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Lawmakers work on bills to create benefit corporations, fund high school robotics teams

Death penalty repeal, casino gambling, gun background checks and marijuana legalization are among the bills that have dominated the headlines and minds of lawmakers and lobbyists so far this legislative year.

While these bills seem to be grabbing all the attention, they’re far from the only laws being worked on at the State House. This year alone, lawmakers filed more than 700 bills. Each bill gets a committee hearing in New Hampshire, meaning the 21 House and 11 Senate standing committees have had their hands full.

Many of them, such as one that would have stopped communities from buying military-style vehicles, like BearCats, faced sure death from the start, while others, such as the recently passed Joshua’s Law establishing a crime of domestic violence, made it through both chambers almost unanimously. Other bills that have come before lawmakers with little fanfare deal with creating benefit corporations, protecting student privacy, giving financial aid to high school robotics clubs, increasing protections for animals in domestic violence situations and strengthening protections for doctors who report someone as medically unfit to drive.

Here’s a look at those bills:

Benefit corporations

Corporations in New Hampshire will soon be authorized to take on a social component in addition to traditional fiduciary responsibilities if they elect to become a “benefit corporation” under a law passed by both chambers and now on the governor’s desk.

Sen. Molly Kelly, a Keene Democrat, introduced the bill. In a piece for the New Hampshire Business Review she explained that under current corporate laws, companies are only beholden to their shareholders, meaning those shareholders can bring action against companies that do anything other than work to maximize profits. This legislation would legally allow those companies to pursue other missions that benefit the public good, too. W.S. Badger Co. of Gilsum, Bagelworks and Hypertherm are three New Hampshire companies that told senators they’d be interested in pursuing this status, Kelly said.

Rep. Ed Butler, chairman of the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee, said the committee heard testimony that young people are now looking to work for businesses with a social responsibility component and that there are investment firms that give money to companies specifically because of social responsibility missions.

Under the law, benefit corporations will have to file annual reports outlining how they have fulfilled the public good that are available to shareholders and the public. No corporation is required to become a benefit corporation.

Student privacy

The Department of Education may soon follow new rules to ensure protection of student data if a bill by Rep. Neal Kurk, a Weare Republican and privacy advocate, is signed into law. The bill has passed both chambers and prohibits the department from collecting and storing certain student data in a statewide system used to measure overall student progress. Under this bill, prohibited data includes names of students’ family members, home addresses, email addresses and phone numbers as well as criminal records, medical information, Social Security numbers, religious affiliations and more.

The bill also says schools can’t monitor or track students without public approval or written consent of their parents. Finally, it prohibits schools from installing surveillance software on student devices, such as iPads or laptop computers, without parental consent.

Concern over student privacy has swelled as schools begin using new computerized assessments under the Common Core education standards. The New Hampshire Department of Education supports this bill and it has passed both chambers.

Robotics money

High school robotics teams have been expanding as the emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math grows. But there are many costs to these programs, including buying equipment to build the robots and finding money to travel to competitions, which are held across the state and country.

Rep. Norm Major, a Plaistow Republican, introduced a bill that will create a state “robotics education fund” that will give state money to help schools fund their robotics teams and make robotics available to more public school students. The state Department of Education will run the fund and can accept donations from outside groups. This bill would help ensure robotics teams from all schools, not just affluent schools, have the money to travel to competitions and grow their programs.

This bill has passed the House and is now before the Senate Finance Committee.

Animal protections

A bill now before the Senate would allow victims of domestic violence to obtain protective orders to keep abusers away from household animals. The bill, requested by Franklin police Chief David Goldstein, passed through the House earlier this session. It is one of a handful of bills aimed at strengthening domestic violence laws that have come before lawmakers this session.

Under the bill, victims could receive protective orders for themselves and their pets if they can demonstrate they are in immediate danger and the abuser has practiced animal cruelty. The protective order could give the victim custody of the household pet even if it belongs to the abuser.

Statistics show domestic violence abusers often attack pets as a means of agitating or psychologically controlling their victims. Some victims, for example, may be afraid to leave their homes to get help because they fear their abusers will harm the family pet when they leave. Roughly 70 percent of abused women say their abuser has maimed, harmed, killed or threatened to kill the family pet, according to statistics from the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Medically unfit to drive

A bill now on the governor’s desk would protect medical professionals from lawsuits, criminal or civil, if they report someone as medically unfit to drive. Licensed doctors and other medical providers can voluntarily make these reports under current law, but officials from the Department of Safety have said they believe there is under-reporting because doctors fear lawsuits. Under the law, drivers would still be able to request a hearing to challenge their right to drive but could not bring legal proceedings against the doctors who file the reports.

AAA, AARP and the New Hampshire Medical Society all supported this bill. New Hampshire recently repealed its law requiring driver’s tests for people over 75. With those tests gone, this bill is aimed at ensuring doctors are voluntarily reporting anyone they feel could be a danger to others if behind the wheel.

Although some senators were skeptical of the bill during a committee hearing, it passed the chamber last week on a voice vote.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

HYPOCRISY at a major level. QUOTE: "state “robotics education fund” that will give state money to help schools fund their robotics teams and make robotics available to more public school students." democrats fought to kill the scholarships to students for school choice because it crippled schools funding. ......hmmmmmm

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