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New bills
The major legislative efforts expected in 2017

12/22/16
By Ryan Lessard news@hippopress.com



 The legislature is set to tackle a number of initiatives in the upcoming session, including reforming the state’s election laws, giving relief to dairy farmers, decriminalizing marijuana and implementing a needle exchange program for opioid addicts.

 
Election law
There have been numerous signs in recent weeks from comments made by Republican Governor-elect Chris Sununu, Secretary of State Bill Gardner and others in GOP leadership that election law reform will be a significant priority for the party.
And with majorities in the House and Senate, Republicans will be able to get more done in this area than they have in the past. 
In the last session, Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, vetoed a bill that would have created a 30-day residency requirement for new voters. Sununu has signaled that he would consider eliminating same-day voter registration. 
But judging by the bills that have been submitted, that doesn’t appear to be one of the particular reforms the party hopes to pass. If there is such a bill, Windham Republican state Rep. David Bates doesn’t believe it will pass.
Other bills sponsored by Bates would try to make sure true residents of the state are allowed to vote. 
“Probably the most important thing I want to see accomplished is return to the … law as it used to exist, which required anybody who votes in New Hampshire to be a resident of New Hampshire,” Bates said.
Right now, state law is vague on the issue, allowing anyone who is “domiciled” in the state to vote. That could be a college student from Arizona or a campaign worker who is temporarily working in the state.
Bates would not set a 30-day requirement, but he admits just honing the definition of “domiciled” is tricky. One option could be to require voters have a New Hampshire state-issued ID, or present proof of permanent residence by some other means.
Bates also wants to change the current system that allows people to sign an affidavit attesting to their residency when they don’t have proof. He would do away with most of those, except for same-day voter registration. For that, he would require registrants to return with the required documentation so the state doesn’t have to sift through a backlog of cases they need to follow up on. 
Overall, Bates is optimistic the lion’s share of his election reforms will pass this session, largely because of Sununu’s support.
“He’s made it clear that he’s very supportive of election reforms,” Bates said. “I don’t think he’s boxed himself into one particular plan.”
 
Drug bills
When the state drug czar, James Vara, released his progress report on the drug crisis earlier this year, he listed the creation of a needle exchange program among a few key initiatives that would help addicts and protect public health.
Needle exchanges allow heroin and fentanyl addicts to drop off used needles in exchange for new ones, which reduces the chances of diseases like HIV and hepatitis C spreading.
Republican state Rep. Harold Parker of Wolfeboro Falls is the prime sponsor of a House bill that would implement such an exchange, and Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley has signed on as the Senate sponsor.
That shows strong support from the GOP leadership, but needle exchanges are fraught with controversy. An enabling bill failed to pass last session, largely due to concerns among law enforcement that having trace amounts of drugs in used needles would still constitute possession of an illegal substance.
Others have qualms about a program they see as enabling an addiction by providing the paraphernalia required to continue the habit. But proponents say the evidence shows the public health benefits and it does not show any signs of increased use.
New Hampshire’s neighboring states all have a form of needle exchange programs already. 
Parker says he’s not sure whether his bill will pass this year, but he’s cautiously optimistic.
Another big piece of legislation related to drugs is the decriminalization of a small amount of marijuana. This is seen as a way to redirect law enforcement resources away from cracking down on cannabis, what scientists say is a relatively safe drug, so police can focus more on cracking down on opioids like heroin and fentanyl. 
Decriminalization has long been popular in the House, where it has passed with larger margins each time, but it has repeatedly died in the Senate. A lot of new faces in the Senate and a governor-elect who supports decriminalization has led advocates to believe this will be the year it finally becomes law. 
New Hampshire is the only New England state that hasn’t decriminalized marijuana.
 
Miscellaneous
Bradley is the prime sponsor of a Senate bill that would set some funds aside to give dairy farmers some relief. It’s been a bad year for dairy farmers, with global milk prices dropping to extreme lows and supply far exceeding demand. Several New Hampshire farms have already closed or consolidated with other farms as a result. Bradley’s bill is going to be expedited at the start of the legislative session, according to his office.
House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff is sponsoring a bill that would name the Division of Historical Resources building at 19 Pillsbury St. in Concord after late Department of Cultural Resources Commissioner Van McLeod. McLeod died earlier this year, after being the longest serving-DCR commissioner in state history. 





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