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State House Live: House backs bill that targets Northern Pass

Update, 5:32 p.m.: The House passed a bill that would give preference to energy projects with underground transmission lines.

The bill targets the Northern Pass project, and suggests that the state's site evaluation committee should give preference to the burial of power lines. The House voted to approve it, 171-139.

Rep. Robert Theberge, a Democrat from Berlin, said underground transmission lines would preserve the beauty of the White Mountains and protect its tourism industry. Referring to the Northern Pass project, Theberge said the bill could prevent "a 40-mile scar in New Hampshire's landscape."

Rep. John Burt, a Goffstown Republican, said the bill would "make it more difficult to bring new power sources into the market and leave us even more vulnerable to natural gas."

The bill goes next to a House committee for additional review.

Look for a full account of today's House action in tomorrow's Concord Monitor.

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Update, 3:50 p.m.: The House voted 289-48 in support of a bill that requires health care facilities to develop drug testing policies for employees.

The bill was introduced in response to a hepatitis C outbreak started by an Exeter Hospital employee. Hospital technician David Kwiatkowski, who knew he was infected with hepatitis C, was stealing and injecting himself with the painkiller fentanyl then returning the tainted syringes to the hospital. He was sentenced to 39 years in prison for infecting more than 45 people in eight states.

The bill requires all licensed health care facilities in the state to implement drug-free workplace policies and must test employees where a "reasonable suspicion exists." Any employees, contractors or agents who work directly with clients will be subject to the policies.

Under the law, each facility can craft its own policy that must include: Education for health care workers, procedures for monitoring storage and distribution of controlled substance inventory, procedures for co-working reporting, processes for investigating, reporting and resolving drug misuse and several other requirements.

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Update, 1:16 p.m.: The House killed a bill that would have required labels on food that is the product of genetic engineering.

Rep. Jim Parison, a New Ipswich Republican, said the issue has caused an emotional response from residents who do not understand the details of the bill. He said it would hurt New Hampshire retailers and become expensive for the state.

"Most of the people who are flooding you with robo-mail have no clue what's in this bill. Yet many of you are convinced that we need to vote for it," Parison said.

The House killed the bill on a close vote, 185-162.

Supporters said the bill would have allowed consumers to know what is in their food.

"Our constituents have spoken about safety concerns," said Rep. Peter Bixby, a Dover Democrat. "Mandatory labeling would empower these individuals to make their own decisions."

Rep. Tim Smith, a Manchester Democrat, said he heard from many constituents who are in favor of labeling food with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. He read a letter from one woman who said, "I just want to know what goes into the food I give my children, ages 3 and 8."

Rep. Bob Haefner, a Hudson Republican, said the state cannot regulate food that comes to New Hampshire from other states.

"I will never argue about a right to know," he said. "But … this is a federal issue. It is not a state issue."

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Update, 11:33: The House overwhelmingly voted to table an anti-animal cruelty bill that has been opposed by animal rights groups.

The bill would require anyone who records livestock or poultry being abused to report it to law enforcement officials within 48 hours. It has been labeled as an "ag-gag" bill by some animal rights advocates, who said its aim is to prevent evidence of animal abuse from becoming public.

The House voted, 329-15, to table the bill without debate this morning. Tabling a bill sets it aside, and is in essence a way of blocking legislation without actually voting against it.

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Update, 11:29: The House passed a bill this morning, 188-155, that would give in-state tuition to children of illegal immigrants who graduate from New Hampshire high schools.

The bill would allow undocumented immigrants who spend at least three years at and graduate from a New Hampshire high school to receive in-state tuition at the state’s public universities. Those students would also need to file an application for citizenship.

New Hampshire graduates 15,000 students from public and private high schools each year, and roughly 60 of them are undocumented immigrants, said Rep. Rick Ladd, a Haverill Republican who spoke in favor of the bill. Of those 60 students, an estimated 15 would seek to attend a four-year college. (There are no tuition differences for students attending two-year colleges.)

There is a roughly $13,000 difference in tuition per year for in-state and out-of-state residents at the University of New Hampshire.

Ladd was the only Republican to speak in favor of the bill.

“It’s a defining bill whether you’re a red state or a blue state or a red or blue personality,” he said.

While working on the bill, the House Education Committee heard testimony from students who spent their entire public education in New Hampshire schools and didn’t learn they were illegal immigrants until they were teenagers. These children play on school sports teams, complete their homework and consider New Hampshire their home.

“If we want in fact to have a society that’s productive and meeting the needs of the 21st century, we should encourage every student that’s in this state to pursue as much education that he or she can do,” Ladd said.

But Rep. Ralph Boehm, a Litchfield Republican and member of the House Education Committee, said people who commit a crime, such as entering the country illegally, should not benefit by receiving in-state tuition.

The bill will be sent straight to the Senate, where it faces a tougher road to passage.

Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, a Manchester Republican, asked what this bill would cost the university system given the roughly $13,000 difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition.

Rep. Andrew Schmidt, a Grantham Democrat, said the financial impact would be insignificant because only 10 to 15 students annually would receive in-state tuition under the bill. He also said the university system is supportive of the bill.

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The House has another busy agenda as it convenes today.

On tap for today's session: In-state college tuition for children of undocumented immigrants, GMO labeling and more.

We’ll keep you updated as the day unfolds.

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