By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
BEDFORD — The House decided to expand charitable gambling by allowing betting on historic horse racing but failed to meet the required vote to place a constitutional amendment before voters prohibiting gun restrictions.
Allowing the 16 charitable gaming facilities in the state to offer historic horse racing on machines similar to slot machines has been under consideration for several years.
House Bill 626 would give the existing facilities a monopoly for three years and would not limit the number of machines at each site or the state total.
Supporters said it will allow more charities to participate in charitable gambling and provide the state and charities with additional revenue.
Under the bill charities are projected to receive $5.75 million annually, $12.05 million would go to the Education Trust Fund and $820,000 would go to the problem gambling program.
The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Patrick Abrami, R-Stratham, said the bill is in the best interest of the charities.
The state has had charitable gaming for a decade and a half with charities each having 10 days of events to raise money at local facilities, he said.
The historic racing machines would not be at large scale casinos because they are too slow, he said.
But opponents claimed the facility operators will reap more of the profits than the charities and said there is no local option for a community to decide if they want the machines.
Rep. Mary Beth Walz, D-Bow, said the bill does not require the owners to pay an application fee or for an operating license which means the state is giving away millions of dollars.
And she said the charities receive a lower percentage of the profit than they do for card games.
“If we wait we can do much better than this flawed bill for the charities and for the state,” she said. “HB 626 is putting the cart before the horse.”
The bill passed on a 223-152 vote and now goes to the Senate.
The House failed to reach the 60 percent majority needed on a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit the legislature from passing any law restricting the right to own, carry, or use firearms or firearm accessories.
Under the resolution, the state would be prevented from enforcing any federal law or executive order restricting firearms as well.
Rep. Terry Roy, R-Deerfield, said the proposed amendment would make it clear gun owners’ constitutional rights “are not in peril every two years.”
Lawmakers have no mandate to continually try to restrict gun rights, he said, and they ought to be honest enough to let voters decide what they want.
“If you support people who you claim to know what’s best …,” he said, “let’s end the charade once and for all. It’s time to put your money where your mouth is.”
Let the people’s voice be heard and decide if they have had enough of their rights being threatened every two years, Roy said.
But Rep. David Meuse, D-Portsmouth, called the proposal overboard, extreme and unnecessary.
He said the proposal would prevent any future legislature from acting if there is new evidence or firearms that may require changing current law.
“This would take that away from us, and from future legislatures and worst of all, it would take it away from the people of New Hampshire,” he said.
He noted there is also the third amendment which protects society as a whole not just an individual’s right.
The proposed amendment received a 201-174 vote but needed 239 votes to go the Senate. If it had passed the Senate by a 60 percent majority, it would have been placed on the 2022 general election ballot where it would have needed a two-thirds majority to become part of the constitution.
The House also passed several bills that would change state laws on brandishing a firearm without a threat of serious bodily harm or while protecting your property although there is no danger and nothing has been stolen.
Another bill passed by the House would prohibit any government entity from establishing their own restrictions or regulations and the bill would end existing restrictions like the one at public universities and colleges prohibiting firearms on campus.
Supporters say there is currently a patchwork or local rules and restrictions that can easily trap a law-abiding citizen.
But opponents said the changes are dangerous and would escalate rather than deescalate the dangerous situations.
Current law prohibits anyone but the legislature from passing ordinances, rules or regulations restricting gun rights, but does not end those in place before the law went into effect.
All three bills are headed to the Senate.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.