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April 17. 2014 10:34PM

NH Senate Roundup: Marijuana penalties to remain the same in Granite State

CONCORD — Criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana will not change, after the Senate refused to consider a House-passed bill.

Under House Bill 1625, the penalty for having an ounce or less of marijuana or hashish would have been the same as a traffic ticket, and it would have lowered the penalties for growing less than six marijuana plants.

The bill passed the House by a better than two-to-one margin, but the Senate refused to accept the bill. It had killed a nearly identical bill last session.

House Bill 1625 was one of four bills the Senate refused to accept from the House because they were killed by senators last year.

Also killed was House Bill 1577, which would allow a process used in others states called “liquid cremation” that supporters say is more environmentally friendly and less expensive than traditional cremation. Opponents say it amounts to flushing a loved one down the toilet.

House Bill 1457, which would establish a study committee to review the state’s sex offender registry, was rejected.

Also, House Bill 544 would have had the state expand Medicaid eligibility, but is not needed now that both the House and Senate approved and the governor signed Senate Bill 413, which establishes the state three-year program.

Budget surplus

The Senate killed House Bill 1411 that would have used $7 million of the $15 million from fiscal year 2013 to reduce across-the-board budget cuts at the Health and Human Services Department.

While the House voted to give the agency $7 million and put the remaining money into the rainy day fund, the Senate has continually insisted all the money go into the state savings account.

“The recent court ruling on the MET (Medicaid Enhancement Tax) alone should provide all the reason we need as to why the state must strengthen its reserve fund balance,” said Senate Finance Committee Chair Jeanie Forrester, R-Meredith. “As stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars, a vote to spend this modest surplus at a time of significant budgetary uncertainly is completely irresponsible.”

The Senate killed the bill on a vote of 15-9. The House has yet to vote on Senate Bill 415, which puts the entire surplus into the rainy day fund.

Adultery

The Senate approved House Bill 1125, which repeals the crime of adultery and sends the bill to the governor’s desk.

Currently, adultery is misdemeanor, but has not been enforced for many years.

The bill would remove the penalty from the criminal code.

Earned time

The Senate passed a plan to allow the state corrections commissioner to grant “earned time credits” to prisoners who participate in educational and rehabilitation programs.

Under House Bill 649, a prisoner can receive a reduction of up to 60 days for vocational, mental health, or “Family Connections” programming.

Under the Senate version of the bill, the program would only be available to “least restricted inmates.”

The bill has to go back to the House because of the Senate changes.

No license

Someone driving without a license will face a criminal charge under a bill approved by the Senate and sent to the governor.

House Bill 1135 would make it a misdemeanor instead of a violation for driving without a license. Currently, someone charged with driving after his or her license has been suspended or revoked is charged with misdemeanor, but if the person never had a license the charge is a violation, the same as a speeding ticket.

Last September, Darriean Hess, then 20, of Seabrook, crossed the center line of Route 1A on Neil R. Underwood Memorial Bridge in Hampton and hit four bicyclists from the tri-State Seacoast Century ride. Elise Bouchard, 52, of Danvers, Mass. and Pamela Wells, 60, of South Hamilton, Mass. were killed in the accident, and Uwe Uhmeyer, 60, of Essex, Mass. and Margo Heigh, 54, of Danvers, were injured.

Hess had been stopped several hours earlier that morning for driving without a license, but was given a summons and released.

grayno@unionleader.com


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