By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Valentine Day is next week but it seemed the New Hampshire Senate session was a bit of a love fest for a change Thursday as it passed a bunch of bills on a bipartisan basis with positive words spoken between Republicans and Democrats.
It included an agreement to move the state primary from September to June in 2026.
The Senate also passed measures to allow tenants dealing with domestic violence and stalking to get out of their lease, set limits to no-knock warrants, created a new early cancer screening program for firefighters statewide and a financial pathway to build noise barriers on highways.
There was nary a floor fight and they were out the door and off to lunch before 1 p.m. dispatching more than 21 bills in quick order while the 400-member House, on the other side of the wall at the State House, was still working away at their pile of bills.
While the bills still need to get past the governor’s desk not to mention the House, at least one bill moving the primary date may get the nod of Gov. Chris Sununu, said Sen. Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton, the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 380. https://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/bill_status/billinfo.aspx?id=2047&inflect=2
Lang said the rationale for the change is that people need more time to review multiple candidates in primaries for all state contests and that with the election in November, having a September primary is not enough time.
“It’s also a little bit about the idea that in the primary, Republicans are looking at Republicans and Democrats are looking at Democrats. You’re not looking at the whole field, right?” he said. “And then, you are thrown right into a November election you have less than 60 days in some cases to see what’s going on,” Lang said of evaluating the candidates.
While the governor has not supported similar measures in the past, Lang said he was talking about July or August, but Sununu seems open to the idea of June.
“The kids are still in school,” in June, he said.
Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, rose in opposition to the motion to pass and said legislators would still be in session and placed at a disadvantage from challengers.
June, she said “is a period of time where we have released our bills, however, we are getting the House bills, so we are in the process of doing the business of the state while our opponents are out there campaigning while we are trying to do our business. So I am very concerned that this is a disadvantage to us.”
State Sen. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem, disagreed saying that giving more time would help the voters.
He said in a statement: “For our Presidential primary, we are first in the nation, but for our state primary, we are last in the nation. Almost every other state has their state primary before New Hampshire does in September. Currently, our September primary leaves little time for candidates coming from a lengthy primary to mount a general campaign. Moving the primary to June will also provide more time to deliver absentee ballots to New Hampshire troops overseas in time for the general election.”
It now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
CHANGE TO TENANCY LAWS FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE/STALKING
House Bill 261 allowing residential tenants to terminate their lease in cases of domestic abuse allegations passed with wide support on a voice vote by senators who said it balances the importance of safety to be able to get out of there with the financial consideration of a landlord in breaking a lease.
Sen. Shannon Chandley, D-Amherst, asked the Senate to pass the measure calling it among “the best of our legislative endeavors,” because it brought together all sorts of stakeholders on the subject to work on an agreement.
Chandley asked the body to vote down one amendment and offered another which would introduce updates to New Hampshire tenancy statutes and include in the bill not only domestic violence but stalking as reasons to break a lease.
She said it balances safety of tenants with financial protections for landlords, adds a provision to create New Hampshire-specific self-certification to prevent false statements, and addresses how and when security deposits are to be distributed.
The amended version heads back to the House.
EARLY CANCER SCREENINGS FOR FIREFIGHTERS
Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry and Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester both strongly supported Senate Bill 352-FN-A, establishing an early detection cancer screening pilot program for active and retired firefighters.
With concerns for exposure to PFAS contamination and other statistics showing that these first responders are particularly in harm’s way, the voice vote in support was forceful on both Democratic and Republican sides.
Carson, who is Majority Leader, said in a statement after the vote that, “Firefighters in New Hampshire put their lives on the line to protect our communities. In the course of doing their jobs, they are exposed to several cancer-causing chemicals, such as PFAS. Our firefighters face an elevated cancer risk and having an early screening and detection program available to them could be lifesaving. That is why this pilot program is vital for these first responders and I am grateful that my Senate colleagues have passed this legislation.”
Soucy, who is the Minority Leader, agreed and said the time is now to help and that in the end, preventative medicine would save lives, money and allow families to be together longer.
Sen. Dan Innis, R-Bradford, released a statement following the passing of both SB 364-FN and SB 454-FN:
“Affordable housing has been New Hampshire’s toughest economic challenge. SB 364-FN will provide historic housing preservation tax credits for Granite Staters and SB 454-FN will double dedicated funding for the Affordable Housing Fund through the Real Estate Transfer Tax. New Hampshire housing permits for multifamily housing projects have increased by 41 percent since 2021 according to data from New Hampshire Business and Economic Affairs.”
INCENTIVE FOR RURAL EDUCATORS PROGRAM PASSES, BUT GETS $1
The Senate also passed SB 217-FN-A, establishing a rural and underserved area educator incentive program for higher education.
But the original plan, using the Education Trust Fund for $3 million was not in what passed.
It did include creating a body to choose how best to use it to incentivize more rural educators either through salary or debt relief.
The Senate passed the framework forward to the House to start the measure but with a $1 allocation.
Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, once a rural educator in his early days, said after the vote, “With the shortage of teachers in the rural and underserved communities this gives us an opportunity to recruit people to go in and fill those vacancies.”
NEA-NH officials said it is a start.
Megan Tuttle, president of NEA-New Hampshire, said after the vote, “As school districts across the state struggle to fill positions amidst an educator shortage, it is encouraging to see lawmakers acknowledge the state has a role to play in addressing this crisis.”
SENATE SAYS NO MORE SIMULCAST DOG RACING
Senate Bill 363-FN which prohibits the wagering on simulcast dog racing passed the Senate with Sen. D’Allesandro saying “they have found inhumane treatment of those dogs” on out-of-state tracks.
