EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 19, 2013

Editorial: Hedging their bets on casino legislation

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Two local state representatives appear to be hedging their bets when casting votes on Senate Bill 152, which would expand gaming in New Hampshire and allow for a single casino.

Rep. Marilinda Garcia, R-Salem., and Rep. Norman Major, R-Plaistow, voted with the majority last Wednesday to spike the expanded gaming bill.

The two were on the 45-member House super committee, charged with examining the bill and making a recommendation to the full House.

Garcia, seen by many as a pivotal vote, said the bill was simply too flawed. She said her vote was based on the proposal, not on her constituents’ support for a casino.

Eighty-one percent of Salem voters expressed support for a casino in a non-binding referendum at Town Meeting in March.

Major, too, said the bill was flawed. After the vote, he said he might support expanded gaming, but not this bill.

The joint House committee spent three weeks studying, debating and considering changes to SB 152, which passed the Republican-dominated Senate, 16-8, in March.

But any potential changes — there were, in fact, 17 proposed amendments from the committee — were not voted on Wednesday.

After a morning of debate, the committee heard a motion from Rep. Patricia Lovejoy, D-Stratham, to kill the bill by deeming it “inexpedient to legislate.”

The panel voted, 23-22, to spike the proposal. Members did so without voting on a single proposed amendment, many of which offered tighter regulation of a casino.

Lawmakers did a disservice to the residents of New Hampshire. The state has been kicking around the idea of expanding gaming here for more than a decade.

With the state’s infrastructure and public education system in dire need of a cash infusion, casino revenues are one viable solution. With Massachusetts ahead of New Hampshire in the race to offer slots and table games to its residents, time does matter.

Whether a casino is the answer to the Granite State’s fiscal woes remains a question.

But careful and complete consideration is a no-brainer.

To say the bill is imperfect likely is correct. So why not officially weigh in on more than a dozen proposals to fine tune and, perhaps, improve the bill?

Garcia has long been an opponent of expanded gaming, yet Salem residents continue to send her to Concord to represent them. If she truly believes a casino would be to the ultimate detriment of the town she represents and the state at large, fine. Say it and stick with it.

But don’t try to straddle the line. If the legislation is so flawed, committee members had an opportunity and an obligation to improve it. She and her fellow committee members did not.

A one-vote majority is hardly a ringing recommendation to the full House, which will take up the bill and likely vote on it this week.

Amendments can and likely will be considered by the 400-member body.

Voters should expect full and careful consideration from each of their representatives. They didn’t get that Wednesday.