By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — The Old Man of the Mountain will be recognized one day every year although it is no more.
The House Wednesday overturned its House Executive Departments and Administration Committee and approved May 3 as the day to memorialize the “Old Stone Face” that graced the side of Cannon Mountain but crashed down May 3 – 20 years ago.
The bill, which had the support of most of the House and Senate leaders, was supported by representatives who told stories about the state’s symbol and what it means to many.
Rep. Tim Cahill, R-Raymond, recalled how the Nielsen family worked to preserve the rock formation for many years, often risking their lives.
“The Old Man’s likeness is everywhere and everything in New Hampshire,” he said. “The old man is New Hampshire.”
The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. John Potucek, R-Derry, said the Old Man is an iconic symbol for the state appearing on stamps and quarters as well on many official state seals.
“This does not ask you to do anything or require you to do anything,” he said, “just a day of remembrance. Just stop and reflect on what the Old Man means to you.”
Rep. Steve Shurtleff, D-Concord, said the Old Man is the official symbol of the Granite State.
“Future generations will stop and pause and think what the Old Man of the Mountain meant,” he said, “not only to us but to the native population.”
The bill passed on a 198-181 vote and goes to the Senate.
No Knock Warrants
The House voted to approve a bill that would limit no-knock warrants, but continue to allow departments to use the provision if they fear for their lives.
Some representatives opposed allowing police to determine if they should use no-knock warrants, saying they should not be making that decision.
Rep. Jonah Wheeler, D-Peterborough, told of his experience with a no-knock warrant and having his mother removed from their home without an explanation.
“It is truly a sad state of affairs,” he said. “I understand the great distrust people feel in many instances. Policymakers have let them go too far.”
But Rep. Terry Roy, R-Deerfield, said there are instances when it would be more dangerous to announce police presence, like with an armed gang on the other side of the door, or a man who threatened to kill his wife if she called police.
He said during the bill’s public hearing police said these types of warrants are very rare in the state, but begged to not take away the provision when the person on the other side of the door is ready to kill you.
“Taking that tool away will result in the death of police officers,” Roy said. He said the bill is exactly like federal rules.
The proposal was approved on a 299-84 vote and goes to the Senate.
The House killed House Bill 351 which would have increased the penalties for not securing firearms or ammunition inside a home.
Opponents said the bill would infringe on second amendment rights.
“If a firearm is not accessible it is not free to use,” Roy said, “If you can’t get at it, it is the same as having none at all.”
But Rep. David Meuse, D-Portsmouth, said the state’s laws are lax with only a maximum of a $1,000 fine for failing to secure a firearm so a child has access.
“This bill will have zero impact on responsible gun owners who never leave unattended firearms or ammunition in places that can be accessed by a child,” he said.
He said increasing penalties may help protect children.
The bill was killed on a 293-182 vote.
The House approved a bill the Finance Committee decided needed a change to better help the state’s underfunded state retirement system.
House Bill 50 as approved initially would have the state pay 7.5 percent of the retirement system premiums for city, town, school district and county workers.
But the bill was changed in Finance to use the $50 million the bill would have cost over the next two years to pay down some of the unfunded debt of the system.
Supporters of the change said it is a more long term solution that will save more money over the next decade, but opponents said the original bill would have reduced property taxes for cities and towns, which is needed.
The state once paid 35 percent of the retirement costs for cities, towns, school districts and counties but stopped paying anything during the great recession about a dozen years ago driving up local property taxes.
The House originally approved House Bill 69 by one vote, 190-189. The bill would allow direct payments to membership-based health care facilities offering similar services as hospitals.
But the House members voted to reconsider their decision and then tabled the bill on a 192-187 vote.
Opponents said the practice creates an uneven playing field as hospitals and similar providers have to serve everyone including those who cannot afford to pay for their services.
They said the plan would create a two-tier health system, one for the wealthy who can afford to pay for the best and the other for the rest of society.
But supporters said the only area of the state where these membership-based systems would be allowed is in the southeast section of the state.
They said they would not hurt hospitals that are in trouble and will eventually fail without developing a new operating model.
And the House easily passed House Bill 384, which appropriates $25 million to construct a new legislative parking garage on the land where the attorney general’s office is now and to tear down the current Storrs Street legislative parking garage.
The state is in the process of moving the Attorney General’s Office to the old Lincoln Financial Group complex now called 1 Granite Place.
The House continues its work beginning at 9 a.m. Thursday on about 80 bills it needs to act on this week.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.