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House, Senate OK sheaf of bills; now it's up to governor

State House Bureau

May 23. 2018 11:52PM

CONCORD ­— The House and Senate agreed on several key pieces of legislation on Wednesday, completing their work for the current session and sending a raft of bills to Gov. Chris Sununu for his signature.

The bills now on their way to the governor include more than $100 million in new state spending, bail reform intended to keep low-level offenders out of jail prior to conviction, and the state’s 10-year transportation plan with no federally funded study of commuter rail.

The bail reform measure, SB 556, was opposed by county attorneys, who argued that it will release too many defendants awaiting trial onto the streets, jeopardizing public safety.

Supporters of the measure, including the chiefs of police association and the conservative Americans for Prosperity, say some change is needed to ensure that defendants awaiting trial on low-level crimes are not incarcerated solely because of their inability to pay bail.

Sununu has indicated he’ll sign the bill into law.

It will require judges to consider an individual’s income and ability to pay when setting bail for low-level offenses if the defendant is not considered a danger or a flight risk. The bill also simplifies the process for having arrest records expunged in certain situations.

The state is involved in a broader bail reform effort led by Judge Tina Nadeau, chief justice of the Superior Court system.

The ‘Christmas Tree’ bill

Despite an effort by the fiscal hawks in the Freedom Caucus to derail this bill (HB 1817) in the House, representatives voted 242-92 to spend more than $100 million in unanticipated state revenue on some unanticipated expenses, including a new contract with state employees and a settlement with hospitals over uncompensated care.

“There are other ways we can address these issues,” said Freedom Caucus member J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, who urged members to defeat the bill so that hearings could be scheduled on the various spending measures, leading to a special session later in the year.

The bill, which easily passed the Senate, also includes $30 million for state and local bridge repair; $10 million for the Rainy Day Fund; $44 million for the hospital settlement; $13 million for state employees and $2.5 million to house patients leaving mental health and substance use facilities.

“This isn’t a spending spree, as some of my colleagues would like to suggest,” said House Majority Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack. “This is responsible allocation of revenue that will benefit the state and save us money down the road.”

Other bills approved

Ten-year transportation plan: The House wanted a $4 million, federally funded study of commuter rail included in the state’s 10-year transportation plan, which was taken out in the Senate version. That didn’t prove to be an impediment to the final vote, however, as the Senate version of the plan was adopted by the House in a voice vote, with no debate.

The bill, HB 2018, also establishes a committee to study the removal of the Merrimack tolls on the F.E. Everett Turnpike.

Cancer coverage for firefighters: SB 541, authorizing claims under workers compensation for firefighters who have cancer, cleared the House on a voice vote.

“New Hampshire is deeply appreciative of our state’s firefighters who put their safety at risk and are often exposed to chemicals and substances that increase their risk of cancer in order to keep their neighbors and our communities safe,” said Sununu. “I’m proud to have had the opportunity to work with our state’s firefighters to move this critical legislation forward, and I look forward to signing it into law.”

Tax break for regenerative manufacturing: SB 564 exempts businesses involved in the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI) in Manchester from state business taxes for 10 years.

“New Hampshire has signaled to the rest of the country that we are at the forefront of innovative, life-saving technological developments,” said Sununu. “We are poised to become the global hub of regenerative medicine, continuing our long history on the forefront of science and technology. I look forward to signing this bill into law.”

Voter privacy: In a highly partisan vote, both chambers endorsed SB 527, which includes a ban on the release of certain voter data as part of the discovery process in lawsuits.

The bill heads to Sununu’s desk at the same time the N.H. Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters are suing the state over an election law passed last year that creates new rules for Election Day registration, SB 3.

The plaintiffs have petitioned the court to order the release of certain voter data as part of that lawsuit. Democrats accuse Republican lawmakers of passing the bill to influence the outcome of that litigation.

“Any suggestion this has to deal with voter privacy is wildly misleading,” said Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield. “It’s a sad day in the Senate when the Republican majority tries to rig a court case.”

Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, called the bill “a common sense measure to safeguard the privacy of voters.”

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