NH Week in Review for June 4: Marijuana bill ready for governor

Jun 04, 2017

The state Legislature this week rolled up the final touches on a marijuana decriminalization bill that Gov. Christopher Sununu will sign into law.

Eight times in the last 10 years, New Hampshire lawmakers have tried but failed to reduce the penalty for possessing a small amount of marijuana from a felony to a misdemeanor. The difference is jail time vs. a fine for having less than three quarters of an ounce of pot, according to the latest bill.

HB 640 cleared the House on a voice vote Thursday. The original House version put the amount at an ounce, but the Senate amended that to a three quarters of an ounce that then needed the House’s re-approval.

Gov. Sununu had said he liked the idea of a half an ounce better, but said he is comfortable enough with three quarters of an ounce to sign the bill. It will become law 60 days after he signs the measure.

More and more over the years, neighboring New England states have moved to change their marijuana laws to not only decriminalize marijuana possession but legalize it outright. On Thursday, the Republican-led Senate signed-off on a committee to study legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana here in the Granite State.

See a Concord Monitor story here.

Also at the Statehouse

The state Senate approved its version of the budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. It is $11.8 billion, less than the $12.1 billion proposed in February by Sununu. It now goes to the House, which faltered in its attempt to pass a budget recommendation back in April. It’s expected that the Senate version could face opposition from conservative Republicans there who don’t think the Senate budget cut deep enough into state spending. See a Union Leader story here.

The Senate also approved a $121 million capital budget that sets money aside for building projects statewide. See a Concord Monitor story here.

The House approved SB 3—what proponents are calling an election reform bill but what opponents are calling a voter suppression bill.

The measure seeks to clarify the standards for voter residency in the state. It received the backing of the Republican-controlled Senate and House, and it will be signed by the Republican governor. After passing the House on Thursday, Sununu said, “This legislation helps protect the integrity of New Hampshire’s electoral process.  As host of the first-in-the-nation primary, New Hampshire has the obligation to ensure our system is beyond reproach.  This bill does exactly that and as such, I support SB 3 and commend the House of Representatives for their actions today.”

Democrats said the bill targets communities with college student populations, particularly Durham, Plymouth, Keene, and Hanover. A statement from the New Hampshire Young Democrats said: “Senate Bill 3 will accomplish one thing: the disenfranchisement and intimidation of thousands of young voters across New Hampshire. Our state's real problem isn’t voter fraud, it is attracting and retaining young people to live, study, work, and raise families here.”

See an NHPR story here.

The House on Thursday passed SB 191 that ties funding full-day kindergarten to revenue generated by Keno. It now moves to the Senate for consideration. Some are calling it 'Kenogarten.'

Full-day kindergarten is a priority for Sununu, and it was part of his budget priorities when he submitted a proposed two-year spending package to the Legislature back in February. But the money—estimated at $18 million over two years—was eliminated in the Senate’s budget, so other funding mechanisms were considered.

“The House of Representatives deserves high praise for moving full-day kindergarten forward and recognizing that this is a priority for many families in both considering the quality of a community’s public education and in their decision-making process when choosing a place to raise their children,” said Sununu.

The Keno idea assumes that Keno will be legalized in the state, something that has been tried before but failed.

“I think Keno will be somewhat problematic in the Senate,” state Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, said in a Foster’s Daily Democrat story. “We’ll see what happens. We’ll look at the funding, and it’s my hope that we may even get full funding for kindergarten by the time we’re done.”

Other measures passed the House this week that the governor has stated his support for:

  • SB 44 prohibits the state from implementing Common Core standards;
  • SB 66 is the fetal homicide bill;
  • SB 8 is the so-called Croydon bill that allows taxpayer money for school choice;
  • SB 38 distributes $30 million to cities and towns for road and bridge construction and repair;
  • SB 57 funds drinking water and wastewater projects.

On a voice vote, the House tabled any action against the two state representatives investigated for their social media comments. Robert Fisher resigned as a Republican representative from Laconia after revelations about his misogynistic posts on a Reddit forum. Rep. Sherry Frost, D-Dover, faced discipline for Twitter comments regarding white men and terrorism. See a WMUR story here.

Politics of climate accord

President Donald Trump this week announced his intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris accord of 2015 to control climate change through a worldwide effort of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

New Hampshire’s all-Democrat delegation to Congress criticized the president’s move. The delegation’s senior member—U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen—said, “This decision is a devastating blow to America’s global leadership with grave implications for New Hampshire and future generations. Climate change is not only a direct and growing threat to New Hampshire’s environment and economy, but to our national security as well. The Trump administration has just squandered an historic opportunity to curb global emissions and mitigate the dangerous effects of climate change.”

Sununu, who said he takes pride in New Hampshire’s quality of environment, backed the president, saying, "You know it’s not my job to go through the whole accord and look at the in-depth impacts across the country, economically. The president has done that, his team has done that, and they've made the decision they feel is in the best interest of the United States and I stand by that." See an NHPR story here.

Also in the state

Census Bureau data released this week shows that New Hampshire’s population has grown 1.39 percent in six years since the 2010 census. That’s well below the national growth rate (4.66 percent) and far below growth rates in the South and Western U.S., which topped 6 percent. See a Concord Monitor story here.

The Trump White House approved disaster aid for Belknap and Carroll counties to help pay for damage caused by the late March blizzard and nor’easter that rocked the state. See an NHPR story here.

James Vara—the state’s so-called ‘drug czar’—has been promoted to a new role as chief of staff to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office. The drug czar position is officially known as the Governor’s Advisor on Addiction and Behavioral Health. Filling that role will be David Mara, interim police chief in Portsmouth. See an NH1 story here.

Smoker hiring bans, clemency for bears, and a trigger law on abortion were among the topics under discussion on our Facebook page. We’d love to hear from you on these and other issues.


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