Legislative update from Swanzey State Representative Barry Faulkner

From My Perspective, January 15, 2018.

The New Hampshire House of Representatives met over a couple of days this month to vote on bills from 2017 that had been retained for further study. Some of the highlights:

HB 656: This bill legalizes, under state law, the possession and private use of small amounts (3/4 ounce) of marijuana by adults 21 or older, and permits adults to grow their own marijuana plants at home. The bill does not permit the commercial growing or sale of marijuana, but a commission is currently studying this issue and is expected to report this autumn. The bill passed the House by a strong, bipartisan majority (207-139), but requires further action by the Senate and Governor before becoming law. The war on pot has caused untold damage to our economy, to our law enforcement priorities, and to the lives of many young people, and it is time to move on to more important things.

HB 485: This bill aims to reduce contaminants in our drinking water by clearly establishing the responsibility in the Department of Environmental Services for determining standards and for testing, and providing appropriate staff to carry out this responsibility. This passed on a voice vote (again, additional steps are necessary before this becomes law).

SB 247: This bill addresses the problem of lead poisoning in children by establishing new, lower lead levels in blood, requiring testing of children at critical ages, and supporting lead removal work in rental housing. This bill passed easily with amended language, so further action with the Senate will be required.

HB 559 and 592: These bills would have radically changed our state’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI, pronounce “Reggie”), an agreement among a number of northeastern states to control or reduce carbon emissions from power plants. The Science, Technology and Energy Committee narrowly (11-10 vote) recommended that our participation in RGGI be repealed (HB 592), and recommended against using RGGI revenue for energy efficiency projects (HB 559). Fortunately, the full House voted against the Committee’s recommendation.

SB 193: This bill, sometimes called the “School Voucher Bill” takes state tax money that would otherwise go to support public schools and diverts it to families to pay for private or parochial schools, or to support home schooling. As I indicated in an earlier report, this is a bad bill, with the potential to seriously undercut our public schools. It passed, as amended, on a hugely partisan vote, 184-162, with only 4 Democrats voting in favor. This bill still has a couple of steps before it becomes law.

HB 587 and SB 224: These two similar bills would prohibit “conversion therapy” for minors – efforts to change a child’s sexual orientation – by counseling professionals and commercial enterprises. While there is no evidence that coercive and abusive conversion techniques (such as electric

shocks or isolation treatments) are widespread in this state, the professional consensus is that any such therapy is ineffective and potentially damaging to the child. The vote on the floor for each bill was tied (a rare event), and the Speaker cast the deciding vote in each case to kill the bill.

HB 628: This bill establishes a family and medical leave insurance program. Under the program, each employee (unless he or she opts out of the program) would contribute an average of $5 per week to go into an insurance pool administered by the state. The pool would pay out about 60 percent of a worker’s salary when the worker must take an extended leave (up to 12 weeks) to deal with an illness, childbirth or adoption, or to care for a family member who is ill. This benefit is important to attracting to New Hampshire a workforce of childbearing age and to retain experienced workers who have aging parents that require care. While there is some question whether the premium (set at 1⁄2 of 1 percent of wages) would be sufficient to support the program, I voted with the majority to get this program started.

My committee, Public Works and Highways is holding hearings on new bills related to the state’s infrastructure, as is receiving information that we will need to evaluate the Governor’s recommended highway program, which we expect to receive in February. This program will set bridge and highway priorities over the next ten years, and we will have a series of hearings on how this program deals with our needs. The full House is scheduled to meet next in February to deal with this year’s bills that have made it through the committee hearing process.

Finally, I have hesitated to use these reports to comment on national politics, but recent comments from Washington, disparaging people from certain countries and certain religions, demand a response. I am appalled and saddened that some of our national leaders would choose to divide us based upon race, religion, or national origin, instead of uniting us to work on our common goals. This is a nation of immigrants and their descendants, founded on the principle that we are all created equal; that justice is there for all; that we do not discriminate based on the circumstances of our birth or faith. We have not always lived up to these founding principles, but we have been marching steadily in the right direction. New Hampshire has long been a leader in this fight for fairness and justice, and this is no time to lose our resolve.

Barry Faulkner
State Representative
Cheshire 12 (Swanzey/Richmond) Home: 352-2729 fbfaulkner@outlook.com

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