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May 15. 2014 9:46PM

Road powers closer for Fish & Game officers

CONCORD — Fish and Game conservation officers would be able to enforce motor vehicle laws under a bill the House approved 219-72.

Senate Bill 389 would help small communities, particularly those in the North Country with part-time police forces, bill supporters said.

They said the bill would allow conservation officers to pursue off-road vehicles when going from trails to highways, and to stop impaired drivers when they encounter them.

“Fish and Game should be able to do this to help our towns and maybe prevent that drunken driver from going down that road and hurting somebody,” Rep. Joe Duarte, R-Candia, said. “Most municipalities and the State Police support this.”

Other supporters noted that conservation officers receive the same training as the state police and local police.

Fish and Game officers are paid from hunting and fishing license fees.

Bill opponents said the Fish and Game fund is not keeping up with department expenses now; adding traffic enforcement would take officers away from their primary duties and further drain the agency’s resources.

“It’s a question of fairness and funding,” Rep. Steve Beaudoin, R-Rochester, said.

Other opponents were concerned if the Fish and Game officers enforce motor vehicle laws, the cash-strapped department could claim some highway fund money to help pay officers’ salaries.

Rep. Alfred Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, noted the bill would “open up a constitutional issue to get money from the gas tax because now they’re doing road patrols.”

The House defeated an attempt to add a provision allowing patients qualified under the state’s new medical marijuana program to grow their own pot.

The bill was killed by the Senate earlier this session after it passed the House by a large margin earlier this year.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Donald Wright, R-Tuftonboro, said: “This would give patients the safe access (to marijuana) they need now, not two or three years from now. This would send the message we care to those people we care for dearly and we won’t let them down.”

When lawmakers approved medical marijuana last session, the Senate removed the provision to allow patients who qualify to grow their own cannabis. That was at the request of Gov. Maggie Hassan, who said she would veto the bill allowing home grow.

But program supporters say the alternative treatment centers that would dispense the marijuana are not expected to be approved and operating for another two years. Advocates argue that does nothing to help those seriously ill who need treatment now.

SB 389 goes back to the Senate due to a change the House made in the bill.

grayno@unionleader.com


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