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NH lawmakers prepare to tackle weighty issues next session

New Hampshire Sunday News

December 22. 2012 10:14PM

CONCORD - There are echoes of the year's top news headlines in some of the Legislative Service Requests (LSRs) - requests to have bills drafted - lawmakers have filed for the session that starts on Jan 2.

Rep. Timothy Copeland, R-Stratham, wants mandatory drug testing for all health care workers, and registration for medical technicians. That's after a medical technician at Exeter Hospital was charged with stealing narcotics and causing a Hepatitis C outbreak among hospital patients by exposing them to contaminated syringes. (Related story, Page B4)

Copeland, who was part of an ad-hoc committee that last summer reviewed legislative options to respond to the outbreak, said New Hampshire would be the first state in the nation to require registration and track disciplinary actions for medical technicians.

If his bill passes, he said, he plans to forward it to the state's congressional delegation to get something done on the federal level, as well.

Rep. Stephen Shurtleff, D-Concord, wants to repeal the so-called "stand your ground" law passed by the last Legislature. After an unarmed Florida teenager was shot and killed last February by a man who asserted he was acting in self-defense, Shurtleff, a retired federal marshal, wants to go back to the state's former "castle doctrine" law.

He contends it would better protect innocent bystanders from becoming gun victims. "The new law says you have a right to use deadly force anyplace you have a lawful place to be, and that would include Hampton Beach or a fair," he said. "To me, that just went beyond the pale."

Rep. Laurence Rappaport, R-Colebrook, wants any new "elective" electric transmission lines to be buried and all lines to be located whenever possible within state rights of way. He has put in four separate bills related to the controversy over the proposed Northern Pass project.

Rep. Donald LeBrun, R-Nashua, wants electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards to be "canary yellow" and bear the recipients' photos so the cards can't be used to buy items such as alcohol and cigarettes.

LeBrun filed his LSR after a store clerk in Peterborough was fired last June because she refused to sell cigarettes to a man using an electronic benefits card. "It's just part of trying to fix people using EBT cards for things that they're not supposed to be buying with them," he said. "We're stewards of the state's money."

Cynthia Sweeney, D-Charlestown, wants to require safety training before someone can take possession of a firearm. But she put in her LSR even before the tragedy in Newtown, Conn.

It was an incident involving one of her own family members that prompted her, said Sweeney, who noted she is a gun owner and was on her college rifle team.

"I'm not trying to interfere with anyone's Second Amendment right. I just want to make it safe," she said. "Have your gun, enjoy your gun, but do it safely."

The new Legislature will also take another look at such perennial issues as taxes, education funding, the state retirement system, the death penalty and abortion.

Rep. Candace Bouchard, D-Concord, filed an LSR "celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision and affirming support for its holdings and principals."

On the other side of the issue, Rep. Kathleen Souza, R-Manchester, is again proposing to have the state collect anonymous demographic information about women who get abortions here. The idea is to gain more information that could help prevent abortions, she said.

"The more we know about what is driving girls to abort their babies, the better off we would be," she said.

Rep. Lenette Peterson, R-Merrimack, filed a bill to prevent abortions when the heartbeat of the fetus can be detected. And Rep. Jane Cormier, R-Alton, wants doctors to provide women "full information" about abortion and have a 24-hour waiting period "on a decision the woman's going to live with the rest of her life," she said.

Some LSRs are efforts to undo what the last Legislature did. There are proposals to repeal the new voter ID requirements; the education tax credit for businesses that provide scholarships; and the requirement that school districts adopt policies to deal with parents' objections to material in public schools.

Rep. Donna Schlachman, D-Exeter, wants to amend the state's Consumer Protection Act, giving consumers the right to file lawsuits - if the state regulatory agency has not acted - against banks, insurance companies and other entities that are currently exempt from the CPA. "It's really to make sure that consumers feel like their issues are being addressed," she said.

She intends to file a separate bill to give the Attorney General's Office the authority to bring enforcement actions against such exempt entities. The goal is to prevent the kind of financial Ponzi scheme that ensnared investors and customers of the former Financial Resources Mortgage, she said.

Schlachman also put in an LSR to allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana and expects the measure will have a better chance of passing this time around. "I've had to turn down co-sponsors on that one," she said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Stella Tremblay, R-Auburn, has an idea that eventually could affect everything else the Legislature does.

She wants all ballot measures to be written in "plain English and not legalese."

And if that works, she'd like to see it extend to every law passed in New Hampshire. "Laws are supposed to be written for the common man," she said.

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