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Dave Solomon's State House Dome: Crowded agenda in Concord

December 30. 2017 10:07PM

The House and Senate get back to business in a big way this week, with a crowded agenda for sessions on Wednesday and Thursday in both chambers.

Action will be taken on several measures that were referred to committees for study over the summer and fall.

A House-passed bill defining residency for voting and other purposes (HB 372) will be up for a Senate vote, while a Senate-passed bill creating state-funded scholarships for private school education (SB 193) will be acted on in the House.

Division over both issues runs primarily along party lines, as reflected in the split committee votes on both bills. It's likely that these election law and school choice initiatives will generate some of the most heated debate.

"Wealthy families have the means to find the best school for each child. Should not all New Hampshire parents?" states Rep. Glenn Cordelli, R-Tuftonboro, for the majority of the Education Committee.

Rep. Mel Myler, D-Contoocook, speaking for the committee minority, makes the case that "there are limited tax dollars currently available for schools, and an ESA program would further deplete available resources."

Other hot-button issues that will hit the House floor include bills on parental child custody rights in divorce, abortion statistics, marijuana legalization and education funding.

HB 236 establishes a presumption in favor of shared "residential responsibility" by parents with children in divorce cases, unless a judge determines there is "clear and convincing proof" that such an arrangement is not in the best interests of the child.

Rep. Daniel Itse, R-Fremont, writing for the majority on the Children and Family Law Committee, says the bill is premised on the principle that "children have a right to the companionship and protection of both of parents."

Rep. Lucy Weber, D-Walpole, will argue that the bill leaves too much up to judicial interpretation.

HB 471, if passed, would require New Hampshire to join 47 other states that report abortion statistics to the Centers for Disease Control.

The procedure is currently coded by New Hampshire health-care providers as "dilation and curettage," which could mean several things other than abortion.

Rep. Jess Edwards, R-Auburn, will argue for the majority of the Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee that the data will be used to improve women's health services.

Rep. Jerry Knirk, D-Freedom, arguing for the minority, maintains that the bill singles out a "legal, low-risk medical procedure for reporting to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) at significant expense. Other medical procedures are not routinely reported to DHHS in the absence of a public health threat necessitating the gathering of such data."

Two perennials will be dealt with right off the bat - full marijuana legalization and a proposed constitutional amendment to remove the courts from the education funding debate and give exclusive control to the Legislature.

HB 656 calls for the legalization and regulation of marijuana for recreational use. It will come to the House floor with an "inexpedient to legislate" recommendation from a majority of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

The bill legalizes the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and up to five grams of hashish, possessing or growing up to six marijuana plants, and transferring up to one ounce of marijuana and up to six immature marijuana plants by a person 21 or older "without remuneration."

A legislative commission is now studying issues related to legalizing marijuana, with recommendations due by the fall of 2018. The majority of the committee recommends waiting for the final report of the commission.

Rep. Frank Sapareto, R-Derry, will argue for the bill, stating: "The minority of the committee believes the war on pot is over."

Lawmakers will try again to pass a bill calling for a constitutional amendment giving the Legislature the exclusive right to determine the amount of state funding for education. A bipartisan majority of the Education Committee is against the bill.

Rep. Terry Wolf, R-Bedford, writing for the majority, voiced concerns that communities would not have the ability to appeal and resolve education-funding issues through the court system.

Cordelli cites the minority opinion that "the funding of education should be the responsibility of the representatives of the people. This constitutional amendment will place that responsibility with the general court rather than the judicial branch."

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