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October 13. 2012 9:10PM

A firmer grip on NH Liquor reins

Winding Down: After nearly two months of sometimes volatile hearings, the Special House Committee to Evaluate the New Hampshire State Liquor Commission is starting to formulate its recommendations, due Nov. 1.

The committee is looking at a two-tier process of some immediate changes and additional study on other aspects for a more long-range approach.

What is clear from recent meetings when Chairman Lynn Ober, R-Hudson, asked members to make suggestions, is lawmakers want to see greater legislative and Governor and Executive Council oversight over the commission than now exists.

The committee may not want to return to the tight control lawmakers and the council had before the 2009 law giving the commission greater autonomy, ostensibly to allow greater flexibility to respond in a competitive market,

but many on the committee would like to see House and Senate finance committee members have more say over line items in the commission's budget and governor and council approval for major contracts like the one for warehousing liquor stock.

But whether the three-member commission should be abolished and one person put in charge or there should be an independent board of directors are questions likely to be dealt with later and after more detailed review and discussion.

One more immediate change the committee is likely to recommend is to the law forbidding state agencies from hiring lobbyists. The law may need to be more specific and emphatic about the prohibition.

There are still a couple of weeks before a final report is due, so there is time to hash out the issues members want addressed in the upcoming legislative session.

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Smaller Steps: The New Hampshire Retirement System recently informed cities and towns what their rates will be as their share of retirement costs for public employees, and there has been sticker shock.

Over the last five years, significant changes have been made to the retirement system, but costs for communities continue to go up, largely to make up for 20 years of underpayment under what was supposed to be a short-term fix to lower rates for cities and towns during the last big recession in the late 80s and early 90s.

The Special House Committee on Defined Contribution Retirement Plans for Public Employees has been studying changing from the current defined benefit system to one more resembling a 401K plan.

Some lawmakers wanted to make the switch immediately, but cooler heads prevailed this spring, and everyone took a step back to see what it would cost to change the system for new employees.

This committee is also facing a Nov. 1 deadline and recently received an actuarial report on the cost of the switch.

More than likely the committee will recommend that only newly hired state workers would be under a new defined contribution plan and not all public workers. Under one scenario, municipal officials would be able to join a defined contribution plan, but it would not be mandatory.

However, a new legislature will have to decide to make those changes.

In the event of major changes to the makeup of the House and Senate, all the discussions about changing to a defined contribution plan may be moot.

grayno@unionleader.com


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