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March 27. 2014 8:05PM

State Senate votes to put surplus into Rainy Day Fund

CONCORD — The Senate voted 22-2 Thursday to put all of the state’s $15 million surplus into the Rainy Day Fund Transfer, setting up a showdown with the House over what to do with the money.

Sen. Ways and Means Committee Chair Bob Odell, R-Lempster, told his colleagues putting the money into the state’s savings account is a responsible first step in restoring the state’s reserve.

But Sen. Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord, suggested $8.5 million be set aside to cover the cost of a recent settlement on the state’s mental health system.

“I don’t put my money in CDs (certificates of deposit) and lock up my money when I have bills to pay,” Larsen said.

But Senate Finance Committee Chair Jeanie Forrester, R-Meredith, said she believes there will be adequate money available in the Department of Health and Human Services’ budget at the end of the year.

She said the House recently passed a bill that sets aside the $8.5 million and suggested the Senate address the settlement costs when working on that proposed legislation.

Larsen’s amendment failed on a 12-12 vote before the Senate voted 22-2 to pass Senate Bill 415.

Liquor on billboards

The Senate took five votes before it finally voted 13-11 to overturn current policy and allow liquor advertising on billboards around the state.

Senate Bill 329 would remove the current prohibition on alcohol advertising.

Those favoring the prohibition said it is in place for safety and health reasons.

“New Hampshire has some of the highest rates of substance abuse with lowest treatment rates (in the country),” said Sen. Jeanie Forrester, R-Meredith. “This would be a risk for the youth of New Hampshire. Increased exposures are a contributing factor to young adult use.”

But others said liquor can be advertised in newspapers, on television and on the sides of tractor-trailers but not on billboards.

Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett, asked his colleagues if they really believed the billboards would have much of an impact on what people do. “Come on people,” Boutin said. “If you have grandkids you know they are not watching the billboards, they are playing their games.”

The bill now goes to the House.

Pipeline regulations

The Senate voted 13-11 to direct state regulators to begin drafting rules governing clean up and prevention of a potential oil spill in the state’s North Country.

Residents are concerned an existing pipeline that is used to send oil from Portland, Maine to Montreal will be reversed sending tar sand crude from Montreal to Portland.

Recent spills of tar sand crude have caused significant clean up problems.

The bill now goes to the House.

Energy plants

The Senate approved Senate Bill 245, which changes the make-up of the energy facilities Site Evaluation Committee, allows for greater public inquiries, provides staff for the committee and sets deadlines for the committee to act and an applicant to respond.

Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, said the process of siting energy facilities worked when there were one or two applications a year, but now there are four or five applications pending at the same time.

Applications are also more complicated and staff often spend 100 hours or more overseeing the applications.

The bill allows applications to move through in a timely manner while increasing the opportunity for public comment and inquiries.

“This is an effort for a balanced change going forward,“ Fuller Clark said.

The bill now goes to the House.

Social clubs

The Senate shelved a bill that would have extended the ban on smoking to social, fraternal or religious organizations.

The bill was requested by Sweeney Post in Manchester, which banned smoking last year.

Senators noted the clubs can ban smoking on their own and do not need legislation to complete the task.

The clubs and organizations have also had an exception to the state prohibition on smoking in restaurants, bars and public places.

Highway fund

The Senate approved Senate Bill 416 to study the diversion of highway funds from highway construction and maintenance to other state agencies such as the Department of Safety, Department of Justice and the Judicial System.

The bill would require several Department of Safety divisions to be paid for by the state’s general fund rather than money earmarked for highways.

Democrats objected, saying much of the money going to other state agencies is related to highways, such as paying for State Police, but were unsuccessful.

“When New Hampshire drivers pay the gas tax or register their car they do so believing those dollars are being used to maintain the roads and bridges they use every day,” said Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, the bill’s prime sponsor. “Diverting these funds from their intended purpose has been a long-held, bipartisan, and unfortunate habit. This bill will start to end this practice in order to provide some budget transparency and ensure the Transportation Department has the funds they need to keep our highways safe and well maintained.”

grayno@unionleader.com


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