Mario Ratzki Reports from Concord: March, 2013

By Mario Ratzki, NH House Representative

First, a technical point. When we vote for a bill in the House or the Senate, we do not actually vote on the bill itself, but rather on the originating committee's recommendation for the bill.

For example, HB 337 (total legalization of marijuana) came out of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee with a recommendation of Inexepedient To Legislate (ITL), which means “kill this bill”. A Yes vote therefore means you agree with the committee to kill this bill. A No vote would mean you want to Ought To Pass (OTP) the bill. Counter-intuitive, I know.

Legalization failed by a vote of 239 to 122. It is likely, however, that a medical marijuana bill will pass the House and the Senate this year.

In other news: The only bill I was able to file before the deadline in November 2012 was HB 581, asking the Attorney General to go after moneys that Massachusetts owes to 18 towns in New Hampshire (including Salisbury) for flood control mitigations.  I am happy to report that Ways and Means endorsed it unanimously, and the House passed it.  The Senate is next, and I believe the Attorney General initiated a brief to the Supreme Court to bring Massachusetts in compliance. There is $4.5 million at stake.

Public Works and Highways (my committee) voted 18 to 0 to recommend an OTP on HB 617, the road toll/gas tax bill. The bill passed the House 207 to 163. Ten Democrats voted against it (not me), and 14 Republicans voted for it.

The gas tax has not been increased since 1991, and I do not know of anything which costs the same today as it did then: asphalt, sand, salt, concrete, and labor have all gone up tremendously. We have not kept pace with repairs to our roads and bridges. Twelve percent of gas tax revenues would come back to the towns. That's approximately $340,000 in 10 years for Andover, $300,000 for Danbury, and $227,000 for Salisbury.

The bill is in Ways and Means. When it comes out of committee, it will be on a collision course with the casino bill, SB 152. Both bills would increase revenues for bridge and road repairs. The Senate (especially Senator Morse) has stated that it would not pass HB 617, and the House is set against SB 152. I am for both bills — New Hampshire needs the revenues. It is time we stopped downshifting costs to the towns and provide relief to them instead.

The Governor made an impassioned plea to the Democratic caucus to pass the casino bill. Both Democratic and Republican caucuses are split on the issue. After she left, a Democratic representative rose to complain about being “blackmailed” into voting for SB 152 and swore that she would not be swayed.

It will be an interesting next few weeks: Road toll/gas tax, casino bill, reconciliation of Senate and House bills, the finalization of the budget. Your representatives will be earning their pay.

My April meeting will be in Salisbury. Details to be arranged. Please e-mail me at MarioRatzki@nullgmail.com for updates and any help I can provide.