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'Voter ID, tax credit bills to become law'

Last modified: 6/28/2012 12:00:00 AM
An override of a medical marijuana veto failed by three votes yesterday, but soon businesses can claim tax credits for donating to private school scholarships and voters will need photo identification to cast a ballot.

Lawmakers met for a final time yesterday to take up 13 of Gov. John Lynch's vetoes. They overrode six of them, including not only bills on voter identification and education tax credits, but also legislation banning late-term abortions and reforming medical malpractice litigation.

It was a different story, however, with medical marijuana, one of this year's most debated bills.

Despite some last-minute changes of heart, the Senate fell three votes short of the two-thirds majority required to override a veto.

The vote was expected to be close, but supporters were hopeful after Republican Sens. Peter Bragdon of Milford and Fenton Groen of Rochester announced recently they'd switch positions and would vote for the bill.

But yesterday, two Democrats, Sens. Sylvia Larsen of Concord and Lou D'Allesandro of Manchester, also reversed themselves and voted against the bill. In addition, supporters lost a vote from former Republican senator Andy Sanborn, who resigned last month to relocate from Henniker to Bedford for a Senate run this fall.

Larsen said she reconsidered because law enforcement was not convinced the use of marijuana could be effectively limited to medical use. D'Allesandro didn't explain his change of heart and couldn't be reached after the Senate adjourned.

Lynch spokesman Colin Manning said yesterday he did not know whether Lynch had lobbied Senate Democrats to uphold his veto. He said Lynch's veto message, which also cited law enforcement concerns, was "very clear."

Here's some of what legislators did turn into law yesterday:

 Education tax credits

Otherwise known as school choice by supporters and an unconstitutional school voucher system by opponents, it passed the Senate with exactly the 16 votes necessary and cleared the House 236-108, which was seven more votes than required.

Businesses that contribute to nonprofit scholarships will be able to claim an 85 percent tax credit against their business profits tax. The scholarships, which will initially average $2,500, can be used to defray the costs of home-schooling or private schools, including religious schools.

In his veto message, Lynch said the bill would divert money from public schools because schools would lose a state education grant for each student who left. The state Department of Education estimated the loss would be $3.7 million in the first year alone.

Lynch also said some scholarships could go to well-off parents, but supporters said families would have to have incomes within 300 percent of federal poverty to qualify. The 300 percent standard equals $69,160 a year in income for a family of four.

Sen. Molly Kelly, a Keene Democrat, called the bill unconstitutional because it would allow business tax dollars to be spent on religious schools. She also questioned the bill's policy implications.

"Why would we choose to designate millions of dollars to private and religious schools when the Legislature has just made record cuts to public higher education?" she said.

Sen. Jim Forsythe, a Strafford Republican, said the legislation would extend school choice to all students in the state. "Half of us already have school choice because we have enough money (to pay for private schools)," he said. "This helps the rest."

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ovide Lamontagne called the veto override a "huge victory for commonsense education reform." Kevin Smith, a Republican challenging Lamontagne, said in a statement: "Despite what Gov. Lynch indicated, (the bill) is not about shifting funds among schools - it's about giving students choices in education and getting our business community to more directly support the future workers of our state."

Josiah Bartlett Center President Charlie Arlinghaus, who had championed the legislation, also praised the vote. "This modest program promises more opportunity for more children and will make a tremendous difference in the lives of individual students," he said in a written statement.

 Voter ID

Beginning this September, voters will be asked to show a photo identification to vote. In following elections, if voters don't have a photo identification they will have to sign an affidavit swearing to their identity, and eventually, be photographed if they still have no photo identification.

Lynch vetoed the bill, in part because after the first year, student school identification cards will no longer be accepted. The House and Senate barely overrode the veto. Each chamber had only two more votes than required.

Supporters said the legislation was necessary to ensure that only qualified voters cast ballots in elections. But even those who support the notion of requiring photo identification said doing it immediately, this fall, was too soon for voting officials and voters to understand the new rules.

Rep. Shawn Jasper, a Hudson Republican, had the last word before the House voted. "If I know that after all these years, we are just one vote away from (requiring) a photo ID, and I know that no qualified person will be turned away from voting in New Hampshire," then he would vote to override the veto, he told House members.

 Early offer

Plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases will now have the option of avoiding trial by accepting a settlement offer from the medical provider. If the plaintiff rejected the offer, he could still go to trial but would have to pay the medical provider's attorney's fees even if he wins if his verdict was less than 125 percent of what the medical provider offered.

Lynch said he was not opposed to the concept but vetoed the proposed legislation in part because he objected to the 125 percent threshold. He said a person could get a verdict just a few thousand dollars shy of the settlement offer and still have to pay the other side's attorney fees.

This cleared the House and Senate easily yesterday.

D'Allesandro objected to the bill, saying, "This takes the individual who's thirsty for dollars. (He) sees those dollars hanging out there in front of him. He grabs them . . . and loses in the long run."

Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, disagreed. He said studies show that two out of three people lose medical malpractice cases when they go to court. And if they win in court, he said, they have to hand 33 percent of their jury award to their attorney.

 Late-term abortion

The governor vetoed a ban on late-term abortions saying the law was unnecessary because it's already prohibited by federal law. Lynch said the state law also went too far because it required a doctor performing a medically necessary late-term abortion to find a second doctor, unaffiliated with his or her practice, to confirm that conclusion.

Lawmakers disagreed and had more than enough votes to override the veto in both chambers.

Seven of Lynch's vetoes were sustained yesterday because the Senate or House didn't have the votes to overturn them.

Those bills included a fetal homicide bill that would have counted fetuses killed in a homicide as victims if they were 8 weeks or older, and a collective bargaining bill that would have given lawmakers control over state employee contracts.

Lynch's veto on the so- called J.D. Salinger bill also survived an attempted veto override. The bill would extended the "common law right to control the commercial use of one's identity" for 70 years beyond the person's death.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)


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