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House, Senate cut deals on voter ID reform, medical marijuana, CHINS and more

Senate and House negotiators struck a last-minute deal yesterday to reform New Hampshire’s voter ID law, ensuring student ID cards will continue to be accepted as a valid form of identification at the polls.

“I think it’s a good compromise,” said Rep. Gary Richardson of Hopkinton, the Democratic floor leader in the House.

Negotiations between the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-led House on a bill making changes to last year’s voter ID law broke down early in the week. But the two sides continue to talk informally, and yesterday morning the committee of conference chaired by Richardson finalized a new version of the bill.

It will go before the House and Senate on Wednesday for a final vote. If it passes, it will go to Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat.

Under the deal, the list of acceptable forms of ID will narrow as planned starting Sept. 1. But student IDs, which could be used at the polls last year, will be added to that list and remain a valid form of identification for voters.

In addition, voters 65 and older will be able to use an expired card, such as an old driver’s license, as valid identification.

Under current law, starting in September, voters who don’t present an ID and instead fill out an affidavit must be photographed by poll workers. Under the deal struck yesterday, that requirement will be delayed until 2015.

“All in all, it was a reasonable compromise that we all got behind,” Sen. David Boutin, a Hooksett Republican and the chief Senate negotiator.

Richardson and Boutin both said they expect a bill will be filed next year to delete the photo-taking requirement entirely. Richardson said House Democrats wanted to delete the photo-taking requirement now, but were willing to push it off.

“The House’s position was that the provision requiring town and city clerks to take photographs should have been repealed. Unfortunately, the Senate was not able to get to that point,” Richardson said.

The voter ID bill was one of 42 pieces of legislation that went to committees of conference this month to resolve differences between the versions passed by the House and Senate. The conference committees completed their work yesterday.

Agreements couldn’t be reached on a few bills. But the rest, including the next state budget and capital budget, will get final votes next week.

Medical marijuana

Hassan has said she’ll sign a compromise version of a bill legalizing the medicinal use of marijuana, assuming it passes the Legislature next week.

The bill allows qualifying patients to obtain cannabis from one of four special dispensaries across the state, abandoning the House’s proposal that patients and/or their caretakers be allowed to grow their own marijuana.

“I have always maintained that allowing doctors to provide relief to patients through the use of appropriately regulated and dispensed medical marijuana is the compassionate and right policy for the state of New Hampshire,” Hassan said in a statement. “The compromise legislation as agreed to by the committee of conference addresses the concerns that I have heard and expressed throughout this session, and provides the level of regulation needed for the use of medical marijuana.”

Medical marijuana laws are already on the books in 18 states plus the District of Columbia, though the drug remains illegal under federal law.

CHINS

The House and Senate will vote Wednesday on a bill that rebuilds the Children in Need of Services program, which saw deep cuts in the budget two years ago.

The program provided services to truants, runaways and other children with behavioral problems, aiming to intervene before their wrongdoing could escalate to criminal behavior. It once served about 1,000 kids a year, but the 2011 budget reduced its scope to only the 50 or so most serious cases.

The compromise bill enacts legal language needed to get the program under way, and money for CHINS is included in the compromise state budget for the next two years.

The bill also orders the Department of Health and Human Services to study the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester, including ways it could be run differently or repurposed entirely.

A separate bill already signed into law by Hassan provides for a study of how to improve CHINS in the future.

“We have improved access to the CHINS program by creating an option of voluntary services. This bill will also reduce occupancy of the Sununu Center, saving the state tens of thousands of dollars, while ensuring only our most dangerous youths are incarcerated,” said Rep. Mary Beth Walz, a Bow Democrat and chairwoman of the House Children and Family Law Committee, in a statement.

Liquor Commission

The House and Senate agreed to reform the semi-autonomous New Hampshire Liquor Commission, replacing the three-member panel with a single commissioner and a deputy commissioner, both of whom would serve four-year terms.

Joseph Mollica, the current chairman of the commission, is expected to become the commissioner, and current commissioner Michael Milligan is expected to serve as his deputy. The panel’s third seat is vacant.

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

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