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January 29. 2014 8:02PM

Legislative Roundup: ‘Last call’ for alcohol sales not extended

CONCORD — There will be no extended “last call” for alcoholic beverages at New Hampshire grocery and convenience stores.

Currently, no alcohol can be sold in a grocery or convenience store later than 11:45 p.m., and the New Hampshire House on Wednesday voted to keep it that way.

House Bill 120 would have given communities the option of allowing stores to sell alcohol until 1 a.m. It was modeled on a bill passed into law last year that enabled communities to allow on-premise sales in bars and restaurants for an additional hour, until 2 a.m.

But the House voted to kill the off-premises sales bill, 170-156.

Rep. Pamela Tucker, R-Greenland, unsuccessfully urged passage, saying the bill was “good for businesses” and would provide those who work late hours a convenience.

“I’d rather have them go out and buy a packaged beverage than have them go to a bar and then drive home,” Tucker said.

But Rep. Donna Schlachman, D-Exeter, called it “a solution in search of a problem.” She said people are capable of planning when to purchase alcoholic beverages at stores. “This is nanny legislation.”

Health worker assault bill

The House Wednesday killed legislation that would have imposed an extended term of imprisonment for anyone convicted of assault against a health care worker.

House Bill 217 was filed as a result of recent incidents of attacks on hospital workers.

There was no debate on the bill Wednesday and the House, by voice vote, followed the recommendation of its Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

The majority of that committee voted 12-6 that the bill should be “inexpedient to legislate.”

Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, wrote for the committee majority that the bill removes discretion from prosecutors and judges “and would result in an additional three-year prison term, at a cost of $35,000-a-year, for anyone found guilty.”

He wrote that the bill would “take us down a slippery slope” and could lead to calls for enhanced sentences for those who assault others, such as teachers, other school personnel and even good Samaritans.

Voter registration form

The House Wednesday voted to study, essentially killing, legislation that modified the state’s voter registration form to more clearly define the controversial term “domicile.”

House Bill 600 says that when filling out a voter registration form, “a person’s claim of domicile for voting purposes shall not be conclusive of the person’s residence for any other legal purpose.”

The bill also defines domicile on a voter registration form as “that place, more than any other, where I sleep most nights of the year, or to which I intend to return after a temporary absence.”

Current law defines domicile on that form as “that place, to which upon temporary absence, a person has the intention of returning.”

Medical technicians

The House gave initial approval Wednesday to legislation requiring medical technicians to register with the state and hospitals to report any disciplinary action against technicians.

House Bill 658, which now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee for review of fees and fines included in the bill, is the House’s second response to the Hepatitis C outbreak at Exeter Hospital in 2012 that resulted in the conviction of technician David M. Kwiatkowski, who last month was sentenced to 39 years in prison.

Last week, the House passed a bill requiring licensed medical facilities to adopt policies and procedures for testing workers for controlled substances, as well as for the broader prevention and detection of substance misuse.

The roll call Wednesday in favor sending House Bill 658 to the Ways and Means Committee was 228-92.

The bill sets up a new board to register medical technicians who assist already-licensed health care professionals in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of diseases.

Drunken driving offenders

First-time drunk driving offenders would be allowed to drive to and from work and for medical care under a bill the House approved Wednesday.

House Bill 496 establishes a restricted license for first-time, drunk-driving offenders after they have had their license suspended for 14 days. The bill is similar to laws in 20 other states including Maine.

Under the bill, an offender could petition the court for a limited license that would allow him or her to drive to work and back, to look for work, to attend substance abuse treatment programs and for medical emergencies for family members.

The bill is intended to allow a first-time offender to maintain his or her employment while abiding by the law’s restrictions.

The license limits the time and days a person could drive and would cost $50.

To participate in the program, a driver would have to pay for an enhanced ignition interlock device that prevents a vehicle from starting if the person has alcohol on his or her breath.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Elderly drivers

The House voted 178-104 to allow medical personnel to report a patient to the Department of Safety if they believe the person is unfit to drive a motor vehicle. The person who makes the report would be immune from civil and criminal liability.

All medical records received by the Department of Safety would be confidential.

Supporters said the bill will make the highways safer and contain the necessary safeguards. But opponents say the bill violates doctor-patient confidentiality and does not require the Department of Safety to act on the report.

House Bill 263 now goes to the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs for review before the House takes a final vote on the bill.

Fireworks

The House killed House Bill 336, which would ban the sale of fireworks known as helicopters, aerial spinners, reloadable aerial shells and parachute aerial devices.

The targeted fireworks are those involved in an explosion July 4, 2012 on Dodge Road in Windham that inured five children and six adults.

Right to Know

House members approved House Bill 685, which allows the Legislative Budget Assistant’s audit division access to relevant state agency confidential information while doing audits.

Some state agencies have balked at making the information available to the LBA.

The bill also would let the Legislative Fiscal Committee decide any agency appeals to LBA requests.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Money for milfoil

New Hampshire boaters could be paying a little more in registration fees to combat the milfoil infestation of lakes.

The House voted 164-127 to preliminarily approve House Bill 292, which would increase the boat registration fee by $2 to go into a special fund to control exotic weeds, mostly milfoil. The bill increases the milfoil surcharge from $7.50 per boat to $9.50.

Originally the bill would have targeted out-of-state boaters with a mandatory decal to contribute to the fund, but the program proved to be unworkable and would not produce enough the money supporters envisioned for the fund.

Rep. Andrew Renzullo, R-Hudson, said the original bill would have leveled the playing field for both in-state and out-of-state boaters.

“Out-of-state boaters pay nothing,” Renzullo said, “they get off Scott free laughing all the way.”

The bill now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee for review.

Tobacco tax laws

Lawmakers disagreed whether fewer premium cigars would be taxable or exempt from the tobacco tax under a bill passed by the House Wednesday on a 185-152 vote.

House Bill 427 changes several tobacco tax laws and definitions to clarify which premium cigars are exempt from the tobacco tax, what sales are prohibited and requiring the retention of tobacco stamp tax records.

Lawmakers focused on the issue of premium cigars, which currently are exempt from the tobacco tax if the wholesale price is greater than $2. The bill would exempt cigars with a retail sales price greater than $1.50.

Under state law, premium cigars have to be hand made with natural tobacco leaf, weigh more than 3 pounds per 1,000, and have to be kept in a humidor.

The Department of Revenue Administration requested the change to clarify which products should be taxed or exempt.

Rep. Pam Tucker, R-Greenland, said rather than clarifying the situation it makes it more confusing for the 37 businesses that sell premium cigars.

“Who knows how much revenue this is going to create?” Tucker said. “Let’s stop this tax creep.”

But Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, said under the bill, fewer premium cigars would be taxed. She noted premium cigars are sold in a totally different market, usually on-line where there is serious competition.

The bill now goes to the Senate for action.

Interstate signs

The House sent to study — effectively killing for this year — legislation that would allow service signs with the logos and names of tourist stops on interstate highways.

New Hampshire allows such signs on exit ramps but is one of only five states that do not allow them on the interstates.

Senate Bill 29 would allow the signs with the logos and name of restaurants, hotels, gas stations and other establishments on the interstates and would also allow the Department of Transportation to contract with a private company to sell, install and maintain the signs.

The bill was introduced in 2013 and was retained in the House Public Works and Highways Committee.

The panel in November voted 13-2 to send the bill to interim study, saying there were still several “unresolved issues,” and House complied Wednesday on a voice vote.

jdistaso@unionleader.com
grayno@unionleader.com


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