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Dave Solomon's State House Dome: 'Bomb Cyclone' causes bills to pile up like unplowed snow

January 07. 2018 12:15AM

The N.H. HOUSE of Representatives is in for a long day on Tuesday. Lawmakers in the House were facing two days' worth of business last week, with many high-profile bills on the docket for both Wednesday and Thursday.

After deciding to cancel the Thursday session due to the "bomb cyclone," legislative leaders scheduled a Tuesday, Jan. 9, session.

The docket grew larger as lawmakers pushed several bills scheduled for last Wednesday debate off to Jan. 9, to accommodate absent lawmakers, heightening the prospect of a session that goes from 9 a.m. well into the evening.

Here are some bills that should have been dealt with last Wednesday, but were "special ordered" to the top of the agenda for Tuesday.

HB 656, relative to the legalization and regulation of marijuana. This bill is similar to the one passed by the Vermont House of Representatives, 83-61, last Thursday, fully legalizing the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and allowing individuals to grow up to six marijuana plants at home.

It would have been a historic occasion to see representatives in neighboring states pass almost identical legalization bills within a day of each other, but it was unlikely from the get-go. With a legislatively appointed commission now studying the issue, a majority of representatives appear inclined to let that process unfold before taking any more votes on legalization.

Longtime legalization advocate Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, wanted to make the best case he could for the bill, but was away on vacation, prompting a successful voice vote to reschedule the debate.

HB 287, establishing a committee to study decriminalizing sex work, comes to the House floor with a 14-6 ought-to-pass vote from the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Gov. Chris Sununu came out with a strong statement against the bill the day before the session.

Like the marijuana legalization bill, HB 287 was pushed off to Jan. 9 as a courtesy to Cushing, the bill's chief advocate.

The absence of Rep. Richard Barry, R-Merrimack, due to a family emergency, prompted the rescheduling of much-anticipated votes on key energy-related bills. Barry chairs the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee.

As a result, no votes were taken on bills related to the state's participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative carbon cap-and-trade program.

Action was also delayed on a bill that would have constrained the ability of the Public Utilities Commission to impose fees on utility customers that fund low-income bill assistance and energy efficiency subsidies.

Several bills that were tabled on Wednesday could resurface to create additional crowding on the Jan. 9 agenda, including HB 236, creating a legal presumption that the children of parents who divorce should share "residential" living time with both parents, not just visitation.

The Children and Family Law Committee was closely divided, 8-6, on the issue, with Rep. Dan Itse, R-Fremont, who acknowledged that he was a child of divorced parents, arguing for the "ought-to-pass" recommendation.

What followed was a series of votes that appeared contradictory. The vote to pass the bill failed with 171 for and 178 against.

But when Rep. Lucy Weber, D-Walpole, the ranking minority member on the Children and Family Law Committee, moved to defeat the bill, that motion failed by one vote, 174-175.

House Majority Leader Richard Hinch, R-Merrimack, then moved to table the bill, which succeeded in a voice vote.

By simple majority vote, the House can bring the bill off the table and back for another round of voting, or it could simply let it die. This being the second year of the two-year session, any bills left on the table when the session ends in June die on the vine.

The vote had some observers scratching their heads over why 178 reps would vote against passing a bill, but only 174 would vote to kill it.

"Maybe some reps want to bring an amendment," said House Communications and Policy Director Jim Rivers. "Maybe some were not for it as presented, but believe the idea still has value."

Or maybe some just pushed the wrong button.

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