Jan. 25 - Road Usage Fee's Status

This article appeared in the E-Ticker News Jan. 25, 2016

NH House Happenings

By Rep. John Cloutier
Road Usage Feeʼs Status

Last week was again a busy week for me as a member of New Hampshireʼs House of Represen- tatives, a week made even busier by controversy over a bill of which I am a co-sponsor. 

House Bill 1602, which would establish a so-called RUF (Road Usage Fee) for most motor vehicles made after 1983 and getting more than 20 MPG (Miles Per Gallon) was the subject of a public hearing on Jan. 19 before the House Public Works & Highways Committee. A committee of which I am a member. The bill whose prime sponsor is Plaistow Rep. Norman Major, a Republican, is co-sponsored by three other Republican representatives, including Public Works & Highways Chair Gene Chandler of Bartlett. Three Democratic representatives are co-sponsors besides myself as well as Dover Sen. David Watters, a Democrat.

As some readers of this column may remember, I had explained some of the RUFʼs provisions, and my reasons for co-sponsoring the bill in the Nov. 9, 2015 e-Ticker with no adverse feedback. Also, the number of individuals testifying in favor of the RUF actually outnumbered opponents at the Jan. 19 hearing. But thanks to Facebook and WNTK radio, I soon began to receive a number of emails from constituents and other Sullivan County citizens opposing the RUF as too costly and unfair to the owners of more fuel-efficient vehicles.
After reading these emails and listening to WNTK, I better understand the opposition to the RUF in House Bill 1602. Maybe there are better ways to garner more revenue for New Hampshireʼs “financially-constrained" highways and to fix our crumbling roads and bridges. Maybe there are better ways to ensure that all motor vehicles, not just those powered by gas, diesel, & propane, pay their fair share of fixing our roads and bridges. But the RUF was a bipartisan attempt to deal with these two challenges. 

In any case, readers should note that House Bill 1602 has been assigned to a subcommittee of Public Works & Highways. Freedom Rep. Mark McConkey, the subcommittee chair, told me on Jan. 21 that the bill is unlikely to be recommended for approval without major changes, if it is positively recommended at all by his subcommittee and our full committee, recommendations which should come within the next two weeks. I will keep readers updated about the RUF bill in future columns.

In other news, the full House approved three bills that attempt to deal with New Hampshireʼs heroin and opioid crisis on Jan. 20 after brief de- bates on each. The three bills, which had been earlier passed by the New Hampshire Senate were then quickly signed into law by Gov. Maggie Hassan. The three fast-tracked bills, adopted more quickly than normal, were filed on the recommendation of a special joint legislative task force created as a result of the Nov. 2015 Special Session called by Gov. Hassan in response to just-described crisis.

The three are Senate Bill 447, that was adopted by a 275-71 division vote, and establishes a commission to study Narcan, a drug used to treat individuals suffering from opioid overdoses. The commission will be charged with examining all aspects of Narcan. These aspects include whether there should be a registry for those in possession of Narcan, the training required for administering Narcan, and whether individuals administered Narcan should go to outpatient treatment for a specified period of time. Under the bill, the commission has until Nov. 1, 2017, to make a final report. Senate Bill 447 was sponsored by a group of Republican senators led by Bedfordʼs Andrew Sanborn.

The second approved by a 276-69 roll call vote was Senate Bill 576. This omnibus piece of legislation includes a number of different provisions. Among them is one specifying that the the penalty for possession of the drug, fentanyl, will be the same as the current penalty for heroin possession. Also the bill requires prescribers of controlled drugs to daily query and report to the New Hampshireʼs Controlled Drug Pre- scription Health & Safety Program when prescribing such drugs. Finally it requires New Hampshireʼs Health & Human Services Commissioner to consult with the Safety Commissioner about establishing a 24-hour drug crisis hotline for our state. The bill was sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Wolfeboro Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Republican. It also included Claremont Rep. Andrew OʼHearne as well as Hanover Sen. David Pierce and Weare Sen. Jerry Little, who together are Sullivan Countyʼs two senators.

The third, but more controversial bill approved by voice vote on Jan. 20 was an amended version of Senate Bill 369, that encourages all our stateʼs public schools to include drug and alcohol education as part of their health education curriculum. The bill, as amended, received a positive recommendation from a majority of the House. However, a majority of the Education Committee, mostly Republican representatives, amended the billʼs original version which stated, “Each public school in the state as a part of of their health education program shall provide at each grade level age appropriate drug and alcohol education to pupils from kindergarten through Grade 12. The Republican amendment simply struck out the word “shall” and substituted the word, “should.” Most Democratic representatives on the Education Committee objected to the amendment, claiming that the “should” is meaningless in state law. Nevertheless, the Republican amendment was adopted on a 196-150 roll call vote, and then the entire bill as amended was simply passed through by voice vote.

Senate Bill 369ʼs original version was sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators led by Hampton Sen. Nancy Stiles. The amended bill also requires school boards to develop policies authorizing school personnel to provide students as well as their parents or guardians with information relative to existing drug and alcohol treatment programs. It does not require schools to add more drug treatment programs or services. I voted for both Senate Bills 447 and 576 because they were worthwhile legislation. I voted against the final amended version of Senate Bill 369 because we as legislators should not as a general rule include the word, “should” when passing laws.
Email: jocloutier@comcast.net