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December 28. 2013 10:32PM

State House faced many battles in 2013

CONCORD - The 2013 Legislature was finally able to approve a medical marijuana program after years of trying, but unable to reverse many of the controversial initiatives of its immediate predecessor.

With the defeat of many Tea Party Republicans, the newly empowered Democratic majority sought to reverse education tax credits for private schools, the stand-your-ground law, abortion restrictions and the photo ID law, only to have the Republican-controlled Senate block the repeals.

However, the House and Senate exhibited a bipartisan spirit in overwhelmingly approving a $10.7 billion two-year operating budget that began to restore much of the higher education funding and programs the previous Legislature had eliminated.

The Senate and House came to loggerheads on how additional money should be raised for highways, higher education, social service programs and economic development.

No casino

Before the budget passed in June, the House killed a Senate-approved bill, which had Gov. Maggie Hassan's support, to establish a casino in the state's southern tier, while the Senate killed a House-approved plan to raise the gas tax 12 cents over three years. The gas tax increase would have paid for the final phase of Interstate 93 expansion between Salem and Manchester, among other road and bridge projects.

And the issue of whether New Hampshire should expand its Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act dragged through the summer and into the fall before the Senate killed the House-passed bill to add about 49,000 to the state-federal health insurance plan for the poor, elderly and disabled.

Supporters said the state's most vulnerable residents would receive needed health services and the state's medical providers would receive $2.4 billion over the next seven years. But opponents said the state could not sustain the costs over time and private insurance needed to take over the risks instead of the state.

The 2014 Legislature will revisit those three issues beginning Jan. 8.

Medical marijuana

Along with the budget, lawmakers came together to pass a law to allow a medical marijuana program to be implemented in New Hampshire. Gov. Hassan signaled support early on, but she agreed with law enforcement officials who opposed a provision that would have allowed patients to grow their own marijuana plants, and the provision was removed.

The Senate, however, killed a bill that would have legalized the possession of a small amount of marijuana.

A law stemming from House Bill 482 delineates parameters for eradicating bed bug infestations and the responsibilities of landlords and tenants to solve a problem.

Proponents said the new law allows infestations to be dealt with rapidly, before the pests can quickly multiply, while fairly distributing the cost and responsibilities for solving the problem.

With much fanfare and little debate, the Senate and House - with the backing of Hassan - doubled the research-and-development tax credit from $1 million to $2 million annually and made it permanent. A year earlier, the credit was a victim of maneuvering between the House and the Senate.

After months of investigations last year, lawmakers passed several laws revamping the state Liquor Commission. Under the changes, the agency will have a single commissioner and a deputy commissioner, and the Executive Council's approval will be needed for contracts of more than $10,000.

Attempts to restrict the commission's ability to transfer funds within the agency failed.

Lawmakers wanted to change the way public insurance risk pools were handled, but after finding little agreement, they eventually settled on forming a study committee to consider the Local Government Center's organization and its retention of millions of dollars in reserve funds to cover medical claims. The committee's recommendations will be acted on during the 2014 session.

Auto dealers' rights

Auto dealers won a convincing victory over manufacturers in the 2013 session. The auto dealers' bill of rights changes business practices between manufacturers and their dealers, giving local auto and construction and farm equipment dealers more flexibility to run their franchises. All other states have similar laws.

Supporters say the law will level the playing field for the dealers, who testified they are often held hostage to the manufacturers' demands. Opponents say the law overturns existing business contracts and, rather than leveling the playing field, tilts it significantly in favor of the dealers. They also say it will drive up costs for consumers.

Equipment manufacturers sued over the new law in September, asserting it is unconstitutional. The suit is pending.

If you buy a new car, however, you can now legally drive it 70 mph on a section of Interstate 93 from Plymouth to parts north. Attempts to raise the speed limit statewide and on I-89 were not successful, but lawmakers will revisit the issue during the 2014 session.

Older and taller children will have to be in child restraint seats in autos. Beginning Jan. 1, children must be in car seats until they are 7 years old or 57 inches tall.

Currently, children have to be in car seats until they reach age 6 or are 55 inches tall.

The new law moves the state closer to federal guidelines and does not jeopardize the state's share of federal highway money.

Lawmakers also provided more protection for children in child care facilities by requiring background checks for all employees who work with the children.

No lead sinkers

Fishermen will no longer be able to use lead sinkers and jigs beginning June 1, 2016. Conservationists and environmentalists pushed for the law, saying lead sinkers and jigs are the leading cause of adult loon deaths in the state and the law would finish the work that began more than a decade ago when the state was the first to prohibit small lead tackle.

Sportsmen and tackle shops opposed the change and urged lawmakers to wait until a commission of stakeholders completed its work, but the House and Senate approved the prohibition by large margins.

Landowners who allow the public to use their property for hunting, fishing, hiking and other recreational activities are afforded greater legal protection under a law approved this year.

The law protects people who own, lease or manage land open for public use from lawsuits by someone injured on their property. The law does not exempt a landowner's liability for a malicious act or if the owner charges a fee for use of the property.

The law was prompted by a lawsuit filed by a Manchester resident injured when he fell from a tree stand in 2009. He sued the Epsom landowner, but later dropped the lawsuit.

Lawmakers did decide former Gov. John G. Winant should have a memorial, just not on State House grounds.

And finally, with the urging of students from the Derry Village School, lawmakers made the humble white potato the state's official vegetable. grayno@unionleader.com


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