N.H. Senate takes up bills on gas tax, EBT cards and more
It was a busy day in the N.H. Senate today. Senators took up several issues today including a gas tax, EBT cards and adding anti-discrimination to the state constitution.
A bill to raise the state’s gas tax by about 4 cents passed the Senate yesterday by a margin of five votes. There was no debate on the bill, likely because it will be sent to the Senate Finance Committee before coming back to the Senate floor for another vote.
Republican Sens. Bob Odell of New London, David Boutin of Hooksett and Nancy Stiles of Hampton joined the bill’s prime sponsor, Republican Rep. Jim Rausch, in supporting the bill. Sen. Donna Soucy of Manchester was the only Democrat to vote against the bill.
The bill would increase the gas tax by roughly 4 cents in 2015, bringing in $32 million in new revenue annually. It is less expansive than Rausch’s original bill, which would’ve increased the tax every four years based on the consumer price index.
All of the money would go to the state’s Department of Transportation. Commissioner Chris Clement intends to use $12 million to repair roads in poor condition, $13 million for pavement reconstruction of poor to fair roads and $7 million for bridge projects. The state currently has 140 red-listed bridges, which is the worst classification for bridge conditions.
“I think it’s very appropriate for me to say that it has been a long, rough, bumpy road filled with numerous potholes,” Rausch said of the Senate’s work on the bill.
The Senate passed a bill, 20-3, that would stop people on public assistance from using certain benefits to purchase of alcohol, tobacco, adult entertainment or gambling.
For some welfare recipients, public assistance is placed on electronic benefit transfer, or EBT cards. The cards function like debit cards and can even be used to withdraw money from ATMs. Under this bill, neither the cards or the cash can be used for these prohibited purchases.
“This is not about bias (against poor people,)” said Sen. Jeanie Forrester, a Meredith Republican. “This is about being good stewards of taxpayers’ money.”
Senators unanimously endorsed an amendment to the state Constitution that would add sexual orientation to the anti-discrimination clause. The amendment now goes to the House, where it needs support of two-thirds of representatives. It would then need support from 60 percent of voters in the November election.
New Hampshire has a history of supporting equal rights, such as by passing marriage equality in 2009, said Sen. David Pierce, a Lebanon Democrat. This bill would ensure those protections are in place forever, he said.
“Despite New Hampshire’s leadership on this issue, we need to constitutionalize this civil right against the attacks that could come,” he said. “There are elements within the New Hampshire Legislature that still want to roll back those protections. With a constitutional amendment they cannot roll back those protections.”
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kronayne.)