Jun 16, 2016 2:54 PM
NH1 News Political Director
CONCORD – State lawmakers passed a bill that would dramatically expand a law enforcement program in the war against the heroin and opioid epidemic.
The state House of Representatives voted 235-74 to provide $1.5 million to take Operation Granite Hammer statewide. That’s the program that provides funds to the New Hampshire state police and the Manchester Police Department to arrest drug dealers.
The state Senate quickly followed suit, with a unanimous 22-0 vote. The legislation moved to the Corner Office. Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, one of the state leaders that urged lawmakers to pass the measure, signed the bill into law on Thursday early evening.
Before signing the bill into law, Hassan spoke with NH1 News.
"What this bill passed today does is expand operation Granite Hammer statewide so that all of our law enforcement who are grappling on the front lines with our opioid and heroin epidemic have an additional tool, state support, partnering with the state, partnering with our federal law enforcement officials to really address the supply side of this heroin and opioid epidemic," she said.
To reach the final vote, the chamber earlier in the day voted 241-97 to suspend the chamber’s rules to allow considering of Granite Hammer.
The parliamentary procedure needed to pass by a two-thirds vote, and there was 90 minute debate preceding the vote that at times turned heated and emotional. The showdown was mostly an intra-party battle between conservative and libertarian minded Republicans opposed to a suspension of the rules and the GOP leadership and more mainstream lawmakers supportive of the rules suspension.
Republican Rep. Debra DeSimone of Atkinson read aloud a message from a constituent, saying “f-ing drugs just killed my son at 31 years old - just two hours ago. Please Debbie, please go to Concord and do what you have to do to give us money so no other mothers have to come into your office like this.”
“Would you believe that this may be a reason to suspend the rules today to save more children,” DeSimone pleaded.
GOP Rep. David Bates of Windham, one of the ringleaders of the group opposed to suspending the rules, told fellow lawmakers that “Granite Hammer bill can be refiled in September like all of us need to do to bills that failed somewhere along the legislative process. Let that bill be filed in September. Go through the normal process like all bills ought to. It can be fast tracked in January if necessary to make the funds available then.”
“There’s not an urgent and compelling need to do what we’re being asked to do here today,” he added.
Former House Speaker Bill O’Brien, another leader of those voting against suspension of the rules, said that the chamber took “not one, not two, but three votes rejecting legislation that’s now being brought before us.”
Shawn Jasper, the current House speaker, was last to speak before the vote on suspending the rules.
“I’ve heard that the bill failed two times, three times. The bill never failed,” Jasper said. “We’ve been told this is unusual. Hardly, hardly at all.”
“I actually had a member of this House today on social media tell me that by suspending our own rules, which allow for suspension, is akin to what Adolf Hitler did by suspending the laws of Nazi Germany. I am highly offended,” the Speaker added.
"Drug dealers need to know that they will be dealt with swiftly and with great consequences if they come to New Hampshire and that’s what operation Granite Hammer ultimately lets us do," Hassan added.
Asked by NH1 News how quickly before the operation gets expanded statewide, Hassan said "we were able to do it very quickly when we started it in Manchester. Local law enforcement needs to work with the state to let us know what their needs are. And then we will be able to distribute the funds as quickly as possible."
There’s been a full court press the past couple of days by Hassan, State Sen. Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, and other top political leaders to pass the Granite Hammer funding.
“The state police and the Manchester police department have done a remarkable job. We need to get Granite Hammer funding to them ASAP,” Bradley said on Tuesday.
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