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Fight to legalize 2 casinos continues in NH House
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- For the third time in a month, the House will debate whether to legalize casino gambling in New Hampshire and this time supporters of decriminalizing marijuana could play a deciding role.
The House voted 173-172 to kill a Senate casino bill last week, but a representative filed a notice to reconsider the vote when the House meets Wednesday.
It is unclear how many representatives supported the Senate bill because some wanted to vote down the motion to kill the bill so amendments could be debated, including one to attach a proposal to decriminalize marijuana to try to force the Senate to consider it. The Senate has refused to consider a House bill to decriminalize the drug this year after it killed a similar bill last year.
Should the House add the marijuana proposal to the gambling bill and send it back to the Senate, the Senate could reject it for the same reason it refused to consider the earlier House marijuana bill.
The Senate bill would legalize two casinos sharing a total of 5,000 video slot machines and 240 table games.
Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, has repeatedly said she supports only one casino. She and other casino supporters have said they believe New Hampshire should legalize a casino to capture gambling profits that otherwise will be spent in Massachusetts, which is licensing three casinos and one video slots parlor.
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Senate tax panel to meet on hospital tax ruling
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- The Senate's tax committee is meeting to discuss a recent court ruling that found New Hampshire's tax on hospitals unconstitutional.
Senate President Chuck Morse told the Ways and Means Committee last week he hopes negotiations among legislative leaders, the governor and the hospitals produce a short-term fix to avoid a major impact on the budget. The committee is hoping to have a proposal to attach to a House bill when the panel meets Tuesday.
The Superior Court ruling applies to the 2014 tax year and future tax years. If upheld, the hospitals could ask the state to refund $100 million or more in tax payments for 2014. It also means lawmakers would have to plug a similar hole in next year's budget.
The tax produces about $185 million annually for Medicaid and other state spending. The state kept $72 million this year for general state spending, used $82 million for payments to health care providers and returned $31 million to the hospitals in aid to help offset the cost of uncompensated care.
In 1991, hospitals began paying the tax so the state could gain matching Medicaid funds to pay for health care for the poor. For many years, they got all their taxes refunded dollar-for-dollar from the state.
In 2011, the federal government said states could no longer refund all the money and, instead, had to apply a formula that reimbursed the funds according to hospitals' Medicaid costs. Three years ago, the Republican-controlled Legislature cut Medicaid funding to the hospitals more than $130 million, but retained the tax. Ten of the state's largest hospitals later sued the state in federal court over changes in Medicaid policies and reimbursements.
The state lost a separate lawsuit by Northeast Rehabilitation Hospital, which is on appeal.
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University gets grant for child welfare workers
DURHAM, N.H. (AP) -- The University of New Hampshire is one of 11 schools receiving a federal grant to help train and retain child welfare workers.
The $700,000, five-year grant will pay for three initiatives that bring together the university and the state Division for Children, Youth and Families. Most of the money will go toward providing full in-state tuition and fees, plus a stipend, to five students each year who will work in child welfare upon graduation.
State officials say a skilled and well-educated workforce is critical to improving outcomes for New Hampshire children and families.
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New Hampshire sex offender fights registry rules
By LYNNE TUOHY
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- The New Hampshire Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the constitutionality of sex offender registry requirements for convicts whose crimes were committed before the legislature imposed more stringent rules.
Lawyers for "John Doe" contend the registry requirements -- which have been overhauled numerous times since 1998 -- amount to new layers of punishment that weren't in place when he was convicted in 1987 of sexually assaulting his 14-year-old stepdaughter.
Lawyers for the state acknowledge the information required from sex offenders and frequency of their reports to police have increased, but they maintain the requirements are regulatory and not punitive.
The Supreme Court ruled 20 years ago that the state's sex offender requirements do not punish sex offenders, but the registry requirements have expanded significantly since then, lawyers involved in the case say.
"It seems that every legislative session, lawmakers came in and upped the ante to add more requirements to the law," said attorney Bill Chapman, who represents Doe.
When the Supreme Court reviewed the registry requirements in 1994, sex offenders were required to register with law enforcement once a year and the list was not made public.
In 1998, the legislature made information on sex offenders public and stripped away a provision that kept convicts' identities confidential if they could convince a judge there was little risk they would offend again.
In 2002, the legislature authorized state police to post the identities and photographs of sex offenders on the Department of Safety's website.
