EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

August 26, 2013

Free E-ZPass OK for N.H. legislators

Ethics Committee rules on issue; ski passes can't be accepted

CONCORD — State lawmakers can accept free E-ZPass transponders from the state Department of Transportation.

That’s the ruling from the Legislative Ethics Committee.

Rep. Frank Sapareto, R-Derry, asked the committee for a “ruling on the $30 plus E-Z Pass that is given as a gift to legislators.”

The ethics panel said the combined value of the transponder and prepayment exceeds the $24.99 lawmakers are allowed to accept.

But the panel found the units are not the same as regular E-ZPass transponders used by the public, because they are not valid for use outside the state.

State law lets lawmakers pass free of charge through tolls on New Hampshire highways.

“Thus, the transponders merely expedite the free toll gate passage for legislators mandated by statute, rather than providing anything else of value,” the panel said in its ruling. “Accordingly, we advise that the non-revenue transponders issued to legislators, when used in vehicles bearing legislative plates, are not prohibited gifts.”

Sapareto disagrees with the free transponders and the panel’s ruling.

“I don’t have one. I think it’s unethical,” Sapareto said. “Why do I need to waste taxpayer money for something the law says I get free anyway?”

He would have lawmakers pull into tolls and show their ID or plates because it won’t take much time. Then the state could save on the expense of providing the transponders, he said.

“Can’t you just take the time and go over to the tolls?” he asked.

The number of lawmakers using the transponders wasn’t immediately available, but Sapareto said it’s virtually everyone traveling through tolls to get to the Statehouse.

Sapareto said he’s not so much disappointed in the ethics panel’s ruling as he is in the Legislature and its leadership.

He maintains lawmakers should be setting rules themselves for their behavior.

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