State House Live: N.H. Senate approves bill that allows annulment of medical records
5:12 p.m.: Senators have approved a bill, 17-7, that creates a process for people to annul their mental health records and remove their names from a national gun background checks system.
The original version of the bill would’ve required the state to report names of mentally ill people to the system. But during hearings, senators heard testimony from people who said there was no way to remove their name from that list if their mental health improved. Sen. Andy Sanborn, a Bedford Republican, reference veterans coming home with post-traumatic stress disorder as people who deserve to have their records annulled if their health improves.
Sen. Sharon Carson, a Londonderry Republican, said the bill was about restoring Second Amendment rights to citizens.
“These people are caught up in a system that they cannot get out of,” Carson said.
Another piece of the bill would’ve set up a committee to study how New Hampshire deals with mentally ill people and guns. The Senate killed that portion of the bill in a separate vote.
But several Democrats said the bill had too many questions and might place too much of a burden on local judges who must determine whether to annul a person’s record. Sen. Donna Soucy, a Manchester Democrat, said the bill was “putting the cart before the horse” and that the issue needed further study.
The bill, Soucy said, “will put guns into people’s hands instead of considering a more thoughtful approach to who should have weapons.”
1:52 p.m.: Senators voted by a slim margin to allow alcohol advertising on billboards, something which has been prohibited for the past 25 years.
The vote was 13-11, and came after a number of tie votes in attempts to table and kill the bill. Sen. Sam Catadlo, a Farmington Republican, ended the standoff by flipping his vote from no to yes.
Opponents said allowing for alcohol ads on the side of the road could lead to an increase in underage drinking and make teenager think drinking while driving is OK. New Hampshire has the second highest underage drinking rates in the country, said Sen. Jeanie Forrester, a Meredith Republican who strongly opposed the bill.
“We are responsible for creating a pursuing laws that strengthen the health and vitality of New Hampshire’s economy,” Forrester said.
But supporters of the bill said it was unconstitutional because it restricted speech on a specific group. They also said it was unlikely that alcohol ads on billboards would increase teen drinking, when alcohol is already advertised in newspapers and magazines and on TV. Getting rid of the ban on billboard ads would make state policy more consistent, supporters said.
“It is clear to me, and it’s clear to many, that (the law), because it suppresses speech, rather than directly seeking to go after excessive alcohol consumption, is unconstitutional,” Sen. David Pierce, a Lebanon Democrat, said.
12:38 p.m.: Senators supported a bill to increase the gas tax to raise money for road and bridges repairs, 15-9. The bill now goes to the House, which is almost certain to pass it.
The bill will raise the gas tax by roughly 4.2 cents per gallon and allows the state to take out a $200 million bond for the widening of Interstate I-93 from Salem to Manchester. Sen. Jim Rausch, a Derry Republican and the bill’s prime sponsor, worked with House members crafting the 10-year highway plan to have the bills go hand in hand. The 4.2 cent increase will bring in roughly $32 million in new revenue per year, all dedicated to road and bridge projects.
“(This bill) and the 10-year highway plan have been woven together to get to a process where we now can give to our citizens safer and better highways,” Rausch said.
The bill also creates a committee to study whether the Department of Transportation is using its money efficiently. During the public hearing process, some Republican senators expressed concern about the department’s continual need for new money. Furthermore, it repeals the increase once the bonds for the I-93 project are paid off.
The New Hampshire Republican Party and groups such as Americans for Prosperity have stood strongly against the tax, saying it will hit hardworking New Hampshire families. But Sen. David Pierce, a Lebanon Democrat, challenged that assertion. He presented research, prepared by two high school students in his district, that showed gas tax increases in other states haven’t resulted in higher prices at the pump. Rather, the price of crude oil is the prime determinant in gas prices, he said.
“We should always take into account that a rise in a tax or a fee or a toll would have on our constituents,” Pierce said. “But I would suggest that, based on the data, raising the gas tax today would not hit our constituents.”
10:53 a.m.: The Senate passed a bill requiring the state to evaluate whether new energy projects are in the public interest and to change the composition of the state body that approves energy projects, known as the Site Evaluation Committee. The bill passed on a voice vote.
The Site Evaluation Committee approves all new energy projects, including projects such as wind farms and the Northern Pass. This bill, in part, improves the committee’s public hearing schedule for new projects. It also adds two public members to the committee and adds a staff director in an effort to streamline the approval process.
Under the bill, all energy project applications must include alternative methods for configuration, such as burying transmission lines, and must hold public information sessions in each county where the project would be located.
Senators praised all of the groups, including unions, developers, environmentalists and other stakeholders for coming together to craft a comprehensive bill.
“This was a very, very difficult bill,” said Sen. Jeff Woodburn, a Dalton Democrat. “This is the kind of work that we’re sent here to do.”
10:53 a.m.: The Senate passed a bill aimed at better preparing New Hampshire to deal with potential oil spills, 13-11.
Crude oil is currently transported from Portland, Maine to Montreal through a pipeline that runs through five towns in the North Country. Canada’s National Energy Board has also recently approved a project to transport tar sands from Alberta to Montreal, which has the potential to also run through a North Country pipeline.
The bill, proposed by Sen. Jeff Woodburn, a Dalton Democrat, would require owners of oil pipelines to submit a spill response plan to the state Department of Safety. The bill also establishes an oil pollution control fund that would help fund salaries of state employees if cleanup of oil discharge into the water becomes necessary.
Without this bill, “we are not on safe ground in terms of our moral obligation to our environment and to our North Country,” Woodburn said.
The New Hampshire Senate will take up bills today to increase the gas tax, create a commission to study gun purchases by the mentally ill, legalize two casinos and more. Stay tuned for updates throughout the day.