By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — The New Hampshire House spent much of Thursday’s session debating bills similar to ones passed last year that Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed or the Senate killed.
Two attempts to increase requirements to purchase a firearm passed the House, but not by large enough margins to override vetoes, and a bill legalizing the personal and private use and cultivation of marijuana similar to one killed in the Senate last year.
In the last decade, New Hampshire lawmakers approved a medical marijuana program and decriminalized possession of small amounts of the drug.
The state has not, however, followed surrounding states in legalizing the personal use of cannabis as have Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont.
A bill last year would have legalized marijuana, regulated its sales and taxed transactions passed the House but died in the Senate.
This year legalization supporters wanted to keep it simple according to the prime sponsor, Rep. Carol McGuire, R-Epsom.
“This is very simple, it legalizes personal use of marijuana and marijuana products including growing a limited number of plants,” McGuire said, “There are no regulations because there are no sales.”
Under the bill, adults could possess up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana, five grams of hashish and up to 300 milligrams of cannabis infused products.
Adults may cultivate up to six plants, which must be in a secure location out of public sight and may process the plants at their home.
Adults could give marijuana to other adults, but not sell it or use it as a financial reward.
Use of marijuana would not be allowed in public and all penalties involving minors would not change under the bill.
“This would eliminate low-level crimes,” McGuire said and “legalizes only personal, private use.”
But opponents said the state should stop and think carefully before taking the next step in legalization.
Rep. Patrick Abrami, R-Stratham, who chaired a marijuana study commission several years ago, said this year’s bill reflects the legalization program approved by Vermont.
“There is no revenue generated for addiction or treatment or for enforcement,” Abrami said. “And no one should say marijuana is not addicting,” referring to testimony from treatment program counselors at the public hearing.
He gave 11 reasons why the bill should not be approved.
However, others suggested it is time to end the state’s “prohibition” on the use of marijuana with 75 percent of the state’s residents backing legalization.
The bill was approved on a 236-112 vote enough to override a veto, but HB 1648 still has to go before the Senate where advocates note the votes have not changed since last session.
Bills to require a three-day waiting period as well as background checks to close the “gun show loophole,” both passed the House this week and will likely win approval in the Senate later this session.
However, the bills are very similar to ones Sununu vetoed last session, and few expect he would change his mind this year.
House Bill 1379 would require background checks be done on commercial sales between individuals, but exempts sales among family members or friends, sales to federally registered dealers and exporters, or two police officers and active military personnel.
But it does apply to private commercial sales when the individuals do not know each other, like at a gun show.
“This is a practical and common-sense measure designed to keep guns out of the hands of felons, respondents to domestic violence restraining orders, and other prohibited parties,” said Rep. David Meuse, D-Portsmouth. “This bill closes the gap to transactions between private parties.”
But opponents argued the bill does nothing that is not already in law.
“We are already do everything it says,” said Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, “it really comes down to this bill is not needed.”
But others said the change is a slippery slope that threatens constitutional rights.
“This is another egregious attempt to infringe on our Second Amendment rights,” said Rep. Kimberly Rice, R-Hudson.
But supporters said the change will make a difference.
“This bill will not prevent every tragedy and not prevent every shooting, but it will make a difference.” said Rep. Kathy Rogers, D-Concord. “It is simple, it is constitutional and it fits the majority of our population.”
The House voted 196-152 to approve the bill.
The House also passed House Bill 1101, which would establish a three-day waiting period for a gun purchase.
Supporters said the wait would allow someone to “cool off” and may prevent a suicide or a domestic violence assault.
But proponents argued the waiting period may expose someone to violence if they cannot acquire a gun when they feel threatened.
The bill is for a three-day waiting period instead of the seven-day wait in last session’s bill and has a waiver for those who fear for their lives due to domestic violence.
The House approved the bill on an 184-134 vote.
Both bills now go to the Senate for action.
The House effectively moved approval for the new “Learn Everywhere” initiative of Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut from the State School Board to local school districts.
The House approved House Bill 1454, which would leave school credit decisions on “real world” learning programs, apprenticeships, and similar programs off school grounds, to local school boards and districts instead of the state.
Rep. Linda Tanner, D-Sunapee, said it is extremely important out-of-school credit program be under the oversight of professional educators at the local level.
Educators and officials at the local level know if the students are in a safe environment, she said, not the state board.
But opponents said the kids suffer when there are not alternative learning opportunities, and Rep. Glenn Cordelli, R-Tuftonboro, said the change is also an attempt to go after the education commissioner, who is a businessman, not a member of the education club.
“This is about the status quo,” Cordelli said, “not about opportunities, and not about the kids.”
The House voted 202-142 to approve the bill, after killing House Bill 1412 on a 198-146 vote. The bill would have required school districts to grant credits for programs completed at another school or facility.
Opponents said the bill does not even define what a program would entail yet would require a school district to grant credits toward graduation.
Bill supporters said there are statewide standards, yet school districts are not required to grant credits for programs at other school districts.
The House approved a fast-tracked bill to ensure federal reimbursement for the Medicaid to Schools program for children with disabilities.
Several years ago the state decided to seek Medicaid reimbursement for more services schools provide for Medicaid eligible students.
However, last spring the federal Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services alerted the state that schools have to be treated like other healthcare providers, meaning professionals providing the services have to be licensed Medicaid providers.
The state adopted emergency rules to allow the schools to continue receiving reimbursement, and Sununu issued an executive order to speed licensing for the professionals.
But the two actions did not settle the issue for the schools which could lose about $27 million in reimbursement for services to about 11,000 students.
Lawmakers fast-tracked legislation to address the issue, passing the Senate earlier this month and now through the House.
The bill now goes back to the Senate because of House changes before going to Sununu who supports the bill.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org