CONCORD — The House is scheduled to vote for the second time on legal marijuana and gun-free school zones on Thursday, the final day for reps to act on House bills other than budget-related legislation.
Also on the agenda, protective orders for vulnerable adults and a bill that would allow cities and towns to impose a hotel or room occupancy fee of up to $2 per day per room with all the revenue to stay local.
The bill to legalize the recreational use and commercial sale of marijuana in New Hampshire by adults, HB 481, passed its first test in the House of Representatives on Feb. 27, in a bipartisan 209-147 vote after review by the Criminal Justice Committee.
It was then referred to the Ways and Means Committee, which made some significant changes to the taxation provisions.
The amendment removes the original bill’s proposal for a fixed excise tax on wholesale transactions of $30 per ounce. Instead, the Ways and Means Committee proposes a 5-percent tax on wholesale transactions and a 9-percent tax on the retail sales at cannabis stores.
“This method of taxation is similar to that used for our existing taxes on tobacco products and on meals and rentals,” according to Rep. Richard Ames, D-Jaffrey.
The proposed cannabis tax rates, taken together with the other fees and fines established by the bill, will be below comparable rates in nearby states, according to Ames. The effective rate in Massachusetts, combining local and state taxes, ranges from 17 to 20 percent.
Rep. Patrick Abrami, R-Stratham, chaired the Commission to Study the Legalization, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana, which examined the issue throughout 2018. The commission membership was split on the question of legalization and made no recommendation.
Abrami says the taxation scheme proposed in the Ways and Means amendment goes against the commission’s call for tax rates that raise only enough money for regulation and addiction prevention or treatment.
“The reason this is a problem is that the legislature will quickly become addicted to this revenue, making it difficult for the program to be terminated if future metrics show that the many warnings of the negative effects to society, as discussed in the policy debate, come true,” according to Abrami, an opponent of legalization. “Once this program begins, there will be no turning back.”
Supporters of legalization will be hoping to get the House vote closer to the two-thirds majority needed to override an anticipated veto by Gov. Chris Sununu.
The bill will then move to the Senate, where state Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, says legalization opponents are prepared to mount strong opposition.
Democrats hold the majority in both House and Senate, with legalizing marijuana a key plank in the party platform.
Gun-free school zones
A bill to declare gun-free zones on school property across the state is on its way to the House for a second time, after passing 194-154 on Feb. 2, without a single Republican vote.
The first vote followed a review by the Education Committee, after which the bill was sent to the Criminal Justice Committee. It cleared that committee in a 10-8 party-line vote last Wednesday.
The bill, HB 564, bans possession of firearms on school property, including buildings, grounds, school buses and vans. Exceptions would include anyone picking up or dropping off a student, provided the firearms remain in a motor vehicle.
This is another bill that Sununu has promised to veto, and it has not passed by veto-proof numbers.
This bill, HB 696, establishes a procedure to protect older citizens and other vulnerable adults from financial exploitation or physical abuse.
“The bill is important and necessary because our criminal statutes do not provide adequate protection for our state’s most vulnerable citizens; too often, by the time abuse, neglect, or exploitation can be proven, assets are long gone or the vulnerable adult has been subjected to unsafe conditions for far too long,” said chief sponsor Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton.
The bill initially came out of the Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee with a 22-0 endorsement, and was referred to the Criminal Justice Committee after a bipartisan 208-132 House vote on Feb. 27.
The Criminal Justice Committee, however, was divided along party lines in a 12-8 vote, with Republican opponents expressing concerns over provisions that allow for the confiscation of firearms.
“The bill allows for the seizing of firearms without the defendant even being aware of the accusations that have been made,” says opponent Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown.
Local room rental tax
This bill, HB 641, gives municipalities the option of implementing a hotel or room rental occupancy fee of up to $2 per day per room, with the money going into in a capital reserve fund, tourism support fund, revolving fund, or other special revenue fund designed to offset the cost of municipal services associated with tourism.
Supporters of the bill say it’s designed to help cities and towns make up for the legislature’s continued reduction in their share of the statewide rooms and meals tax.
Opponents warn that allowing municipalities to impose their own taxes or fees puts the state on a slippery slope.
“Hotels generate significant property taxes and spur other economic activity without adding significantly to the local education costs. The minority believes these funds are adequate to support the level of services required to handle this increase in local activity,” according to Rep. Charles Burns, R-Milford.