The bill allows time to provide “The Brook ” in Seabrook, the only dog track simulcast location time to prepare for the loss of revenue from that practice.
LIMITS TO NO KNOCK WARRANTS
A bill that limits the circumstances allowed for no-knock warrants, House Bill 135 https://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/bill_status/billinfo.aspx?id=11&inflect=2 passed on a voice vote with at least two senators dissenting.
Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, offered a minor amendment which removes one word “recognizable” as a police officer instead of “uniformed” officers.
The idea is that people who are being crashed in on by police in a rare, no-knock warrant situation know that this is not a criminal break-in, supporters said.
Carson said the amendment had been reviewed by chiefs of police and the attorney general.
Sen. Becky Whitley, D-Hopkinton, and a member of Carson’s Judiciary Committee, also supported the measure.
Abbas, a practicing attorney, said the amendment is an improvement on the original bill.
Soucy asked Carson if she had met with officers familiar with no-knock warrants and Carson said she met with Manchester police who deal with these matters and said they are supportive of the measure.
Though rare, she said these are not the scenes you see on television, but very well orchestrated with advanced technology dogs, drones and officers are careful in terms of evidence collection, noting evidence can be thrown out of court if improperly collected in these cases.
LACONIA TO GET $3 MILLION IF….
Senate Bill 347, alloting $3 million of the state’s proposed $21.5 million earnings from the sale of the former Laconia State School was approved to reimburse the Lake City for water, sewer, infrastructure and road structure improvements related to the sale.
Sen. Howard Pearl, R-Loudon, said the bill is predicated on the actual sale of the land which has been delayed for months.
Yet Gov. Sununu told reporters last week he has spoken with the prime developer Robynne Alexander and there are continued efforts being made to get to the table for its sale. He remains hopeful that the deal will go down.
It began with a bill to help Teaberry Lane in Bedford muffle the sound of highway traffic but Senate Bill 580 passed which not only helps them but would tap the turnpike fund for future noise barriers resulting from traffic noise in areas not covered by federal help.
Sen. Denise Ricciardi, R-Bedford, was lauded for crafting a bipartisan solution to the noise barrier problems and she issued a statement.
“This bipartisan solution creates a new funding stream to construct noise barriers in communities that do not qualify under existing federal eligibility rules. But the noise from our highways remains a real concern. This approach allows the New Hampshire Department of Transportation to use turnpike toll credits to fund the construction of noise barriers to protect New Hampshire neighborhoods. I want to thank Senators Watters, Gray, and Birdsell for helping to craft a solution for communities across New Hampshire that had fallen through the cracks in the current system.”
As amended, the bill would authorize the Transportation Commission to use up to $10 million in Turnpike Toll Credits annually for a Noise Barrier Construction Fund serving communities that are not otherwise eligible for federal highway funds.
The bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee.
SENATE WANTS IN-STATE PARK FEES TO BE LOWERED
An amended Senate Bill 345 passed and states that by April 2025 all in-state residents should have to pay 50 percent less than out-of-state visitors at the gates to state parks.
Sen. Keith Murphy, R-Manchester, said the deal would not extend to rentals or other merchandise.
“Our citizens own these parks,” he said and should not pay the same as those who are from out-of-state.
Two bills were sent to interim study. Senate Bill 319 relative to vaccine and pharmaceutical products purchased, promoted or distributed by the state and its political subdivisions. Also Senate Bill 493-FN relative to establishing a municipal emergency disaster relief loan fund.
Senate Bill 381-FN was killed which would have prohibited municipalities from eliminating roads to maintain under certain conditions.
Also going nowhere is Senate Bill 445 which would allow for a change of voting, allowing voters to vote for multiple candidates for an office. Some said that it might be fine in some other states but it would be confusing, here.
The following is a list of most of the other measures that passed the Senate Thursday.
SB 433, as amended creating a commission to study the enforcement and collection of taxes on electronic cigarettes.
SB 435 relative to the New Hampshire unitrust statute.
SB 447-FN relative to school transportation services under default budgets.
SB 535 relative to absentee ballot forms.
SB 305 allows wholesalers of cigarettes to retain tax revenue collected for each package of cigarettes with tax stamps sold.
SB 387-FN as amended and relative to a three-year state parks pass pilot program for recovery centers and community mental health centers.
SB 97-FN as amended, which would prohibit the use of animals in product testing in the state. There is currently none.
SB 369-FN creating a new position and notice posting requirements for the Office of Professional Licensure and Certification.
SB 454-FN Amended increasing the annual real estate transfer tax revenue contribution to the affordable housing fund.
D’Allesandro said affordable housing is truly the issue that is driving the state’s housing crisis. This is another $5 million towards that coming from real estate transfer taxes.
“We already take money for the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program out of it,” and counties get a piece.
He noted the real estate transfer tax is having a problem because the interest rates are causing fewer land transfers now.
It passed on a voice vote unanimously.
PROHIBITION OF BOYCOTTS AGAINST ISRAEL
Senate President Jeb Bradley R-Wolfeboro, released a statement following the passage of SB 439-FN, prohibiting discriminatory boycotts of Israel in state procurement and investments: “New Hampshire and Israel have been partners for decades, with extensive cultural, academic, and economic ties. Discriminatory boycotts, such as the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement, are rooted in antisemitism.
“We do not want our closest ally in the Middle East to be targeted in our state. Passing this bill is another step toward New Hampshire standing with Israel by protecting them against nationality-based discrimination. There is no place in the Granite State for hateful discrimination and New Hampshire taxpayers should not be forced to do business with them.
“I applaud my Senate colleagues for passing this bill and showing our support to the Israeli people and their businesses.”