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Some N.H. bars could get later last call as House sends bill to Hassan

New Hampshire is on track to let individual towns and cities decide whether to let their bars stay open until 2 a.m., an hour later than the current statewide closing time of 1 a.m.

The Democratic-controlled House yesterday voted, 220-109, to concur with changes made by the Republican-controlled Senate last month to a bill first passed by the House in March.

That sends the legislation to Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, who has indicated she will sign it.

“As the bill as amended now allows local communities to decide whether or not to opt-in to the new last call, the governor is inclined to sign the legislation,” said spokesman Marc Goldberg.

The bill as it initially passed the House would have extended the closing time for bars statewide to 2 a.m., except in towns and cities that opted out.

But with the Senate’s changes, the statewide closing time would remain at 1 a.m. Towns and cities would be able to extend their closing time to 2 a.m. by vote of the town meeting or city council.

“The commerce committee considered these changes and agreed to them, feeling that they do, in fact, improve the options given to our towns and cities,” said Rep. Ed Butler, a Hart’s Location Democrat and chairman of the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee.

But Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, a Manchester Republican, argued the House’s bill was superior and, instead of concurring with the Senate’s changes, the House should have requested a committee of conference to negotiate with the Senate.

“The House could present its point of view – a much saner point of view, in my humble opinion – and the Senate could present its point of view, and maybe we could arrive at a better bill than simply rolling over,” Vaillancourt said.

Purple Heart plates

The House yesterday passionately debated, and eventually passed, legislation allowing a widow or widower to continue using Purple Heart license plates earned by their deceased spouse.

“The spouse doesn’t want the plate simply to say, ‘I won it. I was awarded it. I shed the blood.’ No! They want it to honor. They want it because they’re proud. They want it in reverence and respect, and to remember and continue showing people they love their fallen soldier, Marine, sailor, Coast Guardsman, any member of the service,” said Rep. Dan Dumaine, an Auburn Republican.

The Purple Heart is earned by military servicemen and servicewomen killed or wounded in combat, and New Hampshire provides special Purple Heart license plates to residents who received the medal.

Under the bill, a surviving spouse would be able to keep using the plates after a qualifying veteran’s death, unless he or she remarried. It passed the Senate on a voice vote, and the House Transportation Committee endorsed it on a 13-4 vote.

But a number of veterans spoke against the bill yesterday, arguing the Purple Heart is a special recognition for individuals and not a family heirloom to be inherited.

“There is a very wide gulf, a very broad chasm, impossible to bridge, between those who have actually shed blood or lost their life and those who have sorrowfully suffered with the loss or a maiming or a wound of a loved one,” said Rep. John Cebrowski, a Bedford Republican. “The afflicted and the affected – while linked, while linked – are vastly different and poles apart.”

After two unsuccessful attempts to table the bill, and an unsuccessful attempt to attach the text of a bill previously killed by the Senate as an amendment, the House voted to pass the legislation, 188-158. Thirty-three Republicans joined 155 Democrats to support the bill, while 29 Democrats and 129 Republicans voted against it.

It now goes to Hassan, who hasn’t said whether she will sign it.

“The governor understands the importance of respecting and honoring the sacrifices of our veterans, and she looks forward to hearing from legislators and members of New Hampshire’s veterans community as she considers the legislation,” Goldberg said.

Other action

Representatives broke into applause yesterday after they voted, 336-0, to pass an amended version of a Senate bill reforming the Business Corporation Act, which governs how businesses are formed and operate in New Hampshire.

On a 180-140 vote, the House passed an amended version of a Senate bill regulating the relatively new profession of genetic counseling.

And on a 170-113 vote, the House passed a Senate bill making changes to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard law, removing a provision that would define trash incinerators as a source of renewable energy but adding unrelated language dealing with health care reform implementation.

The House also requested committees of conference on a dozen bills where the House and the Senate disagree on details large and small, including bills dealing with absentee ballots, the voter ID law and medical marijuana.

If the Senate agrees, negotiators from the two chambers will try to work out compromises on those pieces of legislation and bring them back later this month for a final vote.

The House will next meet June 26.

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

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