NH House Increases Education Aid, Backs Legalizing Pot and PFA Ban

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Rep. Karen Ebel, D-New London, speaks in favor of her bill to ban products that have had PFAs intentionally added to them at Thursday's House session.


CONCORD — The House approved more than $100 million to boost education funding while increasing aid to districts for special education and approved a proposal to legalize cannabis Thursday.


House Bill 1583 would increase the per-pupil adequacy aid from $4,100 to $4,404 and boost the fiscal disparity aid to property poor communities.

The two increases come as the legislature faces two superior court decisions telling the state it is not covering the cost of an adequate education and is unconstitutionally administering the Statewide Education Property Tax.

The money for the additional aid to school districts would come from the Education Trust Fund which currently has about a $200 million surplus.

The additional aid for public schools, charter schools and the Education Freedom Accounts would begin in the next school year.

Opponents were concerned the state’s revenues were below estimates last month and other areas also need additional money such as the NH Retirement System.

The House also approved additional money for special education although not as much as the House originally approved last month.

House Bill 1656 originally would have provided more than $7,000 per pupil for special education services, but was changed to tie the amount to the number of hours the student needs special services.

The House Finance Committee reduced the new funding for special education to about $17 million a year.

An attempt was made to return the funding to $35 million annually but failed to pass on a tie vote before the House voted 349-26 to pass the bill that now goes to the Senate.


By a large majority, 233-140, the House voted to ban products that have PFAs intentionally added to them in three years to go along with other states.

According to the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Karen Ebel, D-New London, the items range from food packaging, children’s products, cosmetics, carpets and upholstered furniture and they expose everyone to PFAs.

She said New Hampshire is one of the states most burdened by PFA contamination, and the state and municipalities have spent more than $119 million to remediate the contamination.

Citizens in Merrimack have suffered with contamination from a plant in that community that has polluted drinking water.

“These forever chemicals should not be in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil we walk on,” she said.

She defended the bill’s broad reach saying it is tailored to cover new chemicals that industries might concoct that are just as deadly as the current crop.

But Rep. Dan McGuire, R-Epsom, tried to narrow the scope of the bill by changing the definitions of PFAs and also packaging through two amendments.

He said the changes sought in New Hampshire are broader than those in California, which is large enough for industries to change their practices in order to sell in that state.

The end result for New Hampshire, McGuire said, could be empty grocery store shelves.

His proposed amendments were defeated by about 40 votes before the bill passed by a large margin.

The bill now goes to the Senate.


The House once again approved a bill legalizing the recreational use of cannabis that faces an uncertain future in the Senate.

House Bill 1633 uses the agency store model for the sale and distribution of cannabis for recreational use for those over 21 years of age.

Regulations would be under the Liquor Commission and initially the number of stores would be limited to 15 with expansion possible in the future.

Rep. Erica Layon, R-Derry, said a large number of people in the state use cannabis even if it is illegal and are the same ones who will use it when it is legal.

“A lot of people who choose to use cannabis drive out of state, grow it at home or buy it on the street and that’s a problem,” she said.

Under a regulated program the cannabis would be free of other drugs and the concentration will be known, Layon noted.

“This is an excellent bill and it is time for us to vote on it and let the other body deal with it,” Layon said. “It is high time we pass this cannabis legislation.”

New Hampshire is the only state in New England that has not legalized its use.

But Rep. Ken Weyler, R-Kingston, opposed the bill noting none of the states that have legalized its use are bragging about how much money they made, or any reduction in violent crime.

What legalization has done is increase gang activity, violent crime, mental health illness, impacted highways, but has not eliminated the black market, he said.

“I’ve witnessed enough second thoughts in states (where it is legal),” Weyler said, “to know this is no route for New Hampshire to follow…”

The bill passed on a 239-136 vote and goes to the Senate.

Bail Reform

The House approved Senate Bill 318 which would reform the state’s bail system and would more reflect what the House has already passed for bail reform.

Under the House changes to the Senate passed in its reform package, the number of new magistrates to handle serious crimes now handled by bail commissioners would be reduced from 15 to 10 at a cost of $1.56 million.

A new bail information system would be funded at $1.7 million, and the bail commissioner fee would increase from $40 to $60.

A new training coordinator is established to oversee judicial and bail commissioner training and continuing educational requirements at $100,000.

And under the amended bill, the Department of Safety would receive $750,000 to develop an electronic system to share an individual’s bail condition status with law enforcement, while the Judicial Branch would receive $986,000 to develop a data platform.

Manchester Mayor Jay Ruais, who has been critical of the state’s current bail system, praised the House’s action calling it an important step forward.

“This legislation will be instrumental in addressing the shortcomings of our current bail reform laws and reaffirms our commitment to prioritizing the safety of our community,” he said.

Higher Ed Due Process

On a 196-184 vote, the House passed House Bill 1288 which establishes a new process for higher education disciplinary hearings for students, faculty and organizations that supporters say will protect their due process rights, but opponents say the changes will lead to litigation, and upend union contracts while efficient and effective systems are already in place.

The University System of New Hampshire has said the new system would cost between $1 million and $2 million to implement.

Supporters said there is no indication that any faculty, students or organizations have been unfairly treated under current systems, but the new process will lead to costly litigation, put federal grants at risk and require union contracts to be renegotiated.

Rep. Mary Hakken-Phillips, D-Hanover, called the bill an attorneys’ employment act.

“It is irresponsible because we already have an excellent disciplinary process that is appropriate and fair,” she said, “and New Hampshire already has a capable court system when the process fails.”

The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Windham, said if the university already has a process that protects due process rights, then it should not be concerned.

While they heard complaints from the university system, they did not hear one word from the unions to defend the current system or to speak against the bill, he noted.

Lynn wanted to know what right was not protected under the bill and said no one is going to litigate because there is too much fairness.

The bill now goes to the Senate.


The House approved appropriating $53 million to “fix” the last overhaul of the state retirement system a decade ago, which affected members who were currently public employees but not vested as yet, at 10 years of service.

The effect of the change was to reduce future benefits from what they would have received if the system had not changed benefit calculations from the time they first joined the system.

The money appropriated is for Group 2, which includes law enforcement, firefighters and emergency responders.

Supporters argued the additional money to increase benefits will make it easier to retain and attract employees.

The change will require an annual $1 million increase in state spending after the initial $53 million, and cities, towns and counties will have to increase their contributions to the retirement system by about $4 million annually as well.

Thursday was the last day for the House to send its bills to the Senate or what’s known as crossover.

Garry Rayno may be reached at garry.rayno@yahoo.com.

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