By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – A bill to make marijuana legal for those age 18 and older was killed by the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee Friday.
The committee also heard bills about recording interactions with public officials and increasing littering fees by 20 percent to help pay for new Fish and Game conservation officers.
Voting 16-1 to kill the marijuana bill, there will be a minority report from Rep. Chris True, R-Sandown, who was the only one to support the bill in the committee.
There are a number of other bills which the legislature will hear this year relative to marijuana possession and use including ones related to home cultivation (HB 629), fines for possession (HB 526) which will be heard by the same committee at 1:30 p.m. on March 1, probable cause for the scent of marijuana (HB 1400), legalization (HB 1348) and relative to personal possession (HB 1306).
House Bill 1468-FN was sponsored by Democrats Rep. Stacie Laughton of Nashua and Tony LaBranche of Amherst and at the beginning of the hearing, the committee heard from LaBranche that the sponsors were requesting the measure be voted inexpedient to legislate.
Rep. True said this was a much better bill than others that have come before the legislature because it was not about the state adding to its coffers.
“The state should not be involved in selling any more drugs than it already does,” he said, referring to liquor stores.
Instead, he said the intent was to “leave people alone.”
House Bill 1175 deals with recording interactions with public officials.
LaBranche, the sponsor of this bill also, said the measure would update the wiretapping statute to ensure that the public can record public officials in the course of their work but not necessarily at their home or off duty.
This would expressly allow for such recordings and involve anyone employed by the government, including legislators.
One committee member asked if parents could legally record conversations with counselors from the Division for Children, Youth and Families and he said, “yes.”
State Rep. Laura Pantelakos, D-Portsmouth, said she did not believe a police officer or a legislator is ever off duty.
LaBranche said for legislators, “I believe people already have the right to record us when we are in the public. If we are shopping at Market Basket, we are in the eye constantly and they have the right to record us.”
Asked about whether this would extend to teachers on bus duty or on a field trip?
“That could be a possibility. I hadn’t thought of that,” LaBranche said.
How about students recording teachers?
“It could be amended as to exclude schools but I do not have any language,” for that exception, LaBranche said.
Laurie Ortolano of Nashua, speaking on behalf of Right to Know NH, a non-profit, was in support of the bill.
She said she wanted to focus on public recordings in public buildings.
Ortolano talked about a lawsuit she currently has against the city of Nashua in which an employee was reprimanded.
She said the bill would improve the situation in the state.
Rep. Dennis Thompson, R-Stewartstown, read a statement from the prime sponsor, Rep. Timothy Egan, D-Sugar Hill, of House Bill 1571 who was unable to attend.
Thompson read Egan’s statement that by increasing fines for littering the state would be protecting the environment and increasing revenue to support Fish and Game and its efforts to get more conservation officers in the field. It would increase fines by 20 percent.
The statement said it would show the public that the state is “taking matters very seriously” and
improve the community feeling about the environment. That would in turn have an economic impact and would draw more people to enjoy the state’s resources.”
Thompson said he is from Coos County and the largest problem with littering is on OHRV trails.
“I don’t know how we can stop all that but if we can make the fines … relevant,” he said, that would help.
Richard Head, government affairs coordinator from the New Hampshire Judicial Branch, took no position on the bill.
Head did say the effective date in the bill of 60 days after passage was problematic.
Head asked for an amendment that the effective date be switched to Jan. 1, 2023, because it takes time to update fine distribution and requires the judicial branch to distribute the money in a different way.
Head said there are currently three laws for littering and the money currently goes to the state highway fund and general fund.
This new bill, if passed, would allow for an additional 20 percent to go to Fish and Game.
Asked if illegal industrial dumping follows the same path as the littering statute, Head said he was not sure.
According to the fiscal note, to implement the changes in the bill, the Department of Safety estimates one-time system programming costs, of approximately $70,000, anticipated to be incurred in Fiscal Year 2022.
Similarly, the Judicial Branch expects one-time programming costs of approximately $5,000.
Head said 2020 data showed that the state took in about $9,000 so the additional 20 percent would be about $1,800 a year.