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Legislature okays changes to N.H.’s voter ID law despite opposition from conservatives

Last modified: 6/27/2013 1:19:09 PM
Compromise legislation to reform New Hampshire’s year-old voter ID law passed the Republican-led Senate and the Democratic-led House yesterday, as a last-ditch effort by conservative Republicans to block the bill fell short.

The bill now goes to Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, who indicated she will sign it into law.

“The governor continues to believe that the voter identification law enacted by the previous Legislature was misguided and should be fully repealed, but she appreciates that the compromise reached by the Legislature will save local communities the burden of costs for cameras, prevent long lines at the polls and alleviate confusion about permissible forms of identification,” said spokesman Marc Goldberg in a statement.

The voter ID law enacted in 2012 included several changes that will take effect this September, including a shorter list of acceptable forms of ID and a requirement that voters without an ID, who already must fill out an affidavit, be photographed by election workers as well.

But under a compromise worked out last week by negotiators from the House and Senate, student IDs will remain valid forms of identification at the polls, voters 65 and over will be able to use expired driver’s licenses to vote and the photo-taking requirement will be delayed until 2015.

The plan won praise from the New Hampshire College Republicans and the New Hampshire Young Democrats. But some on the right condemned the deal – Cornerstone Action, for example, called it “nothing short of deplorable.”

Sen. David Boutin, a Hooksett Republican and chairman of the Senate Public and Municipal Affairs Committee, last week called the deal “a reasonable compromise” but this week pulled his support from the bill, telling the New Hampshire Union Leader he had received unspecified “new information.”

Sen. Russell Prescott, a Kingston Republican who introduced the voter ID bill last year, urged his colleagues yesterday to reject the compromise. He said adding ID cards from hundreds of colleges and high schools to the list of acceptable forms of identification would weaken the law, causing confusion at the polls and increasing the potential for fraud.

But Sen. Bette Lasky, a Nashua Democrat, argued that while “the bill before us is by no means a perfect bill,” the compromise would protect voters’ rights this fall and in the future.

The Senate passed the bill on a 14-10 vote, with support from all 11 Democratic senators plus three Republicans: Senate President Peter Bragdon of Milford, Sen. Bob Odell of Lempster and Sen. Nancy Stiles of Hampton. Ten Republicans voted against it.

Arguments in the House against the bill also proved fruitless, with the bill passing the chamber on a 231-121 vote. Thirty-four Republicans joined 197 Democrats to support the bill; all 121 “no” votes came from Republicans.

Marijuana, CHINS, etc.

In addition to the voter ID bill, the House and Senate yesterday passed a state budget for the next two years and more than two dozen other bills.

∎ A $244.7 million capital budget that includes $38 million for a new women’s prison passed both the Senate and the House on voice votes.

∎ A bill legalizing medical marijuana passed the Senate on a voice vote and the House on a 284-66 vote.

∎ A bill aligning state insurance regulations with the implementation of the 2010 federal health care reform law passed the House, 225-128, and the Senate on a voice vote.

∎ A bill restoring the Children in Need of Services program passed the Senate, 24-0, and the House on a voice vote.

∎ A bill changing the New Hampshire Liquor Commission from a three-person commission to an agency with a single commissioner and a deputy passed the House, 316-23, and the Senate on a voice vote.

Yesterday’s votes largely complete the Legislature’s work for 2013.

The House and Senate could come back later this year for override votes if Hassan vetoes any bills, and 168 bills that were retained by or referred to House or Senate committees this year will get votes when the Legislature comes back in January.

In addition, a special session could be called this fall to vote on Medicaid expansion, sometime after the Oct. 15 deadline for a study commission to issue its final report.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)


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