Legislature approves $1.5 million drug enforcement bill

  • Workers secure part of the scaffolding that is going up around the State House dome Friday as the repair project began this week. The scaffolding is scheduled to be up in the next three weeks and the 2.1 million project to fix the dome and add lighting is due to be completed in November. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 6/17/2016 12:37:36 AM

The Republican-led Legislature came back to Concord and revived a bill Thursday that sends $1.5 million to drug enforcement initiatives, despite objections that arrests can’t solve the state’s opioid crisis.

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan signed the measure into law hours later, saying it will “help assist local law enforcement in communities across New Hampshire.”

Through a competitive application process, the state will award the grant money to county and local law enforcement efforts that curb drug trafficking. The program is modeled after a Manchester police effort known as Operation Granite Hammer.

“The point is to disrupt the flow of drugs at the street level, so our partners within the treatment and recovery can get ahead of this,” said state police Capt. Mark Armaganian. “If the demand isn’t there, the supply isn’t coming in.”

A portion of the money will cover equipment and staffing at the state forensic lab, which tests drug samples.

But the issue has proven controversial. Top Republicans called lawmakers back into session to reconsider the bill after it was defeated unexpectedly in the House in early June. It had been attached to a controversial state retiree health plan, which was removed from legislation that passed Thursday.

The Senate approved the $1.5 million drug enforcement bill unanimously. It cleared the House 235-74 after a contentious debate among Republicans over whether the chamber should even allow the bill’s reintroduction.

Some argued the move sets a dangerous precedent – that legislation killed by the House could be given another chance if leadership wants.

“This action opens up a huge can of worms,” said Rep. Laurie Sanborn, a Bedford Republican. “This action is about a certain group of people, picking and choosing a bill they want above all others.”

But House Speaker Shawn Jasper said reconsideration was a necessity, because the state’s drug problem is so severe.

“You can’t treat the dead,” said Jasper, a Hudson Republican. “We need to do everything humanly possible to get those drugs off the streets.”

The House vote didn’t split along party lines. Seven Democrats and 66 Republicans voted no, saying the previous “war on drugs” hasn’t proven successful.

The bill is one of several the Legislature has passed to address substance abuse in the year after a record 439 people died from drug overdoses. Supporters said the grant money helps send a message.

“We need to tell those that come into this grand state and sell drugs, they are killing our children,” said House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff, a Penacook Democrat.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307, amorris@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @amorrisNH.)

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