NH Legislature starts by looking back at leftovers

AP News
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Posted: Jan 04, 2010 1:39 PM

As New Hampshire lawmakers convene their 2010 session, they start with some leftover business including bills that would legalize assisted suicide for the terminally ill, mandate paid sick leave for all but the smallest employers, and ensure the state has the earliest presidential primary.

Those issues are among the dozens of bills lawmakers held over from 2009 that face votes early in the new year. Left over bills will be considered in the House and the Senate when lawmakers return to work Wednesday. The House plans to take up dozens of measures while the Senate has scheduled action on only three.

Still, two high-profile bills studied over the fall _ assisted suicide and mandatory paid sick leave _ aren't likely to make it out of the House this year.

Supporters of legalized assisted suicide lost the backing of the legislative committee that studied the issue. A majority of the Judiciary Committee is recommending killing the bill as too flawed while a minority proposes further study, in effect killing the bill for the year.

The chamber's Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee is recommending studying a measure that would require employers with 15 or more workers to provide three paid sick days for workers with the company at least six months. The time would accrue at one hour per 30 hours worked. In its report to the House, the committee said employers were already financially stressed by the recession to pay the sick leave.

A move to shore up New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary should pass the House easily. The Election Law Committee voted unanimously to recommend giving the secretary of state wider latitude in setting the primary's date to protect the state's tradition of being first.

State law requires the primary to be held seven days or more before any similar contest. Other states challenged New Hampshire's tradition of having the earliest primary, which led to the date being moved into early January in 2008.

Legislation also should pass easily to allow the state to send residents automated phone messages about pending ice storms, tornado warnings, floods or other emergencies. The bill creates a computerized system to handle a large number of prerecorded calls to landlines and cell phones. Calls could be made to people statewide or to specific locations. The statewide system would cost about $804,000 for the necessary computer software and hardware.

The memory is still fresh in legislators' minds of a tornado in July 2008 that killed one woman and a major ice storm in December 2008 that left many New Hampshire residents without power _ some for two weeks.

Other bills facing House votes include measures to bar banks from requiring fingerprints to cash checks or complete other transactions, require antifreeze sold in the state after 2011 to contain a bittering agent, prohibit implanting radio frequency devices in humans without consent and require felons to undergo DNA testing.

The Senate plans to rush through a new bill Wednesday to get discounts on electric bills for low-income customers. The House would act on it later in the month to speed the assistance.

About 7,500 people are on a wait list for help through New Hampshire's electric assistance program. The program provides discounts ranging from 5 to 70 percent to residents, depending on household size and income.

Customers already pay into programs for electric assistance and energy efficiency. The legislation would reduce the money going to energy efficiency and increase the amount to electric assistance for the next two years. Customers won't notice any changes in their bills.

The House and Senate also will take up their schedule for the year, setting June 2 as the final day to act on legislation.