Bestiality ban, eminent domain, drug money take center stage on Legislature’s last day 

  • Overall view of the New Hampshire Legislature as it opened Wednesday taken from the balcony.(GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff)A view of the New Hampshire Legislature yesterday from the balcony of the House chambers. The new legislative session has officially begun.

Monitor staff
Published: 6/1/2016 6:56:33 PM

Bills to ban bestiality, reform the criminal justice system and funnel $5 million into substance abuse treatment are now heading to Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, after the Republican-led Legislature gave its final approval Wednesday. 

But on a hectic last day of the spring session, the House and Senate killed several major bills that sought to crack down on drug dealers and give eminent domain protections to homeowners in the path of energy projects. 

A last ditch effort to revive a bill banning gay conversion therapy for minors failed. 

Hassan and Republican leaders laid blame at each other’s feet for the defeat of a bill that would have dedicated more police officers to New Hampshire’s ongoing drug problem. The $1.5 million grant program was mirrored after the Manchester Police effort known as “Granite Hammer,” and some state money would have gone to local departments. 

The measure was attached to a broader bill that required some state retirees pay new health care premiums. The Republican-led House defeated the bill Wednesday by one vote, and an effort to reconsider the outcome failed 187 to 157.

Opponents in the House argued law enforcement’s so-called “war on drugs” has been a failure, and others criticized the state retiree health plan because it puts higher costs on retirees down the road, they said. 

More than 100 Democrats and 80 Republicans voted against reconsidering the bill. 

House Majority Leader Dick Hinch and Republican Sen. Jeanie Forrester said Hassan failed to lead.

“It’s on the governor,” said Hinch, a Merrimack Republican who supported the funding. “She made a strategic error by not solidifying her votes on this.” 

“Somebody dropped the ball on this, because it should have passed,” said Forrester, who sponsored the bill and is running for governor. 

But Hassan said the Legislature delayed acting on the legislation for months, and played political games by attaching law enforcement funding to a controversial state retiree health plan.

“We are in the midst of an opioid crisis that is impacting every corner of our state,” Hassan said in a statement. “I will begin exploring all other options to move forward this important effort to support law enforcement, which had received broad bipartisan support.”

Hassan didn’t specify what those options include. But she did say the retiree health plan – which has faced shortfalls in the last year – can be fixed in the next state budget process. 

The legislative session has focused heavily on curbing the state’s heroin epidemic in the year after more than 400 people died from drug overdoses, a new record high. Hassan, who is running for U.S. Senate, said Wednesday she plans to sign several other drug related bills coming to her desk.

One would fund upgrades to the state’s prescription drug monitoring program and another would allocate $5 million to substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery programs. 

Dozens more bills will make their way to Hassan’s desk over the coming weeks. 

Those include several the Legislature signed-off on Wednesday, including one that reforms the state’s civil asset forfeiture procedures and another that removes mandatory minimum sentences for certain habitual offenders.

Hassan has already vetoed several bills, and lawmakers will come back later this year to decide whether to overturn any. A veto override takes a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber. 

The Legislature killed off several of its own proposals Wednesday. 

Seniors will still be able to ski for free midweek at Cannon Mountain, after the House rejected a bill that would let the state charge residents over age 65 admission to state parks. 

The House decided against reviving a bill that sought to ban licensed councilors from practicing gay conversion therapy on youth. Conversion therapy seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation, and opponents argue the discredited practice is especially harmful to youth and based on the presmise that being gay, lesbian, transgener or transexual is wrong.

Three Senate Republicans joined all 10 Democrats to kill a bill that sought to give eminent domain protections to homeowners in the path of a gas pipeline project. Some opponents were unhappy the legislation stripped out a provision directing more money to energy efficiency efforts, and others argued the eminent domain restrictions could shut down energy development in New Hampshire. 

The bill was spurred by the now defunct Kinder Morgan pipeline project, which sought to route more than 70 miles of natural gas pipeline through 17 communities in Southern New Hampshire. 

The company pulled the plug on the project this spring when it couldn’t secure enough contracts with gas distribution companies. Residents along the proposed route, who argued the project would hurt property values, still remain resistant to the project.

The bill rejected Wednesday would have allowed landowners to request a gas pipeline developer take their entire property, even if the company is just interested in a small piece. The eminent domain measure would apply only to people whose homes comes within 250 feet of the project. 

Republican Sens. David Boutin, Jerry Little and Nancy Stiles voted against the bill. 

Advocates said the measure is needed to protect homeowner rights, because interstate natural gas pipelines that get federal approval can obtain the right of eminent domain to take property.

“There is a real fear,” said Sen. Kevin Avard, a Nashua Republican. “If we do not have property rights, the rest of our rights are just academic.”

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

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