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Senate kills issues House resurrected

Last modified: 5/24/2012 12:00:00 AM
The state Senate took a final ax yesterday to the House's last-ditch attempts to establish a 24-hour waiting period for abortions, allow towns and cities to close off their communities to refugees and eliminate the chancellor of the state university system.

Senators also passed a school voucher program that concerns Gov. John Lynch and agreed to seek a compromise with House leaders on medical marijuana, malpractice reform and the state's involvement in a regional cap-and-trade system.

As the 2011-2012 legislative session nears its end, the Senate revisited about 60 of its own bills yesterday morning to decide whether to agree to changes added by the House. Most decisions were made with little discussion over the rehashed issues, and the senators finished their work in time for lunch.

Chief among those decisions was the Senate's second vote to kill a bill requiring women to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion, which critics said intruded on an important personal decision and lacked an exemption for rape victims. Last month, the Senate killed the House-passed bill on a 12-11 vote, so House leaders then stuck the language in a Senate bill increasing a research and development tax credit.

Similarly, the Senate reaffirmed its opposition to allowing local governing bodies to put moratoriums on refugee resettlement, having already sent the House's initial bill off for further study. This time, the language was attached by the House to a Senate bill on expense deductions under the business profits tax.

Lempster Republican Sen. Bob Odell said 'the Senate continues to support creating incentives for capital investment and increasing the research and development tax credit.'

'While these issues stand alone in their importance to help stimulate job growth, they were amended with unrelated social issues previously vetted and voted down in the Senate,' Odell said, noting that separate bills still seek to address the expense deduction issue and simply extend the research and development tax credit.

The Senate also refused to enter into a committee of conference to negotiate the House's attempt to eliminate the office of the chancellor of the state university system. The bill as passed by the House would have given the power of the chancellor over to a reduced board of trustees and dispersed employees from the chancellor's office to on-campus locations, which opponents said was opposite to the approach many businesses take to increase efficiency by centralizing their operations.

More than 'No'

Despite sacking some contentious House priorities, the Senate didn't say 'no' to everything coming over from the other chamber. On a 15-5 vote, the Senate agreed to the House's tweaks to a school voucher program that directs money from a business tax credit to a scholarship fund that would pay for students to attend private schools or public schools outside their district.

The scholarship fund has a cap of $3.4 million in the first year and $5.1 million in the second, with the potential to grow 25 percent annually in subsequent years. The average scholarship would be about $2,500 for private school students and $625 for home school students.

Lynch's spokesman has said the Democratic governor 'has very serious concerns about the impact on revenues and concerns about using public money to fund private schools.'

The Senate voted yesterday to sit down with House leaders and negotiate compromises on several bills, including measures to legalize medical marijuana, pioneer an 'early offer' system for medical malpractice claims and reduce the impact of a regional carbon cap-and-trade system.

The medical marijuana bill passed the House with a veto-proof majority but so far the Senate has not shown the votes needed to pass the bill over a promised veto by Lynch, who cites law enforcement concerns about proliferation. The Senate's 14-6 vote yesterday to enter into a committee of conference doesn't kill the bill but gives no assurance the Senate can override Lynch's veto, regardless of the compromise reached.

Malpractice 'early offer'

The 'early offer' bill would establish the first system of its kind in the country, allowing medical providers to offer victims of malpractice an up-front payment and avoid costly and lengthy court battles. The bill is backed by hospitals and opposed by trial attorneys.

The House sent the legislation back to the Senate with language tucked in from two unrelated bills related to the confidentiality of police personnel files and prohibiting health care practitioners from self-referring medical devices.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican and sponsor of the original bill, said he has been assured by House leaders that in a committee of conference they will agree to merely study the self-referral issue, which raised concerns among senators when presented previously in a separate bill.

'As such, I think that . . . there's enough reason to proceed and see if we can overcome the rather significant differences between the two bodies on the underlying bill,' Bradley said.

Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat, voted against going to a committee of conference, saying he doesn't see what the Senate gains by negotiating with the House when 'I don't think it's a level playing field.'

'You're taking something that looked like a duck and comes back looking like a moose. And ducks and moose have nothing in common,' D'Allesandro said.

The Senate also voted to negotiate with the House over the state's involvement in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multi-state cap-and-trade program that seeks to reduce power plants' carbon emissions by 10 percent.

Republicans say the program acts as a tax on power producers that is passed down to consumers, while supporters argue the program is working well and funding energy efficiency projects throughout the state.

Last year, House negotiators refused to accept anything other than completely withdrawing New Hampshire from the program, a position that does not have enough support in the Senate to overcome a certain veto from Lynch, who signed the initiative into law in 2008. This time, House leaders say they are willing to listen to a reform proposal from the Senate that keeps the state in the program but reduces its impact.

Adding contraception

One committee of conference agreed to by the Senate yesterday may appear juicier than in actuality. Senate Bill 356, which originally dealt with constitutional conventions, now contains language added by the House that would give employers a religious exemption from providing contraception coverage, an effort initially pushed through the House by Speaker Bill O'Brien but stalled in the Senate.

Sen. Fenton Groen, a Rochester Republican who supports both the original bill and the contraception exemption, told his Senate colleagues that he only wants to negotiate with the House to pass the language limiting the authority of delegates to a constitutional convention called by state legislators to amend the federal Constitution.

'This bill needs to stand alone,' Groen said. 'If I am appointed to the committee of conference, I can assure you that I will not sign a committee of conference report without the contraceptive language removed.'

Senate President Peter Bragdon, a Milford Republican, told Groen he would be placed on the committee of conference. D'Allesandro said 'I'm taking Sen. Groen at his word' that any compromise will have the contraception amendment removed.

'If we can't trust one another on subjects like this, then I think we're all in trouble,' D'Allesandro said.

Following the Senate votes yesterday, committee of conferences now have a week to negotiate their various compromises. All committee reports must be signed by May 31 and voted on in the House and Senate by June 7.

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @mattspolar.)


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