Editor’s note: There was no mention during the House session Thursday that Rep. Judith Spang, D-Durham, was under self-quarantine at home because of a recent trip to Italy. She told WMUR-TV she was told to go home from the State House on Tuesday for 14 days after speaking with the State House nurse and House Speaker Steve Shurtleff. She also told WMUR-TV that she has no symptoms of the Coronavirus. She and her husband, who is also self-quarantined, returned on March 2 from 10 days in Italy, flying into Rome, taking a train to Naples and then returning to Rome. The state Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to questions.
By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — The House hopes increasing the tax rate on vaping materials will help reduce the use by the state’s young people, who have one of the highest usage rates in the country.
House Bill 1699 would raise the tax rate on vaping materials from 8 to 40 percent on retail price, replacing a two-tier tax system established in the state budget package approved last fall.
Supporters said the rate would be below those of surrounding states and would discourage vaping which is addictive and harmful to vital organs.
“Student vaping levels in New Hampshire are higher than anywhere else in the country,” said Rep. Dick Ames, D-Jaffrey. “It is an
addictive chemical that we do not yet understand the damage it causes to vital organs, particularly the lungs and heart or the effects on a young brain.”
But opponents argue the bill would greatly increase the tax rate just months after it first went into effect Jan. 1, which could put many small vape shops out of business.
Much of the vape shops’ business comes from out-of-state residents, particularly in border towns, to take advantage of lower prices, said Rep. Max Abramson, R-Seabrook.
Rep. Patrick Abrami, R-Stratham, also expressed concern for the vape shops noting they are “stuck between a rock and a hard place.” The tax increase is likely to send customers to the internet, he said, or if the owner decides to absorb the costs, he will go out of business.
“The fate of vaping in New Hampshire is still unknown with many policy bills working their way through the House,” he said, “but will be known by the end of session.”
The bill was approved on a 172-142 vote and now goes to the Senate.
No to Taxes
The House by overwhelming majorities voted to kill two sales tax proposals.
One would have taxed electronics and the other ski tickets.
House Bill 1492 would apply a 4.3 percent sales tax on electronics with the proceeds going to the Education Trust Fund.
Opponents said defining electronics is problematic.
The bill was killed on a 320-11 vote.
The House voted 323-7 to kill House Bill 1652, which would have ski tickets subject to the state’s 9 percent rooms and meals tax.
Opponents said it would upend the state’s long-held reputation of no sales tax.
Lose the Lid
Motorcycle riders and drivers may continue to ride without helmets after the House put off voting on House Bill 1621, which would require motorcyclists to wear helmets. The tabling motion was approved on a 193-141 vote.
The first attempt in several years to require motorcyclists to wear helmets drew a full house to object to the change when the public hearing was held last month.
At the public hearing that filled Representatives Hall with people mostly in opposition to the bill, many speakers said wearing a helmet is a personal decision.
But supporters said helmets save lives and reduce the severity of injuries.
The bill could be revisited before Crossover, when the House has to finish work on its bills and send them to the Senate and vice versa.
Crossover deadline is March 26. After that date it will take a two-thirds majority to act on the bill.
The House agreed with the Senate that citizens ought to be registered to vote when they apply or renew their driver’s licenses.
The Secure Modern Accurate Registration Technology (SMART) Act is in place in 21 states including all other New England states.
The bill would be funded through the state’s Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds. The fund contains $11.9 million which is sufficient to cover the estimated $2.2 million over the next four years, supporters said.
“Enabling more voters to be registered voters and an apt use of the Help American Vote Act fund,” said Rep. Patricia Lovejoy, D-Stratham.
But opponents said New Hampshire for some time has had same-day voter registration and does not need to change.
“New Hampshire has long been a same-day registration state and not a Motor Voter state,” said Rep. Lynne Ober, R-Hudson. “This bill tries to marry the two together with no known path to success.”
The House voted 202-146 to approve the bill, which now goes back to the Senate because of changes the House made.
Labor Law Changes
The University System of New Hampshire would be barred from using public funds to discourage employees from forming a collective bargaining unit or union.
Opponents called it a “gag order” on the university system, while supporters said state funds should not be used to pick sides in a labor dispute.
The bill was introduced in response to the university system hiring a law firm to assist the administration during organizing efforts.
House Bill 1322 was approved on a 207-137 vote and goes to the Senate which killed a similar bill last session.
A bill that would have a collective bargaining unit established if the majority of employees sign authorization cards was approved by the House. An election would not be needed under current law.
The bill would replace a regulated and overseen process with one that could be subject to intimidation, said Rep. Jonathan Mackie, R-Meredith.
“Elections are important and must be fair,” said Mackie. “It is not fair or proper to establish a union this way.”
But proponents said the change — that was in place from 2007 to 2011 — would be simpler and faster.
“Frankly most unions need far more than 50 percent,” said Rep. Brian Sullivan, D-Grantham, “You want a strong unit with 70 percent or 80 percent support.”
House Bill 1399 was approved on a 205-142 vote. The bill goes to the Senate.
Manchester Retirement Changes
The House approved changes to the Manchester employees’ retirement system which would increase the costs for workers hired after Jan. 1, 2001, and reduce benefits.
Under House Bill 1292, an employee’s benefits would be established by the highest earnings over five consecutive years instead of the current three years, increase the penalty for early retirement from 1/6 of 1 percent per year to 7/12 of 1 percent and change the retirement age from 60 to 62 years old.
The bill would also increase an employee’s contribution from 3.75 to 5.75 percent of his or her salary. The increase would end once the system reserves reach 100 percent of future liability.
The change is expected to reduce the period of amortization by one year and save Manchester $14 million over that timeframe.
The bill goes to the Senate.
The House killed a series of bills that would have expanded the exemptions from paying all or portions of property tax bills.
The House killed House Bill 1125, which would have provided an exemption for volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel,
House Bill 1197, which would have provided an exemption to disabled veterans.
And House Bill 1210, which would have provided an exemption for energy storage systems.
The House approved a bill that was intended to encourage the development of affordable housing. House Bill 1629 is one of a two-bill package that includes recommendations on the governor’s commission on affordable housing.
The bill provides free training materials for planning boards and zoning boards of appeals, streamlines the appeals process, clarifies inclusionary zoning ordinances and modifies the workforce housing criteria.
Opponents said the bill would greatly increase the work for planning and zoning boards, require more meetings and more paperwork between cities, towns and the state.
The bill was approved on a 276-63 vote and goes to the Senate.
Crime Victim Fund
The House voted to increase the maximum benefit under the victims’ assistance fund from $30,000 to $40,000.
The increase is not expected to deplete the victims’ assistance fund, according to the House Finance Committee. The bill also replaces the current 21-member commission determining benefits with a five-member Legislative Committee.
The bill now goes to the Senate.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com