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January 08. 2014 7:16PM

Legislative Roundup: House votes to raise age of majority in criminal system from 17 to 18, acts on inmate 'good time,' push polls, home poker

CONCORD -- The state would not bill hikers for the cost of their rescue if they purchase a “Hike Safe” card under a bill the House passed Wednesday.
 
The bill begins to address the issue of how to pay for hiker rescues that has plagued the Fish and Game Department for years, as well as lawmakers who have tried but failed to address the problem.
 
The Fish and Game Department is largely funded by the fees collected for fishing and hunting licenses. But the cost of rescues falls mostly on the department, so instead of funding replenishing wildlife and fish species, some of the money pays for the rescues.
 
The department’s budget for rescue costs often is exceeded and officials have consistently asked lawmakers for another source of funding to pay for the rescues.
 
But budget writers have been reluctant to use state general fund money to pay for the rescues and instead have proposed other methods to no avail.
 
The state can charge hikers for the cost of the rescue, but most do not pay the bill.
 
Under House Bill 256, hikers would be able to purchase “Hike Safe” cards which would allow card holders to escape state charges if they need to be rescued. The cards would cost $25 per person or $35 for a family.
 
People holding fishing and hunting licenses or who register snowmobiles or other off road vehicles would also be exempt from rescue charges under the bill.
 
The bill now goes to the Ways and Means Committee for further review before the House takes a final vote.
 
House kills tax credit for filmmakers
 
The House killed a bill that would have established a business tax credit for motion picture production done in the state.
 
A motion picture company would receive a tax credit if more than 50 percent of expenses or shooting time is done in the state.
 
House budget officials said the provision could cost the state as much as $100 million in tax credits.
 
After looking at tax credit programs in other states, the House Ways and Means Committee concluded the 40 states that offer similar credits received little or no economic growth with few new jobs created.
 
The committee voted 17-2 to kill the bill, which the House did.
 
House OKs workers comp payments increase
 
The House approved an increase in what injured workers receive while they recover from their injuries.
 
House Bill 439 increases workers compensation payments from 60 to 66.67 percent of an injured worker’s salary.
 
The 6.67 percent increase returns compensation to what it was 20 years ago, two-thirds of an injured worker’s salary.
 
According the Rep. William Infantine, R-Manchester, the state has the lowest payment percentage in New England.
 
He notes increasing medical costs have more impact on what employers pay for workers compensation than salary.
 
“We should not penalize the injured employee because of increased medical costs,” Infantine said in a message to House members from the Labor, Industrial, and Rehabilitation Services Committee, which voted 16-3 to pass the bill.
 
Charter schools
 
The House sent mixed messages on two bills that would have changed the way the state regulates and funds charter schools.
 
House Bill 424 would have required the State Board of Education to approve any charter school that meets application requirements, to state where an application does not meet requirements and to provide technical assistance with the applications.
 
The bill was introduced after the State Board declined to approve any new charter schools in 2011 when money was not appropriated to pay for any new applications.
 
The House killed the bill on a 162-138 vote, largely down party lines.
 
The House gave initial approval to House Bill 435, which would have provided additional state money for charter schools. The vote was 177-124.
 
The bill would give charter schools an additional $1,000 per student which supporters said would help stabilize finances for some schools.
 
Charter schools currently receive about $5,000 per student, while traditional public schools receive about $3,450 per students.
 
Opponents argued traditional public schools face many expenses charter schools do not such as special education out-of-district placements and transportation costs.
 
But bill supporters say charter schools do not receive local tax dollars to help cover their costs as traditional public schools do.
 
The bill was sent to the House Finance Committee for further review before a final vote.
 
House raises age of majority in criminal system
 
Without debate and with an overwhelming majority, the New Hampshire House Wednesday gave initial approval to a bill raising the age of majority in the state’ criminal system from 17 to 18.
 
The vote was 324 to 17, moving the bill to the House Finance Committee for a review of the financial impact, which in this case would reduce corrections costs.
 
The bill received unanimous, 15-0, support in the House Children and Family Law Committee last year and was retained until the current session.
 
The committee wrote that numerous studies show “a physical lack of brain development in 17-year-olds,” and, in states where 17-year-olds remain in the juvenile system, there is a “lower rate of recidivism because these young offenders get age-appropriate services in the juvenile system.”
 
The committee also noted that federal laws require the separation of inmates under 18 from those over 18 and require a chaperone for younger inmates while in common areas.
 
House revamps state ’push poll’ law
 
The House voted unanimously Wednesday to revamp the state’s law regulating push polls, a frequently-used and sometimes controversial campaign tool.
 
Under the guise of a poll, campaign organizations or special interest groups sometimes make coordinated calls to voters to give negative information about an opponent.
 
State law requires the entity making the call to identify itself or the candidate it is calling on behalf of.
 
To try to distinguish push polls from legitimate message testing polling, Senate Bill 196, as amended by the House, seeks to clearly define a push poll.
 
The bill defines a push poll “a series of like telephone calls that consist of more than 2,000 connected calls that last less than two minutes” in presidential, gubernatorial, U.S. Senate and U.S. House elections; more than 500 connected calls in Executive Council, state Senate and local elections; and 200 connected calls in elections for state representative.
 
The bill does not change the current law’s mandate for the caller to provide an identifying disclaimer on each call.
 
The bill also defines “bona fide survey and opinion research” as the “collection and analysis of data regarding opinions, needs, awareness, knowledge, views, experiences and behavior of a population, through surveys, interviews, focus groups polls and other means of research. No sales, promotional or marketing efforts are involved in such research, the bill clarifies.
 
The state Supreme Court currently has before it a challenge to the provision of the law that applies to federal elections.
 
The case stems from a civil suit filed by the state’s Attorney General in 2012 against the 2010 campaign committee of former U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass.
 
The bill must now go back to the Senate to consider changes to the original bill made by the House.
 
House supports ’earned time credits’ for education, rehabilitation
 
The House Wednesday passed without debate a plan to allow the state corrections commissioner to grant “earned time credits” to prisoners who participate in educational and rehabilitation programs.
 
There was no debate on the House Bill 649, which passed as part of the House’s consent calendar.
 
Under the bill, prisoners would receive one-time reductions in their minimum and maximum sentences of:
 
- 90 days for a GED
- 120 days for a high school diploma
- 180 days for an associate’s degree
- 180 days for a bachelor’s degree
 
A prisoner can receive a reduction of up to 60 days for vocational, mental health, or “Family Connections” programming.
 
House votes to legalize home poker games
 
The House voted Wednesday to allow home poker games under certain conditions.
 
According to House Bill 459, poker games may be held in a private residence as long as there is no “rake,” the house takes no compensation from the prize poll, no admission fee is charged, no one receives anything of value for conducting the game except their won winning as a player and the game’s odds to not favor a “house” or any player.
 
There can be no house bank and the game may not be advertised to the public.
 
The bill now moves on to the state Senate.
 
— Garry Rayno, State House Bureau, contributed to this report.


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