On the Political Front: Lawmakers to Tackle Bills on Drones, Needle Exchanges This Week

Mar 21, 2016

On the Political Front is our weekly check-in with NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers. 

Credit Don McCullough/Flickr

  This is crossover week, the week when state lawmakers in both chambers hit deadlines to act on the bills that started in their chambers. Always a hectic time, but not always a productive one.

Well, it tends to be a time when lots of bills get killed. That’s particularly the case in election years. But there are some significant proposals facing up or down votes. The House will take up a bill that aims to codify policy on drones, including penalties for improper drone use. It’s a new topic obviously, and  lots of work has gone into this proposal, which has split the House Criminal Justice committee. A narrow majority wants the bill killed. Some are concerned it privileges drone use by governments over individuals.  Those on the other side argue taking no action would allow governments to weaponize drones, using tear gas, say to disperse a crowd. Expect a floor fight on this, and an alternate proposal to introduced on the floor.

I understand another big debate in the House is likely on a bill that seeks to make it easier for people to get rid of syringes carrying trace amounts of narcotics?

Will this bill is heading out of the Criminal Justice committee with no recommendation. The bill started in the Health and Human Services committee, which backed it unanimously, the logic that as a matter of public health, a policy that facilitates needle exchange programs, which aren’t contemplated under out current laws, is a plus. But many on the criminal justice committee say exempting syringes with trace amounts of drug on them from being considered drug paraphernalia, which is what this bill does, will make it harder for law enforcement, without necessarily reducing the number improperly disposed dirty syringes.  This debate really highlights the tensions over changes drug policies; harm reduction versus a more traditional law and order attitude attitude. In this case, a tweak in the drafting could smoothing these tensions. If it gets out of the House, that will certainly be up for debate in the Senate.

Speaking of the Senate, they will, or at least could, vote on expanded gambling this week?

Credit Sal Falko via Flickr cc

  You put that well. The Senate was to take up the bill last week, but tabled it due to the absence of Lakes Region Senator Andrew Hosmer. He backs gambling, and without his vote, the bill stood slim chance of passing. But even with his backing this bill is touch and go. As you know it originally sought to put a casino at Rockingham Park. It was then amended to let the casino site be determined by open bid. The bill is sponsored by longtime gambling boosters, Lou D’Allesandro on Manchester and Senate President Chuck Morse. The pair has obviously had success in moving gambling bills though the Senate before. If the votes are there this week, this bill will come off the table. If they are not, there the bill will sit. Even if it does make it out of the Senate, the bill’s chances in the House are slim. The House has never backed a casino bill and I’m perceiving no appetite for passing one this year.

We’ve only got a minute but I want to ask you about Ted Gatsas. He backed gambling when he was in the Senate. He’s now in his fourth term as Manchester Mayor, and has jumped into the governor’s race.

Ted Gatsas
Credit Sam Evans-Brown

  Yes. Ted Gatsas has considered running in the past. He’s saying the support of his wife and mother helped push him to do so now. He just barely won re-election last fall -- the margin was under 100 votes -- but says his record on issues ranging from the opioid crisis to education will make him a strong contender in the GOP primary. When he was in the statehouse Gatsas worked hard on big issues – the budget, school funding, gambling. He has decent name recognition and should be able to raise some money. Manchester hasn’t sent a candidate to the corner office in literally a century, which may or may not be relevant. Ted Gatsas will certainly make this race more interesting. He joins Executive Councilor Chris Sununu and State Rep. Frank Edelblut in the primary.