NH House to vote on gay marriage, marijuana bills

by Norma Love

Associated Press

Monday March 23, 2009

CONCORD, N.H.-Gay marriage, transgender rights, medical marijuana and establishing a special unit to investigate old, unsolved murders are on the busy agenda facing legislators this week.

Legislators also will hear from Chief Justice John Broderick on Wednesday on the state of the judicial system. Broderick has been outspoken lately that the court system needs more funding to maintain adequate staffing levels and upgrade computer systems.

The House will meet Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to act on roughly 300 bills including allowing gays to marry. The Legislature passed a civil unions bill for same-sex couples two years ago and the state began issuing civil unions last year.

The committee charged with making a recommendation deadlocked 10-10 whether to support making New Hampshire the third state to allow same-sex couples to marry. Some who voted against the bill said the state isn't ready for it while others opposed gay marriage altogether.

Only Massachusetts and Connecticut allow gay marriage.

Gov. John Lynch signed the civil union bill, but Lynch opposes gay marriage.

The same committee deadlocked on an anti-discrimination bill that would extend legal protections to transsexuals. Opponents called it the "bathroom bill" based on their argument it will open all bathrooms to both men and women. Supporters argued transsexuals are using the bathrooms now and need job protections the bill would provide.

Another committee voted 13-7 to allow severely ill patients to grow and use marijuana for medicinal purposes. The bill requires doctors to certify a patient has a debilitating medical condition and would benefit from the therapeutic or palliative benefit from using marijuana. Patients or a caregiver could possess six plants and two ounces of the drug.

The House defeated a medicinal marijuana bill two years ago by nine votes.

Lead sponsor Evalyn Merrick, who has cancer and used marijuana to quell queasiness from chemotherapy in 2002, says her bill would help many patients who are suffering in pain. But Lynch spokesman Colin Manning says the governor has concerns about the bill.

Three months after a man was sentenced to die for killing a police officer -- New Hampshire's first death sentence in 50 years -- the House will debate repealing capital punishment. The committee in charge of the bill voted 11-7 to kill it and instead pass another bill to establish a commission to study capital punishment.

A repeal bill passed by the House and Senate in 2000 was vetoed by then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. A similar bill failed last year by 12 votes in the House. Lynch opposes repeal.

The House also will vote whether to establish a cold case unit for four years to tackle more than 100 unsolved murders.

The unit would have two state police detectives, a paralegal and a lawyer from the attorney general's office.

The four would work exclusively on cold cases. Currently, 12 state police investigators and city detectives work the cases when they have time.

The unit would dissolve after four years, unless the Legislature voted to continue funding.

The House also will consider whether minors should be required to notify parents before obtaining an abortion. A related bill would require the girls to provide proof of counseling before an abortion.

The Senate will meet Wednesday and consider, among other things, whether the governor's term should be changed from two to four years beginning in 2012. A constitutional change would be needed so if the Senate approves the measure, the House and voters also would have to agree for it to take effect.

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