Now, convicted sex offenders have to report to police every three months, face at least two surprise home visits a year, report any social media and email addresses they maintain and inform landlords and employers of their convicted status, among other things.
Doe's conviction predates the 1992 inception of the sex offender registry in New Hampshire.
Doe is now in his 60s, lives in a Manchester boarding house and is disabled after a severe abdominal aorta rupture. He received a suspended sentence for his crimes and completed two years of sex offender treatment. In 1990, a judge deemed him rehabilitated and terminated his probation.
The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union sued on Doe's behalf in 2011, challenging the registry requirements as they pertain to him. But if the Supreme Court were to issue a ruling on due process grounds, based on the lack of opportunity for sex offenders to show they pose little to no risk to the community, a broad range of sex offenders could be affected, Chapman said.
A Merrimack County Superior Court judge ruled against Doe in June 2013, prompting his appeal.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 2003 ruling in a case from Alaska, said the state's registry requirements were neither punitive nor akin to public shaming.
Doe's lawyers say he fears harassment by neighbors who learn of his sex offender status and faces problems finding housing to accommodate his disabilities.
In documents filed with the court, lawyers for the state contend most of the registry requirements pose no burden to Doe because he doesn't have a job or attend school, doesn't have a computer or online presence, and doesn't own a passport or a car.
"He is as free to marry, move, work and travel as any other citizen is," wrote Dianne Martin, assistant attorney general.
"Any damage to his reputation occurred as a result of the conviction and the sexual assault on a child -- not the inclusion in the registry," she said.
The justices will hear arguments in the case May 8.
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New Hampshire student art exhibit opens
PETERBOROUGH, N.H. (AP) -- An exhibit designed to strengthen the artistic development of New Hampshire high school students is now open at the New Hampshire Institute of Art's Sharon Arts Center.
The exhibit features the work of students from across the state who were asked to submit drawings, paintings, photographs and other art. The goal was to give young artists experience with the process of preparing work and submitting it for a juried show.
Participants are eligible for cash prizes, and the New Hampshire Institute of Art will award $1,500 to a graduating senior.
The exhibition runs through June 14 at the arts center in Peterborough.
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Police ID victims, suspect in Nashua shooting
NASHUA, N.H. (AP) -- Police say the search for the suspect in a Nashua, New Hampshire, double shooting has ended in an apparent suicide in Massachusetts.
Police say a man shot a man and a woman on Merrimack Street late Friday afternoon. Authorities say the male victim -- 35-year-old Andres Garcia of Hudson -- died of his injuries at a Boston hospital. The woman -- 32-year-old Mireily Rodriguez-Torres of Nashua -- is expected to survive.
After the shooting, police found the man believed to be shooter -- 34-year-old Carlos Alago-Collazo -- in a car parked in Lawrence, Massachusetts.
He was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Police say Alago-Collazo and the female victim had been involved in a long-term relationship and had two children together.
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Fish survey: Record your striped bass catch
DURHAM, N.H. (AP) -- Striped bass are starting to arrive in New Hampshire's coastal waters, and the state wants to figure out how many are out there.
To help state and federal fisheries biologists assess the status of the population, the state Fish and Game Department is asking anglers to participate in an online volunteer survey.
Participants are asked to measure each fish they catch. The survey is the only method the department currently has to get length measurements on fish that are released.
There's been a survey since 1993. The information is used in an annual coast-wide stock assessment for striped bass.
The Coastal Conservation Association of New Hampshire, which has been supporting the survey and distributed it since 2000, donates a signed and framed first-of-state bass print annually.
Anglers fishing for striped bass or other finfish in New Hampshire's coastal or estuarine waters need an $11 saltwater recreational fishing license.
The survey can be found at http://www.fishnh.com/marine/striper--survey.html.
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Old Man of the Mountain anniversary marked
FRANCONIA, N.H. (AP) -- The crowd was expected to be smaller than last year, but at least some New Hampshire residents paid their respects to the Old Man of the Mountain this weekend.
Saturday marked 11 years since the 40-foot-tall natural rock formation resembling a man's face crashed from its perch above Franconia Notch. About 200 people visited the site for the 10th anniversary last year, and the president of the Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund says he expects he won't be alone in returning on Saturday.
Adopted as the state emblem in 1945, the Old Man still appears on the state quarter, highway signs and license plates. The nonprofit legacy fund had planned a $5 million memorial but donations dried up after the initial phase was completed in 2011.