Senator Odell is Chairman of
the Ways and
Means Committee, and
member of the Energy, Environment and Economic Development
Committee; Finance Committee; Citizens Trade Policy
Commission; State Park System Advisory Council; and Comprehensive Cancer Plan Oversight
District 8 towns: Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Claremont,
Gilsum, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster, Marlow, New London, Newbury,
Newport, Roxbury, Stoddard, Sullivan, Sunapee, Sutton, Unity,
Walpole, Washington and Westmoreland.
The legislature frequently gets a bad rap for being so slow in getting things done. The legislative process can be exasperating but once in a while the process runs full tilt and things happen quickly.
When Judge James Barry, sitting in Hillsborough County Superior Court South, missed a deadline to keep two sexually violent predators in prison through a civil commitment process, the two men were released from prison. Both had served their full sentences but are seen as a danger to the community and likely to commit sexual crimes again. Prosecutors had filed petitions to have the men kept in the Secure Psychiatric Unit at the State Prison in Concord for up to five years. The judge had 10 days to decide if there was probable cause underlying the petition and another 60 days to hold a trial on the case.
Legislators were stunned to learn that Judge Barry missed the 10 day deadline and the men had to be released. Senator Deborah Reynolds (Plymouth) worked with the Governor's office, the Attorney General and others to draft an amendment to a bill that was moving through the Senate. The original bill (SB 142) was requested by the Attorney General's office to correct some conflicts in the statute dealing with the registration of criminal sexual offenders.
Senator Reynolds brought her amendment to the Senate floor last Wednesday. It will allow prosecutors to file for emergency petitions if some deadlines slip. A probable cause hearing could be called immediately and a decision made on whether there is evidence a person is a dangerous sexual predator and needs to be held. There was a roll call vote on the Reynolds amendment with a predictable outcome ... a unanimous 22-0 vote favoring the amendment. There was a perfunctory voice vote on the bill as amended and SB 142 was on its way to the House for fast track action there.
Although Chief Justice Robert Lynn apologized recognizing the court "bears significant responsibility" for the two criminals being released, Senators were so incensed with the system breakdown that they felt legislative action was required. Within a week of the release of the criminals, both child rapists, the Senate had acted. The Department of Corrections recently reported that there are 116 inmates convicted of felonious sexual assault, 20 of whom had victims under 13 years of age, in the prison system. Some are very, very dangerous offenders who cannot be allowed on the streets. SB 142 will help to do that.
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There were a couple of other bills that got quick action last week, too.
Sometimes actions in Massachusetts stir strong reactions in New Hampshire. The Massachusetts Commissioner of Revenue, in a case before the state's Supreme Judicial Council, wants businesses in New Hampshire to report to Massachusetts on sales in New Hampshire to Bay Staters. Confusing? Yes, but essentially a Vermont customer buying something at a Claremont store would have the information on his or her transaction sent to the tax collectors in Vermont so they could collect a sales tax.
The Massachusetts Revenue Commissioner's idea got front page headlines and rapid legislative action. Maggie Hassan (Exeter), Senate Majority Leader, went before the Senate Rules Committee on February 18 to introduce her bill (SB 5). The Rules Committee approval was needed as the normal date for introduction of bills had long passed. As she drafted the legislation she found broad support. All the current 23 Senators signed on as co-sponsors as did the Republican and Democrat leadership of the House.
The bill prohibits New Hampshire retailers from disclosing private consumer information to other states to help them with the collection of sales and use taxes. It will clearly thwart the intentions of Massachusetts tax collectors. A public hearing was held on March 31. There was no opposition and the bill came to the Senate floor on Wednesday. As expected, there was a 22-0 unanimous favorable vote. Now, the House needs to act. Governor Lynch applauded the Senate action saying "we should not allow other states to turn New Hampshire businesses into their own tax agents."
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You remember the devastating ice storm in December. There was plenty of criticism of the utilities for their responses to a historic number of power outages. Some believe part of the cause of the fallen lines were obstacles faced by utilities in trimming trees on private property.
Three months later the Senate has come up with a possible solution by modifying procedures for necessary tree work. Currently, utilities need permission from property owners before they can cut. Under SB 195 introduced by Senator Hassan last month, again after the normal deadline for bill introductions had passed, utilities can assume the owner's consent if she or he does not object within 45 days of a notice from the utility to the owner. An owner who objects to proposed trimming or cutting of trees on their property simply must say so by writing back to the utility. The Senate response to the December disaster passed on a voice vote.
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Writing this column early on Sunday morning, there were snowflakes fluttering down, the temperature was below freezing and it was Easter. The gardener in the family says not to worry. She has her peas and some onions planted. That is the best sign around here that the real spring is on its way. I am waiting.
New Hampshire State House
107 North Main Street
Concord, NH 03301-4951