NH Reps want to ski for free
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(CONCORD) Some New Hampshire Representatives want their free lift ticket back. After getting free passes to state-owned Cannon Mountain Ski Area for years, a Legislative Ethics Committee letter last winter found that the freebies violated the Legislature’s ban on gifts over $25. But a trio of lawmakers have introduced a bill that would exempt Cannon Mountain from the gift ban.
Representatives Gary Coulombe (D-Berlin), Andrew Schimdt (D-Grantham), and Herb Richardson (R-Lancaster) are sponsoring HB 514, which adds an exemption to the ethic guidelines for House and Senate members to receive passes to Cannon Mountain. The House Legislative Administration Committee takes up the bill with a public hearing Thursday morning at the Legislative Office Building in Concord.
Cannon Mountain, which is run though the state Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED), is one of two state-owned ski areas in New Hampshire. The Legislature privatized operations at Mount Sunapee Ski Area over a decade ago, and profits from Sunapee have been subsidizes capital improvements at Cannon ever since. A recent New Hampshire Watchdog investigation found that taxpayer subsidies of Cannon have totalled more than $9.2 million since 1999.
In January 2012, Legislative Ethics Committee Chairman Martin L. Gross responded to an inquiry from Representative Edmond Gionet (R-Lincoln) about whether he and his colleagues could accept the Cannon Mountain passes despite the long-standing ban on gifts to lawmakers. Gross responded in an Advisory Opinion from the Committee:
It appears from the facts presented that the value of the lift tickets in question is $25.00 or more, which would classify them as gifts that RSA 15-B:3 would prohibit legislators from receiving unless the tickets were exempted from that classification by applicable provision of law. We find no provision of law that would provide such an exemption.
HB 514 would carve out just such an exemption. Officials at Cannon Mountain say that they haven’t tracked how many free passes they’ve given away to lawmakers over the years, and that they don’t write down when a Legislator and guest show up on the slopes.
The Legislative Ethics Committee issued a similar ruling last year, finding that the House of Representatives could not accept 400 free circus tickets for each of its members, even though the value of each individual tickets was well below the $25 threshold.
The House Legislative Administration Committee takes up HB 514, and three other bills dealing with ethics requirements, Thursday morning at 9am in Room 104 of the Legislative Office Building in Concord. HB 410 would allow gifts like the disputed circus tickets and allow outside parties to pay for lawmakers to transportation to and from events. HB 415 would prohibit solicitation of gifts, even under the $25 limit, and bar the acceptance of multiple gifts totalling more than $100 from a single source. HB 548 would rewrite and expand the gift ban for lawmakers, legislative employees, and their family members.
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