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Editorial: All eyes on the state Senate

In 2010, many New Hampshire voters cast ballots with little knowledge of where candidates really stood on the issues. The result was the 2011-12 Legislature, a governing body whose antics and extremism made national news, poisoned relations between opposing parties and earned the scorn of citizens. In the November voters ousted quite a few eccentrics and ideologues, and the session that began this month promises to run more smoothly and be more productive. To ensure that it does, voters shouldn’t wait until the fall of 2014 to check the track records of office holders but begin keeping tabs on them now.

Here are some issues likely to come up and, since the decisive vote on many of them will likely be in the Senate, the senators to watch.

The death penalty: The House will again consider a bill abolishing capital punishment. In 2000, when lawmakers in both houses voted to abolish the death penalty, Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vetoed the bill. In 2009, a repeal bill passed the House but died in the Senate after a veto threat by Gov. John Lynch. Gov. Maggie Hassan is a long-time opponent of the death penalty, and the House likely to vote for repeal so the fate of the bill will likely be decided in the Senate.

Repealing the education tax credit: Last year, the Legislature enacted a law of questionable constitutionality that broke with New Hampshire’s long history of forbidding taxpayer support of religious schools. It instituted what is in effect a voucher program that transfers money destined for the state treasury to private schools, including some with a religious affiliation. A repeal attempt has been launched and the voucher program, which robs public schools of sorely needed resources, deserves, to use Grover Norquist’s phrase, to be drowned in the bathtub before it grows any larger.

Minimum wage: Last time around, Republicans overrode Lynch’s veto of a bill that repealed New Hampshire’s minimum wage law. Since the state and federal minimum wages were, at the time, both $7.25 per hour, the bill’s intent was to prevent the state from enacting a minimum wage that’s higher than the federal figure, something other states have done. The state law deserves reinstatement. Once again, the issue will be decided in the Senate.

Medical marijuana: A Lynch veto prevented New Hampshire from joining the other states that have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes with a physician’s prescription. Hassan supports the legal use of medical marijuana, and the next bill is likely to become law.

Voter ID: The new law that requires voters to present a state-sanctioned photo identification card was ostensibly enacted to prevent voter fraud, which, if it exists at all, is a minuscule issue.

The bill’s real intent was to erect a barrier that could prevent large numbers of the young, the elderly, minorities and the poor, demographic groups likely to vote Democratic, from voting. The law deserves repeal.

Stand Your Ground: Penacook Rep. Stephen Shurtleff plans to file a bill to repeal a new state law, passed over a Lynch veto, that permits the use of deadly force by anyone who, while in a place they are entitled to be, believes that their life is being threatened, even if they could defuse the situation without violence by retreating. Shurtleff seeks a return to the state’s “castle doctrine” which eliminates the duty to retreat and permits the use of deadly force by someone when in their own home. His proposal is a reasonable attempt to prevent avoidable gunplay and deaths. Voters should keep close tabs on how their senator votes on Shurtleff’s bill.

Quite a few Republican senators held or gained their seats in the 2013 Senate by a relatively close margin – in one case, with a cushion of just 24 votes. The senators to watch most closely this session are Dave Boutin in District 16; Jeanie Forrester in District 2; Bob Odell in District 8; Andy Sanborn in District 9; John Reagan in District 17; and Nancy Stiles in District 24.

Get your scorecard ready. The session has begun.

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