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Special House joint committee to handle Senate-backed casino bill

A special 45-member House committee will look at the Senate-endorsed bill to allow a single casino in New Hampshire, Speaker Terie Norelli announced yesterday.

Senate Bill 152, which would allow a casino and bring in $80 million in state revenue from a license fee, is one of the most controversial pieces of legislation at the State House this year.

Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, has endorsed it, and it passed the Republican-led Senate last month. But the House, which has a Democratic majority, has long been hostile to proposals for expanded gambling in the state.

The special committee will include all members of both the budget writing House Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, which deals with taxes and revenue. Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, a Concord Democrat and chairwoman of the Finance Committee, will chair the joint committee, which will examine the bill before it goes to the House floor for a vote sometime before early June.

“I am confident that by assembling the expertise and wisdom of these two committees we will ensure the proposed bill will be given the level of scrutiny needed for an undertaking of this magnitude,” Norelli, a Portsmouth Democrat, said in a statement. “The people of New Hampshire deserve that level of consideration for a decision that could impact our state for decades to come.”

The joint committee will have 25 Democrats and 20 Republicans. A public hearing on the bill hasn’t yet been announced.

Norelli’s office said having a joint committee look at legislation is unusual but not unheard of – in 2008, for example, a special House committee was established to handle two pension-reform bills.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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