By TED SIEFER
State House Bureau

CONCORD — The Senate has passed a bill repealing the state's Certificate of Need (CON) law in three years.

The bill represents a compromise between backers of House Bill 1617 — who wanted the law repealed immediately — and the Senate, which had voted for a repeal in five years.

Sen. Ray White, R-Bedford, a fierce critic of the CON board, voted for the bill, but said that he would've have preferred the immediate repeal of the law, which he called "a miserable failure." "There was the idea that (a three-year repeal) was a shot across the bow. I would've wanted to use a bigger gun," White said.

Critics of the CON law said it's anti-competitive and favors established hospitals, whose representatives have seats on the CON board.

The New Hampshire Hospital Association favors reforming rather than repealing the law, which it insists plays an important regulatory role.

The debate intensified this session amid reports that the for-profit Cancer Treatment Centers of America is considering New Hampshire for a new hospital. Company officials have said the CON process would pose a barrier to coming to the Granite State.

'Early offer'

The House and Senate passed a compromise version of Senate Bill 406, which aims to create a simpler and speedier alternative to the medicalmalpractice process.

The House voted, 220-141, to pass the bill, and the Senate voted 13-9.

A spokesman for Gov. John Lynch indicated that he has "a number of concerns" about the bill. Should he veto the bill, there would not be enough votes for an override, based on Wednesday's vote.

Known as the "early offer" bill, SB 406 would enable patients who suffer documented medical injuries to receive a capped settlement from the medical provider in a matter of months. The program would be voluntary, with the settlement based on medical costs and lost wages, plus a severity- of-injury payment ranging from $2,100 for minor harm to $140,000 for grave harm or death.

The bill has drawn criticism from insurers and lawyers who say only uninformed and desperate people would be pulled into using the early offer process, rather than pursue a traditional malpractice case.

Medical marijuana

The Senate came closer to passing Senate Bill 409 by a veto-proof majority than many people anticipated, voting 13-9 to pass the bill — only one vote short of the three-fifths margin.

The bill would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients with debilitating medical conditions.

The House passed the bill on a voice vote; it had passed an earlier version of the bill by a veto-proof margin.

Gov. John Lynch has vowed to veto the bill due to concerns over public safety and drug abuse. He vetoed a similar bill in 2009.

The bill would allow a patient to cultivate up to four plants within a locked and secured facility in a location known to law enforcement and to possess up to six ounces of marijuana. The bill also allows a registered caregiver to grow the marijuana for a patient.

Had bill supporter Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Henniker, not resigned due to changing his district the day before the vote, the bill would have likely received veto-proof support.

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