Legislative Update May 12, 2017
The Senate met in session on Thursday and made a bit of state history, passing a marijuana decriminalization measure for the first time in the more than eight times decriminalization has come before that chamber. The vote was 17-6. Under the bill, simple possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce would become a traffic ticket-type civil violation. Two amendments, one that would have lowered the amount of marijuana one could possess before the violation becomes a crime, and another that would have removed hashish from the bill, were turned aside. The bill must now be reviewed and agreed to by the House, since the Senate version is somewhat different than the House bill. All indications are that the House will concur with the Senate changes. Governor Chris Sununu stated his support for the legislature’s action on the bill thus far and said he will sign it when it reaches his desk.
All in on health care reform
The Senate voted unanimously to endorse a bill that includes $20 million in spending over the next two years to address mental health care and child protection. The bill also directs the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a 10-year plan for mental health services. Governor Sununu has made reform and funding of those issues a priority. The bill will now go to the Senate Finance Committee for review of the fiscal aspects.
We’ll leave the light on for you
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Gary Daniels this week outlined a schedule for the final phase of committee deliberations on the 2018-2019 Biennial Budget. The committee will meet all next week to go through the budget line-by-line, with committee sessions expected to result in some late nights. The strong April tax revenues may help with a number of decisions, but the wish lists of the two parties are long. As is the case with any budget, some members are sure to go away disappointed. A Senate committee vote on the budget could come May 24th or 25th.
Crash and burn
Without debate, the Senate shot down a House bill that would have regulated public and private drone use. As it has in recent years, the bill passed the House, but took heavy flak in the Senate from industry and business interests, which found it too restrictive and repetitive of Federal Aviation Administration rules. Members also felt that adequate privacy protections already exist without the bill.
Time stands still
The Senate defeated a bill that would have set the state on a course toward a switch to Atlantic Standard Time. The bill would have required a switch in Massachusetts first. Several New England states are contemplating the change. Advocates say daylight savings time is outmoded and might even be a drag on people’s health and the economy. Any such change would also require federal approval and is generally seen as a long shot.
Rest in peace
House members are mourning the sudden passing of one of their own, Rep. William R. Polewarczyk of Chester, who died this week. He was in his first term and served on the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee. The committee held a moment of silence this week in his memory, and the full House will remember him at their session next week.
The Senate will meet in session next Thursday, May 18th. The House will also meet that day, but members will only consider one measure, an emergency supplemental appropriation of $33.2 million to fund a budget shortfall at the Department of Health and Human Services. The Senate has already agreed to the proposed amendment. The House has scheduled a regular session day for June 1st. Committees will continue their work next week on remaining bills.