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Dave Solomon's State House Dome: Problems for Patriots decal license plate

April 07. 2018 10:35PM

With solid Republican majorities in the House and Senate, you'd think Republican Gov. Chris Sununu would have an easier time getting his policy priorities enacted into law. But in his first term, he's seen some strong push back from his own party on issues like right-to-work, tax credits and school choice.

Now he's having trouble getting a Patriots decal license plate approved.

The state already offers a New England Patriots $5 scratch ticket, celebrated with much fanfare on the steps of the State House last August with Patriots owner Bob Kraft at Sununu's side.

In January, the governor told House and Senate leaders he wants the state to issue a Patriots decal license plate, which would require legislation. All funds raised through sale of the plate would go to New Hampshire charities.

The House approved many new decal plates before the deadline for House bills to be sent along to the Senate, but nothing for the Patriots.

Bills were approved in the House authorizing decal plates for Granite Pathways, New Hampshire Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Association, Friends of the Hampton Falls Bandstand, Seacoast Youth Services and the Daniel Webster Council of Boy Scouts of America.

When the bills got to the Senate Transportation Committee, Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, attached an amendment to the Boy Scouts bill authorizing the Patriots decal as well. The hearing on the bill (SB 1697) featured an appearance by Patriots great Andre Tippett, now executive director of community affairs for the Patriots organization.

That didn't sit well with House Transportation Committee Chair Steve Smith, R-Charlestown, who said he withheld a Patriots decal bill for a reason.

"The governor's office asked me to make that happen in January, and I gave him a checklist of things I needed," said Smith.

He wanted verification that the Patriots Foundation is incorporated under IRS rules (501c3) as a charity in New Hampshire; he wanted to see a list of eligible New Hampshire charities; and he wanted to see a rendering of the decal as it would appear on license plates.

" I didn't hear back," said Smith. "Then I got a message from the governor's office saying, 'Where is that?' (meaning the process of getting the Pats decal), and I said it's in the same place. I gave you the list of things that needed to be done and they're not done yet, and then we see in the paper there's a press release and an amendment in the Senate. So I actually don't have any information now, and that's a concern."

According to Sununu spokesman Ben Vihstadt, the information is on the way.

"We are working diligently with the Patriots to address all of Rep. Smith's questions, and we hope to have them answered in short order," he said. "The Patriots are a registered 501c3 in New Hampshire. All funds from the sale of the decals will support 501c3 nonprofit organizations in New Hampshire that coincide with the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation's mission."

While that may address some of Smith's concerns, it may be harder to overcome a more fundamental objection.

"The Patriots are a corporation, and I'm assuming the sticker is going to say Patriots on it," says Smith. "So what happens if Walmart, which also has a charitable 501c3, says 'We'd like to put a Walmart logo on your license plates.' How do we say no?"

But what about the Boy Scout decal that's the focus of the underlying bill?

"That's unfortunate, but that's how this process works," says Smith. "You always have a hostage, but there are ways around that. If I get good information, I'm happy to go along with it, but they've known the list of questions for four months now."

The matter will come to a head when the Senate requests a conference committee with the House to iron out the Patriots amendment to the Boy Scout's bill.

Birdsell is confident the technical questions can be resolved. "The Patriots have done everything they need to do to set up a 501c3 in New Hampshire, and all the money they receive is going to be coming right back to New Hampshire, so I was very happy to put the amendment in there," she said.

"The House rules requires them to see the decal. We don't have that requirement in the Senate, but we'll contact Andre Tippett to see if they have an example of what the decal will look like."

Whether all that will satisfy the House Transportation Committee's broader concerns remains to be seen.

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