niebling, the general manager of New England Wood Pellet in Jaffrey and chairman of the board of directors of the Biomass Thermal Energy Council, called the provision ground-breaking and noted it has drawn attention from across the country.
“New England is extremely dependent on fossil fuel for its energy. That represents a tremendous outflow of wealth for our state,” Niebling said at a bill-signing ceremony for SB 218, noting the new bill should over time help reverse that.
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MORSE ENDORSES OVIDE: Sen. Chuck Morse of Salem says he will announce today his endorsement of Ovide Lamontagne in the race for governor.
“It is great to add my voice, my support and my commitment to help elect Ovide Lamontagne as the next governor of the state of New Hampshire,” said Morse. “Ovide is a proven leader in the private, public and nonprofit sectors, and I can tell you, after seeing him up close over the years, that it's clear to me Ovide is a man of great character. As a small-business owner, I know what the New Hampshire Advantage means to me, and I know I can trust Ovide to protect and enhance it. The stakes for our state and our children's future have never been higher.”
Morse says he will make his announcement at a rally hosted by former House Speaker Doug Scamman and his wife, Stella.
Lamontagne said he is honored to have the backing of Morse, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee.
“Senator Morse is a well-known steward of taxpayer dollars whose conservative leadership was instrumental in making the tough decisions necessary to balance our state budget after years of higher taxes and increased spending,” Lamontagne said.
Morse is the ninth Republican state senator to endorse Lamontagne.
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NEW PAC SUPPORtING SMITH: The Granite Freedom PAC was formed last week to support Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Smith. The PAC's website, www.granitefreedompac.com, will highlight the differences between Smith and his opponents, said the group's treasurer, Alicia Preston.
“We are very excited to launch the website today and provide another means for voters in New Hampshire to learn about Kevin Smith and the clear differences between him and his opponents on both sides of the aisle,” said Preston.
The website will be updated frequently with information about Smith and his campaign activities.
“This primary is about nominating the person who can actually beat either Maggie Hassan or Jackie Cilley in November. Kevin has won a race and has proven he can govern and knows how both a campaign and government work,” Preston said.
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IMMIGRATION REFORM: State Sen. Lou D'Allesandro of Manchester was in Boston last week at a meeting on immigration reform.
He said immigration policy and what has to happen to get this issue resolved for everyone involved was discussed at the meeting.
Among those attending were media mogul Rupert Murdoch and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is originally from Medford. Mass., where D'Allesandro grew up.
“We had a long conversation,” D'Allesandro said of Bloomberg. “He told me the first love of his life was an Italian girl from Medford.”
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Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.