NH House refuses to reconsider gambling bill, but issue not dead for ‘14

CONCORD – The House dealt a major blow to casino gambling proponents’ hopes for 2014 Wednesday, refusing to reconsider last week’s one-vote defeat of a bill authorizing two casinos that had been passed by the state Senate.

The vote against bringing the bill up again was more lopsided than last week — 192-172.

Gambling supporters mustered the same number of votes as in last week’s 173-172 roll call, but gambling opponents increased their number by 19.

The bill would have authorized a total of 5,000 slot machines and 240 table games at two locations.

Still, the issue of gambling is not necessarily dead for the session. After killing Senate Bill 366, the House refused by a slim 183-179 margin to indefinitely postpone the bill.

House speaker Terie Norelli explained a House vote for indefinite postponement would have meant that the House would have been forbidden from taking up any bill that is “substantially similar” to Senate Bill 366 for the remainder of the current session.  As it stands, by refusing to reconsider Senate Bill 366, the House cannot take up that bill again  in the session but because the indefinite postponement motion failed, variations possibly attached as amendments to other bills could be still brought up.

And with the state’s revenue situation worsening, it remains a possibility that the House before the end of the session may vote for a fourth time on gambling.

Reps. Peter Leishman, D-Peterborough, and Kenneth Weyler, R-Kingston, urged the House to reconsider Senate Bill 366 by pointing out that the state’s revenues for April were down by $22 million below official expectations.

Officials are also grappling with the effects of court rulings that the Medicaid Enhancement Tax is unconstitutional, which could cost the state about $185 million.

But Rep. David Hess, R-Hooksett, said the House had already “considered this three times” over the past two years “and it doesn’t need to be brought up for a fourth time.”

Had the House decided to reconsider, about a dozen amendments to the bill could have been brought to the House floor for discussion and votes.

Hess said several of those amendments had not yet had hearings, adding, “This is not the way we do business in the House.”

“This is momentous legislation,” Hess said. “Whether you are for casinos or against casinos, you know this is a big deal. We should not be passing momentous legislation on a wing or a prayer.”

Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, added a baseball analogy.

“You can hit a foul ball again and again and again to try to keep your turn at bat,” she said, “but once you’ve got three strikes, you’re out. The House has fully debated this issue once this term, twice this term. And it has fully debated this issue a third time.

“The rest of the players on our team are waiting to take their turns at bat on other issues,” she said.

Author: John DiStaso

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