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Capital Beat

State House Live: N.H. House approves minimum wage increase to $8.25 an hour

6:31 p.m.: The House endorsed a bill, 173-118, raising the state’s minimum wage to $8.25 an hour in 2015 and higher in following years.

“What we’re doing here is having the possibility of providing an umbrella for the most marginal, working poor groups,” said Rep. Chuck Weed, a Keene Democrat.

New Hampshire currently uses the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. This bill would increase it to $8.25 next year, $9 in 2016 and tie future yearly increases to the consumer price index. The bill will now go to the Republican-led Senate, which recently stripped an indexing provision from a bill to increase the gas tax.

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4:59 p.m.: Marijuana decriminalization passed through the House yesterday, 215 to 92, and will now go to the Senate.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Adam Schroadter, a Newmarket Republican, would reduce possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a violation level offense carrying a $100 fine. Under current law, possessing less than one ounce is a misdemeanor.

“Why waste limited law enforcement resources on marijuana possession?” Schroadter said. “Regardless of what you think about pot or pot legalization, I think we can all agree that our current penalties are excessively harsh.”

The House has passed decriminalization bills numerous times in recent years, but usually for smaller amounts such as a quarter ounce. This is also the first time the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee has endorsed decriminalization.

This is different legislation than the marijuana legalization bill that passed the House earlier this session. The House Ways and Means Committee is still working on that bill.

New Hampshire is the only New England state that has not decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill also decreases penalties for possession of more than one ounce of marijuana. Marijuana penalties are currently the same as penalties for drugs such as cocaine.

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3:55 p.m.: The House voted 225-104 to repeal the death penalty this afternoon, but did not support an amendment that would have taken Michael Addison off death row by making the bill retroactive.

The bill will now move to the Senate, where its fate is less certain. Anti-death penalty groups have been focusing their attention on individual senators for months.

New Hampshire currently allows the death penalty for six types of murder: Murder of a law enforcement official, murder for hire, murder during a rape or sexual assault, a home invasion or kidnapping and murder while serving a life sentence in prison.

“If we let those who kill turn us into killers, then evil triumphs,” said Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat and the bill’s prime sponsor. Cushing, whose father was murdered in 1988, has been fighting for death penalty repeal for years.

“If I changed my position on the death penalty because my father was murdered, that would only give more power to the murderers…not only would my father be taken away from me, but so would my values,” Cushing said.

Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, a Concord Democrat and chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, highlighted the costs of pursuing a death sentence. Addison’s case has already cost the state $2.4 million for his prosecution and $2.6 for his defense. In contrast, the average cost of housing an inmate is $35,000, she said.

Opponents of repeal said they believe some crimes are so heinous the perpetrators deserve to die. They also said it offers no further punishment for people who kill in prison while already serving a life sentence.

“As difficult it is for us to comprehend or discuss, there are people out there who find happiness and satisfaction for doing evil things to people,” said Rep. Keith Murphy, a Bedford Republican.

Murphy introduced an amendment that would’ve extended the death penalty to murderers of children under the age of 12. It failed 83-247.

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12:53 p.m.: The House has passed a bill aimed at providing greater protections for consumers of home heating oil. It passed 226-98 without debate.

The bill establishes guidelines for oil companies that pre-sell home heating oil to customers. If the bill passes, oil companies can’t pre-sell between Oct. 31 and May 1, and customers can’t pre-buy for a term more than one heating season. In the contracts, dealers would be required to clearly explain how they’ll meet the contract obligations.

Also under the bill, dealers would have to reimburse any consumers who have undelivered oil. Dealers who fail to maintain coverage or falsely claim they are covering a consumer will face a misdemeanor charge. A study committee will also be charged with evaluating existing consumer protections and recommending new ones.

Fred Fuller Oil company, a major provider in the state, faced an oil shortage earlier this winter. At the governor’s call, the state got involved by setting up a hotline to take calls from customers facing a shortage.

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11:09 a.m.: Republican Joe Kenney is the new District 1 executive councilor, beating Democrat Mike Cryans by 1,267 votes in a special election.

“Last night I really think the voters sort of rejected the ideology that was brought into this race, really it’s about helping people and solving their problems in state government, that’s our message from Day 1,” Kenney said.

Cryans called Kenney to concede just before 11 a.m.

“I want to thank (Kenney) for running a hard-fought campaign, thank all the people who volunteered and supported either of us, and the Burton family for their support,” Cryans said in a statement.

Kenney will fill the seat held by the late Ray Burton for 35 years. He will join a council made up of one other Republican and three Democrats. District 1 spans 108 towns and four cities – from parts of the Lakes Region to the Canadian border.

The Executive Council began its biweekly meeting at 10 a.m. today. Kenney’s campaign manager asked if he could be seated at the table, but the governor’s office said he could not because the results were not official when the meeting began.

A breakdown of votes by municipality is available here.

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Stay tuned this morning as we bring you today’s news from the N.H. House session. There’s plenty on the schedule today, so be sure to check back as the day unfolds.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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