Several contested bills fail to survive initial talks

·4 min read

May 12—CONCORD — The state Senate took a tough stance at the opening of negotiations over remaining 2022 bills Thursday, killing outright several attempts by House leaders to keep their pet issues alive.

The House of Representatives and Senate each held four-hour long sessions at which members decided which bills they wanted to try to work out during the final weeks of the session.

On several issues, Senate Republicans balked at reaching consensus and instead decided that House changes to the bills were unacceptable.

"Your job is to defend the Senate position," said Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, at one point.

Fiscal conservatives were especially unhappy when the Senate killed without debate a bill (HB 1432) to block spending any state dollars on a future return of commuter rail to New Hampshire.

Business leaders and other rail supporters had argued the legislation was premature because an ongoing study early next year will report on how the state could pay to bring passenger rail from Boston to Manchester and on to Concord.

"Taxpayers have every right to be outraged that senators have chosen to keep New Hampshire citizens on the hook for commuter rail subsidies," said Greg Moore, state director of Americans for Prosperity, a fiscally conservative interest group that lobbied for the bill's passage. "While all Granite Staters would have to pay for the subsidy, very few would actually ride on these trains.

"Governor Sununu has rightly called this a 'boondoggle' and said it doesn't make sense. The folks who are paying the bills should be asking senators why they think taxpayers should be protected from this scam."

Some Democratic lawmakers and libertarian-minded Republicans weren't happy to learn the Senate also killed an unrelated bill (SB 299) because the House had attached to it legislation to let adults grow marijuana plants at home for personal use (HB 629).

"I think this comes down to both the will of the people of New Hampshire and what is practical," said Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, who supported the home grow bill.

"New Hampshire is an island, surrounded by states that allow this."

Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, said this change would lead to more health problems and greater access for young people to marijuana.

"A robust workforce is not a stoned workforce," he said.

Manchester Democrats against pot home grow

The Senate voted, 15-9, to kill this bill with all three Senate Democrats from Manchester opposed to the legislation, along with 12 Senate Republicans.

Sens. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, and Harold French, R-Canterbury, joined the other Senate Democrats in support of it.

The Senate also killed a bill popular with House conservatives that would permit citizens to claim a conscientious objection to a vaccine mandate for any public employer or private company that takes government money (HB 1210).

The House had attached the bill to another one to expand Medicaid coverage to include post-partum care (SB 407). The Senate already had stuck the post-partum issue onto another pending bill.

House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, and Senate President Morse agreed to name a team of four House members and three senators to try to work out a compromise plan for redistricting of the two congressional districts (SB 200).

"We are confident that our respective committees will be transparent, inclusive, and ultimately successful in their efforts," Packard and Morse said in a joint statement.

Ivermectin bill headed to governor's desk

The House and Senate did agree Thursday to give final approval to other measures.

The House voted, 157-148, to approve Senate changes to its legislation (HB 1022) that will allow ivermectin to be dispensed without a prescription.

Many have pursued the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 even though the Centers for Disease Control has said there isn't evidence that it's an effective medication.

The Senate limited the bill to a two-year change, with a new commission reviewing whether it should be made permanent.

"It is inappropriate and backwards for the Legislature to pretend there is a consensus and then evaluate to see if one exists," said State Rep. Jerry Knirk, D-Freedom, and a retired surgeon.

"Legislation must be informed by the best available evidence, not poor studies, and wishful thinking. Plain and simple, we should not legislate the practice of medicine."

House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee Mark Pearson, R-Hampstead, said this bill will keep citizens safe.

"This use is not versus getting vaccinations, but instead of getting ivermectin from farm supply stores," Pearson said.

klandrigan@unionleader.com

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