House backs bill targeting Northern Pass, approves in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants
The House passed a bill yesterday that targets the Northern Pass project by favoring underground transmission lines.
The bill suggests that the state’s Site Evaluation Committee should give preference to underground power lines when issuing permits for energy projects. The House voted to approve it, 171-139. It will now go to the Ways and Means Committee before returning to the full House.
Rep. Robert Theberge said the bill could prevent a “scar in New Hampshire’s landscape,” referring to the 187 miles of transmission lines proposed for Northern Pass.
“Unfortunately, if transmission line towers were constructed, they would negatively impact the aesthetics to the entrance of the White Mountains and threaten New Hampshire’s tourism industry,” said Theberge, a Democrat from Berlin.
Under the bill approved yesterday, the Site Evaluation Committee would need to presume that transmission lines would have an “unreasonably adverse effect on aesthetics” if they are not “substantially buried.” Underground lines would be preferred, but not required.
The bill’s opponents said the Legislature should not provide instructions to the Site Evaluation Committee, or SEC.
“We know that the public has made itself heard to the SEC and had an impact on SEC decisions,” said Rep. Jackie Cali-Pitts, a Portsmouth Democrat. “I wouldn’t presume to tell them how to do their job, no more than I would presume to tell the (House) clerk how to do hers. . . . That is not the way to set a healthy business environment in this state, and I believe that with my whole heart.”
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.”
Northern Pass officials look forward to seeing the bill go before the Ways and Means Committee before “giving the full House another chance to consider its potential impacts,” spokeswoman Lauren Collins said in a statement last night.
“New Hampshire and New England have an immediate need to find new sources of clean, affordable energy,” she said. “We should be doing what we can to foster renewable development, not stand in the way with a bill that goes against good public policy.”
The proposed Northern Pass route includes 8 miles of underground transmission lines. The project is a partnership between Public Service of New Hampshire, Hydro-Quebec and Northeast Utilities, and would bring hydropower through New Hampshire from Canada to the New England energy grid. The $1.4 billion project is still seeking federal permits before it goes to the Site Evaluation Committee for approval.
Rep. Larry Rappaport, a Colebrook Republican, said New Hampshire should not face consequences for a project that would deliver power to other states.
“Well, if we’re going to have transmission lines that won’t help us, why should we have to suffer for them?” he asked. “I don’t believe we should.”
The bill approved yesterday is not the only pending legislation that could affect Northern Pass. Next week, the House will consider a bill that would establish a moratorium on wind turbine plants and electric transmission lines. Another bill, proposed in the Senate this year, would require the state to pursue underground transmission lines for energy projects.
The House passed a bill yesterday, 188-155, that would give in-state tuition to children of undocumented immigrants who graduate from New Hampshire high schools. The bill passed along party lines (eight Republicans voted for it and 11 Democrats against it) and will now head to the Republican-led Senate.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Peter Schmidt, a Dover Democrat, would make undocumented immigrants who spend at least three years at and graduate from a New Hampshire high school eligible for in-state tuition at the state’s public universities. Each student would also need to file an application for U.S. citizenship to be eligible.
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, and he said it represents a “defining moment” for New Hampshire.
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, Ladd said. 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 also on the House Education Committee, said people who commit the crime of entering the country illegally should not benefit by receiving in-state tuition. Rep. Patrick Bick, a Salem Republican who also opposed the bill, talked about families and people he’s met who moved to the United States legally.
The bill is a “slap in the face to every citizen, every legal immigrant and every person waiting in another country to enter this country,” he said.
In response to questions about cost, 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 of New Hampshire is supportive of the bill, and noted that the bill does not change the legal status of anyone receiving tuition.
“This is not an immigration bill; this is an education bill,” he said.
Health worker drug testing
A bill requiring health care facilities to develop drug testing policies for employees passed the House easily by a vote of 289-48.
The bill was introduced in response to a 2012 hepatitis C outbreak started by an Exeter Hospital employee. Former hospital technician David Kwiatkowski, who knew he was infected with hepatitis C, stole and injected himself with the painkiller fentanyl then returned the tainted syringes to the hospital. He was sentenced last year to 39 years in prison for federal drug charges, and he infected 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 to test employees when a “reasonable suspicion exists.” Any employees, contractors or agents who work directly with clients will be subject to the policies.
Under the bill, 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-worker reporting; processes for investigating, reporting and resolving drug misuse; and several other requirements.
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. Tabling a bill sets it aside, and is in essence a way of blocking legislation without actually voting against it.
∎ The House passed a change to a law that fast-tracks medical malpractice cases. The “early offer” law allowing patients with medical malpractice claims to seek early settlements instead of going to trial became law last year. A repeal was suggested last year, but the House instead voted to revise the law yesterday. The bill would allow patients in malpractice cases to recover their lost earning capacity and would no longer require them to pay a defendant’s legal fees if granted a certain reward in court.
∎ The House passed a bill that would let individuals eligible for Medicaid-funded nursing home care choose community-based services.
∎ The House killed a bill that would change annual allowances for retired judges.
∎ A bill that would change retirement plans for university police officers was referred to interim study to allow for more research time.
∎ The House killed a bill that would require employers to verify an employee’s eligibility to work in the United States.
(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lmccrystal. Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or email@example.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)