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February 12. 2014 10:13PM

House: State Vets Home needs to change smoking policy

CONCORD — The House Wednesday decided the state Veterans Home needs to change its recently instituted smoking policy and allow veterans who smoke to be admitted.

The House voted 181-157 not to kill House Bill 1396 and instead sent the bill to interim study.

The bill would have required the home review its new smoking policies, but lawmakers said holding on to the bill will give them leverage to convince the board to re-access its decision.

In July 2013, the Veterans Home became a smoke-free campus except for the eight residents of 190 who were grandfathered and allowed to smoke in a designated area.

Smokers who do not agree to participate in a smoking cessation program are not admitted to the home. If you they agree to enter the program, but drop out, they must leave the home.

Supporters of the bill said that while the goal is laudable, the current policy is discriminatory and veterans who smoke should be allowed admission.

Rep. Richard Meaney, R-Goffstown, said without the threat of having what he viewed as a discriminatory practice overturned, the veterans home board will not change the policy.

“The administrators at the Veterans Home have a high probability of doing nothing to stop their discriminatory practices,” he said. Sending it to interim study will send a “strong message” to the administrators to “do the right thing,” Meaney said.

Others were upset that decisions are being made that affect the last years of people who fought for this country.

“Why are people making decisions to take rights away from people who fought for our rights?” Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry asked. “Who are we to tell some 85-year-old veteran, with a Purple Heart, that you don’t qualify no more?” Baldasaro, who is a smoker, said lawmakers should not let the home’s board tell veterans they cannot stay at the home because they are smokers.

Baldasaro said he has suffered a heart attack and has a stent in his heart but still smokes. He noted the Veterans Administration Hospital in Manchester has a separate heated booth for smokers.

Rep. Thomas Sherman, D-Rye, said the policy was developed by the home board after a “deficiency” was cited by the VA on smoking policy.

He said smokers must be monitored one-to-one while smoking, which is too costly.

Sherman said the majority of the committee felt the decision was best left to the home’s board.

Bottle bill

Without debate, the House killed the latest version of a “bottle bill” requiring a deposit of 5 cents for beer, wine, water or soda containers.

House Bill 1287, sponsored by Rep. Charles Weed, D-Keene, had little support at a public hearing last month or on the House floor Wednesday.

Opponents claimed the bill would mean the loss of millions of dollars of revenues for the state Liquor Commission, higher insurance and workers compensation costs for distributors, as well as storage and insect problems.

Supporters said the bill would spur recycling efforts and reduce roadside litter.

New Hampshire has seen a number of bottle bill proposals over the years, the most recent in 2010. That bill, like all before it, was killed.

Underage drinking

The House voted 251-68 to kill House Bill 1486, which would have lowered the fine for underage drinking from between $300 to $500 per violation, to between $100 and $300.

Bill opponents said it would send the wrong message to young people, but supporters say the current penalties are too severe.

Education money

The House gave preliminary approval to two bills that the House Finance Committee will have to review before a final vote.

House Bill 1105 would require the state to fully fund special education costs instead of the approximately 72 percent it currently provides school districts. If approved, the bill would require the state to provide an additional $8 million to $9 million a year.

House Bill 1114 would require to state to spend no less than $50 million on school building aid after the 2016 fiscal year. Currently the state is spending about $45 million on school building aid.


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