March 30, 2006

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Concord Publisher's Note: Legislation that matters
By†Dan Szczesny

Well, what do you know? Sometimes cooler heads do actually prevail up the street at the Capitol.

Having all those legislators around in Concord all the time makes them easy targets for the complaint of the day, but sometimes they get it right. And sometimes, they get a few things right all at once, which is what happened in the past week.

Three important steps were taken, with three important votes, that will affect the quality of life here in our legislatorsí back yard as well as statewide.

First, state representatives took it upon themselves to finally bring New Hampshire in line with every other New England state and voted to ban smoking in restaurants and bars. Far from legislating personal responsibility as opponents claim, the ban is a question of health that will actually help restaurant and bar owners in the long run. A free market should not determine whether or not an employee or patron is forced to breathe second-hand smoke.

The American Lung Association reports that second hand smoke contributes to nearly 40,000 deaths a year.
And the idea that business will drop when smoking is banned makes no sense. Just ask the folks at Hermanos or the Cornerview whether business has decreased since the popular eateries went smokefree. In fact, a smoke-free establishment is becoming a draw to many who would rather not carry the smell of smoke on their food and clothes.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

Also last week, the House overwhelmingly rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Concord Rep. Jim MacKay, a Republican, voted along with more than 200 of his colleagues to reject the amendment. MacKay rightly pointed out that in rejecting the amendment the House rejected hatred and prejudice.

The proposed amendment was the result of a flawed and disgraceful Commission to Study All Aspects of Same-Sex Civil Marriage report that, with luck, history will regulate to a humiliating sidebar in New Hampshire politics.

While a complete repudiation of the commission report, the vote does not extend any rights. Nor apparently is it a trend toward legalizing gay marriage.

Finally, the Senate passed a bill requiring that students remain in school until age 18. The current age is 16. Itís an important bill that will now head to the House. Months ago, when I wrote about that proposed legislation and spoke to local educators like Concord High School principal Gene Connolly, the concern was that simply forcing kids to stay in school might not be enough.

Well, senators must have been listening, as they included more than a million dollars to go toward drop-out prevention programs to the bill. This is crucial, as the programs would provide alternative education options for troubled kids, like internships or community service. Finally, well thought out thorough legislation that will provide actual relief. Letís hope the House is as responsible toward this bill.


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