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Capital Beat

Capital Beat: Threat of cyber attacks on N.H. infrastructure may spur legislative action

It’s a scary scenario: hackers launching cyber attacks against the power grid, natural-gas distribution systems, cell towers, chemical plants, airports, dams and other so-called “critical infrastructure.”

A terrorist plot from the seventh season of 24? Yes. But it isn’t just fiction: President Obama in February issued an executive order declaring that “the cyber threat to critical infrastructure continues to grow and represents one of the most serious national security challenges we must confront.”

State Rep. David Murotake thinks New Hampshire should do its part. The Nashua Republican plans to introduce a bill next year that would create a commission to study cybersecurity problems and propose solutions related to protecting the state’s critical infrastructure.

The issue, he said, is that much of the rulemaking and lawmaking authority to protect those vital systems rests with the 50 states, not the federal government.

“It’s in our court,” Murotake said. “We’ve got to do something.”

The state Department of Information Technology is already working on cybersecurity issues – just last year, the Legislature added “developing and implementing a strategy to address cybersecurity risks to the state’s data, information and technology resources” to the legal duties of the department’s commissioner.

New Hampshire has a chief information security officer and a Cybersecurity Advisory Committee, and the creation of a State Cybersecurity Strategic Plan is under way, said Peter Hastings, commissioner of the IT department. But, he said, the agency’s focus is on the computer systems at executive branch agencies.

“We’re really protecting the state’s infrastructure as far as networks, servers, personally identifiable information,” Hastings said. Local water systems and the like, he said, “would be outside our purview.”

But Murotake, a member of the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee, wants to go further. He owns SCA Technica, a research and development firm, and said he attended a cybersecurity summit this spring where he learned more about the national initiative to protect critical infrastructure.

So he asked around in New Hampshire, and said he found there was no coordinated, integrated effort across all agencies to respond to the threat.

“I’m not pointing fingers. This is a very new initiative nationally,” Murotake said. “People finally woke up and said, ‘We’ve got to do something.’”

Murotake’s bill, which is still being drafted, would create a study commission to identify problems and possible solutions, coordinating across executive-branch agencies, the Legislature and regulatory bodies like the Public Utilities Commission.

If enabling legislation is needed, he said, it could be introduced in 2015. And, he said, the commission would remain in place past 2014 to coordinate and oversee efforts.

“It’s just something I think we need to do,” Murotake said.

Brown’s PAC

What on earth is Scott Brown doing?

The former Massachusetts senator has been a frequent visitor to New Hampshire in recent months, headlining Republican fundraisers and stoking speculation he might switch states and run against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in 2014 – a possibility he’s pointedly declined to rule out.

The latest (possible) clue: On Oct. 11, Scott filed paperwork with the secretary of state’s office registering The People’s Seat PAC Inc. as a New Hampshire political committee.

The People’s Seat PAC is the new name for Brown’s old U.S. Senate campaign committee, and it had $187,000 on hand as of Sept. 30, according to the Federal Election Commission.

The New Hampshire filing listed the PAC’s purpose as “to back strong, dedicated candidates, and continue efforts to bring reform to government.” It indicated it would spend money in the 2014 state primary and general elections, but didn’t list any specific candidates.

Brown didn’t return a message seeking information about his intentions.

Candidate Garcia

State Rep. Marilinda Garcia for Congress?

Garcia, a Salem Republican serving her fourth term, has gotten a lot of attention from national GOP groups in recent years. Now Garcia, 30, appears to be eyeing Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster’s seat in the U.S. House.

The New Hampshire Union Leader reported last week that Garcia has told a number of Republicans that she’s seriously thinking about running in the 2nd District next year.

Garcia isn’t saying much: “I don’t have any further information to share at present,” she wrote in an email.

But a run wouldn’t come out of the blue. The Republican National Committee this August named Garcia a “rising star,” and Kuster appears vulnerable despite the district’s slight Democratic tilt – a University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll this month showed Kuster tied with Republican Gary Lambert.

But to face Kuster, Garcia would have to get through a primary fight with Lambert, a one-term former state senator from Nashua.

He has a head start. Lambert had $173,000 in the bank as of Sept. 30, and last week he rolled out his first 15 campaign co-chairs, including state Sens. Sharon Carson and Bob Odell and state Reps. Leon Rideout and Joe Sweeney.

FRM deadlock

A proposed state restitution fund for victims of the Financial Resources Mortgage Ponzi scheme is still in limbo.

After the Lakes Region firm collapsed in 2009, the two men who ran what officials called the largest Ponzi scheme in New Hampshire history went to federal prison. But a number of investigations faulted state regulators for not stopping the scam, so Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat, filed a bill this year creating a special “recovery fund” for FRM victims that would repay them for their losses.

It passed the Senate on a voice vote, but the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee retained the bill for more work. It’ll head to the floor in January, but without a committee recommendation – the panel deadlocked last week, 10-10.

“We need to talk about what is best for the state and what is best for the victims of FRM,” said Rep. Ed Butler, a Democrat from Hart’s Location and chairman of the commerce committee.

Butler doesn’t want to tip his hand about what he might try when the bill hits the floor. But he said he has no interest in sending the bill to interim study, which would keep it in legislative limbo.

“It has been a long and difficult process, both for the state and the victims of the FRM Ponzi scheme, and much has come to light. . . . Continuing to study it in order to not come to a conclusion, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Butler said.

Can’t stay away

Amanda “Mandy” Merrill is ready to return to the State House.

The Durham Democrat hasn’t been away for long – after five terms in the House and two in the Senate, she opted not to run for re-election last year.

Last week, she filed to run in a special election to fill the House seat representing Durham and Madbury left vacant when Democrat Phil Ginsburg resigned last month.

Republican Deidre Lepkowski of Madbury also filed to run in the Democratic-leaning district.

Hassan lovefest

Wondering why top Republicans aren’t exactly lining up to face Gov. Maggie Hassan next year?

This month’s Granite State Poll from the UNH Survey Center found Hassan’s approval numbers are approaching John Lynch territory – 57 percent said they approve of the job she’s doing, versus 14 percent who disapproved of the first-term Democrat.

How popular is Hassan? For almost every group broken down in the poll, a majority or plurality approved of her work: liberals, conservatives, Union Leader readers, New Hampshire Public Radio listeners, North Country residents, weekly churchgoers, etc.

Even self-identified Republicans approve of her, 36 percent to 26 percent, though it’s a 32 percent/32 percent split when limited to registered Republicans.

The only group that really didn’t like Hassan? Tea Party supporters, with 44 percent disapproving versus 22 percent who approved.

The poll, taken Oct. 7-16, surveyed 663 adult residents and had a 3.8 percent margin of error.

(In case you’re wondering, Lynch’s numbers in the UNH poll last October as he prepared to leave office after a record four terms: 70 percent approval, 20 percent disapproval.)

Quick takes

∎ Shaheen will be a guest this morning on CBS’s Face the Nation, her first time on the program and her first appearance on a nationally televised Sunday talk show since November 2009.

∎ Jon Gould of North Hampton will be a White House intern this fall, along with three out-of-staters who attend or attended New Hampshire colleges: Jonathon Freye of New England College, and Jessica Steinmetz and Nancy Wu, both of Dartmouth College.

∎ The Free State Project announced Friday that 15,000 liberty activists have signed up to move en masse to New Hampshire once they reach the goal of 20,000. The group said it expects to hit that mark sometime in 2015.

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

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