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March 19. 2013 7:48PM

'Stand your ground,' Medicaid expansion on busy NH House agenda

CONCORD - It's crunch time for lawmakers as the House and Senate finalize action on their own legislataion before sending them to the other body for consideration.

The House Wednesday has an agenda filled with bills that committees have been working on for months trying to craft into legislation acceptable to a majority of representatives.

The House will take up the "stand your ground" repeal bill, sponsored by House Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Concord, which would return the state to the Castle doctrine.

Current law allows the use of deadly force in self-defense anywhere a person has a right to be, while the bill would restrict the use of deadly force to a person's home and property.

A large crowd turned out to oppose House Bill 135, but the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 12-6 to make the change.

Medicaid expansion

The House will vote on House Bill 271 to prohibit the state from expanding the federal-state health insurance program for the poor, elderly and disabled.

The bill is sponsored by Former House Speaker William O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon, who argues the program is unaffordable, not needed and that it would "hijack the state's budget."

Opponents say the expansion will significantly increase the number of people with health insurance and will bring billions of dollars of federal money to the state's health care providers.

Tobacco tax

Also on the agenda is House Bill 659, which increases the cigarette tax 20 cents - from $1.68 to $1.88 per pack - beginning July 1.

Two years ago when Republicans controlled the Legislature, the tax was cut 10 cents a pack, but a provision was added that would automatically increase the rate 10 cents if revenue projections were not attained.

The tobacco tax has consistently been below projections since the reduction and the tax is expected to go up this summer.

Gov. Maggie Hassan included a 30-cent increase in her proposed budget, but House Ways and Means Committee members refused to go along with the hefty jump.

Medical marijuana

House members will decide if the terminally and chronically ill or those with debilitating conditions will be able to use marijuana to help relieve their conditions.

Proponents of House Bill 573 say allowing its use will help many people who now suffer needlessly because other medications fail to relieve them of the pain and suffering of terminal illnesses.

But opponents, such as the New Hampshire Association of Police Chiefs and some medical officials, say legal medical marijuana is a problem for law enforcement officials who have trouble distinguishing between recreational and medical users.

Decriminalize marijuana

Anyone with less than a once of marijuana would only face a fine under House 621.

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee is recommending the bill be killed.

Prison privatization

The House will decide if the state's corrections system should be turned over to the private sector to operate.

House Bill 443 would prohibit the state from moving forward with privatization of the prisons.

Voter photo ID

The House will decide if stricter identification requirements for the state's voter photo ID law set to go into effect in September will stand or if they will be repealed before they go into effect.

House Bill 595 would repeal changes in the law passed last year that requires voters to present a photo identification to vote, or to fill out an affidavit.

The law phases in for elections after September restricting acceptable identification to state or federal IDs and requires election officials to photograph those without a photo ID to be placed with the affidavit.

Under the bill, acceptable identifications for the November 2012 election, such as student and business IDs, would continue.

Other bills

The House will act on several bills over the next two days. They include: changing the requirements for students to receive in-state tuition for the University System of New Hampshire colleges; a resolution noting the Roe versus Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that legalized abortion; two bills that would allow casino gambling, one to have to casinos, one in the North Country, and another that would have the state operate up to six facilities with video slot machines; and changing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative RGGI statute to dedicate 20 percent of the proceeds from the sales of allowances to energy conservation programs run by the state's electric utilities.

The House meets at 10 a.m. today and at 9 a.m. Thursday. The Senate is also in session Thursday at 10 a.m.

grayno@unionleader.com


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