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Constitutional amendment on taxpayer lawsuits clears House

By DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau

March 07. 2018 12:00AM




CONCORD — A proposed constitutional amendment giving taxpayers standing in lawsuits against government at all levels cleared the House with near unanimity on Tuesday, in a 309-9 vote signaling widespread dissatisfaction among lawmakers with recent state court rulings on the question.

The House vote easily cleared the three-fifths majority required for a constitutional amendment, and now moves to the Senate. If it passes there by the necessary majority, voters will face the question in November, when it will have to pass by a two-thirds super-majority.

The Supreme Court, or lower courts following its lead, have rejected lawsuits challenging the state’s education tax credit to fund private school scholarships; alleged charter violations in Manchester; and alleged tax-cap violations in Nashua.

In each case, the courts ruled that the plaintiffs had no standing to sue because they were not directly affected, even though they have indirect interests as residents or taxpayers.

The recent court rulings run against past practice, which the constitutional amendment seeks to restore. “As the state Supreme Court noted several decades ago, every taxpayer has a vital interest in proper government, regardless of whether his or her purse is specifically affected,” said Rep Paul Berch, D-Westmoreland.

PFOA air, water pollution

A bill regulating groundwater contamination caused by polluting air emissions passed the House for the second time on a voice vote.

The bill, HB 1101, allows the Department of Environmental Services to regulate air emissions of perfluorinated compounds that have the potential to pollute groundwater or surface water.

Air emissions from plastics manufacturing plants in Southern New Hampshire have been identified as the source of pollution that has contaminated water supplies in several communities.

The bill previously passed the House after being recommended by the Resources and Recreation Committee, but was sent for additional review by the Science, Technology and Energy Committee.

“This bill goes a long way to ensure that our drinking water is safe, for us and the next generation,” said Sununu. “I am pleased that the House shares my sense of urgency on this matter, and hope that the Senate gets the bill to my desk in quick order.”

Wild Goose boat ramp

Lawmakers refused to challenge Gov. Chris Sununu on the question of a public boat launch on Lake Sunapee, voting 210-to-114 to defeat a bill (HB 1706) to bond $2 million for a public boat launch at the Wild Goose site favored by Fish and Game, but opposed by the governor.

The vote comes a week after a state commission recommended against the Wild Goose site, capping nearly 30 years of debate over the state-owned property.

The Lake Sunapee Public Boat Access Development Commission acknowledged that the lake needs more public deep-water boat access and trailer parking, but said the Wild Goose site isn’t the safest or cheapest place to build it.

Kids meal bill

The so-called Happy Meals Bill banning soda in restaurant meals for children (HB 1668) was crushed, 292-39, in the House.

Opponents of the bill pointed out that many fast food restaurants already offer milk as the default beverage in children’s meals.

“While reducing sugar in a child’s overall diet is a known health benefit, the focus should be on education and information not mandates and force,” said Rep. Michael Costable, R-Raymond.

Change to USNH board

In a close vote, 164-to-155, the House voted to add the House Speaker and Senate President as voting members of the University System Board of Trustees.

Both are currently non-voting members.

“The university system has many difficult issues to overcome, such as student affordability, capital needs, funding strategies, labor costs and more that require resolution and the voting voices of the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate,” said Rep. Carolyn Halstead, R-Milford.

Opponents of the bill, which came out of the Education Committee with a split 10-9 vote, warned that the change could create a conflict of interest for the two lawmakers.

“In creating budgets, fiscal allocations, constitutional amendments, etc., legislative representatives may come into conflict with the interest of other state priorities,” said Rep. Mel Myler, D-Contoocook.

Resident definition

A bill defining resident or inhabitant, (HB 1264) which opponents fear will affect college student voting, passed the House in a 171-144 vote, despite the fact that an identical bill passed the House last year, and has passed the Senate with a lengthy amendment.

“This bill is identical to a bill this body has already passed, HB 372,” said Rep. David Bates. R-Windham.

“The Senate has also passed HB 372 with an amendment, so before we take up this bill, I don’t understand why we are going to send the identical bill to the Senate twice.”

Democrats criticized the vote as an attempt to disenfranchise college students.

“This bill represents the latest chapter in an ongoing series of bills designed to restrict the constitutional rights of college students living in New Hampshire,” said Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff.

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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