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Garry Rayno's State House Dome: Bills to get fresh looks after House-Senate swap

State House Bureau

March 29. 2014 10:32PM

Lawmakers will not be voting on any bills for the next two weeks, a settling-in period after the House and Senate exchanged legislation approved in their respective halls, but fireworks may be on the horizon.

The Senate and the House are likely to disagree about marijuana, yet despite the vote last week to kill legalization of the drug, there are still two bills on the Senate's plate.

One would allow patients in the state's medical marijuana program to grow their own plants. The other would make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana or 5 grams or less of hashish a violation punishable by a fine of not more than $100 for those older than 18.

The Senate is not fond of either bill, and both are likely to be killed.

The Senate is also going to have to deal with House Bill 1360, which would prohibit people from using hand-held electronic devices while driving.

How the Senate will deal with this bill is unknown.

Another area of contention between the Senate and the House is what to do with the almost $16 million surplus from the 2012-13 biennium.

The House passed House Bill 1411 to use $7 million of the surplus to reduce across-the-board cuts in the Health and Human Services Department budget.

The House also passed House Bill 1635, which technically does not deal with the surplus from the last biennium but would use excess revenues from this biennium to help pay for the recent settlement requiring the state to beef up its community mental health system.

Senate Minority Leader Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord, tried to persuade her colleagues last week to use about $8.5 million of the surplus to fund the settlement, but was voted down, 14-10, before the Senate voted, 22-2, to put the money in the rainy day fund.

All the Senate has to do is kill the two House bills and the nearly $16 million surplus will go into the rainy day fund, but not until the end of the biennium assuming the House kills the Senate bill.

The Senate is not likely to welcome House Bill 1403, which would raise the New Hampshire minimum wage to $8.25 an hour, effective Jan. 1.

On the following Jan. 1, the wage would increase to $9 an hour, and then increase based on the Consumer Price Index.

There are several Senate-passed bills likely to sail through the House. One would make domestic violence a crime, and another would end the parental rights of a parent of a child conceived during a rape.

A 4.2 cent-a-gallon gas and diesel tax increase is likely to fly through the House, though there may be a couple of hiccups over removing the Exit 12 ramp toll on the F.E. Everett Turnpike in Merrimack.

Under Senate Bill 367, cities and towns would receive $70.6 million over the next 20 years for local highways and bridges. Manchester would receive more than $4 million in the 20-year period, Nashua $3.2 million and Concord $1.8 million.

Other communities receiving more than $1 million would include Bedford, Derry, Dover, Hudson, Londonderry, Merrimack, Rochester and Salem.

"That will fill a lot of pot holes," said Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, chairman of the House Public Works and Highways Committee.

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Divestiture: An issue that's been under the radar this session - forcing Public Service of New Hampshire to sell its fossil-fuel generating plants - will have new life in the Senate.

Last week, House Bill 1602, which would direct the Public Utilities Commission to determine whether selling the plants would benefit Public Service ratepayers economically, passed the lower chamber.

The Electric Utility Restructuring Oversight Committee spent the summer and fall exploring divestiture and the state's high electric rates, but declined to force Public Service to sell the plants, including Merrimack Station in Bow, where the company recently invested $422 million in an air emissions scrubber.

Customers are currently paying some of the cost of the scrubber, but the assessment is expected to increase in the future. The PUC is in the process of determining how much of the $422 million price tag Public Service customers should pay, and the case has been contentious.

Those two issues are likely to be connected to the Northern Pass project in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, sits on the restructuring committee and had some heated exchanges with Public Service officials over the high cost of electricity and who is to blame.

Bradley introduced Senate Bill 200, which would have required Public Service to bury the Northern Pass transmission lines in state transportation corridors, something the company at this point is not willing to do.

That bill is on the table in the Senate and would need a two-thirds majority to come off, but that can happen a little easier in the Senate than in the House.

Do not be surprised if the contents of SB 200 show up in the House bill before this session is over.

Public Service for many years had a great deal of influence in the Senate. But with Bradley unhappy with the company's refusal to bury the transmission lines or write off any of the scrubber's costs, Public Service many not find the upper chamber as friendly as it has been.


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Death Penalty: The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing Thursday on House Bill 1170 - repeal of the death penalty - beginning at 9 a.m. in Representative's Hall at the State House.

Similar bills have been killed in the Senate, but this year may be different.

The current bill came out of the House on a 225-104 vote, one of the strongest votes for repeal in some time.

Some longtime opponents of repeal spoke out this year in favor of repeal, and supporters have quietly built a grass-roots network to push for repeal.

Law enforcement continues to oppose repeal, but not as vehemently as past years.

The governor has said she will sign the bill as long as it does not commute the death sentence of Michael Addison, who sits on death row for the murder of Manchester police Officer Michael Briggs.

This bill is one of the biggest question marks in the next two months.

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