New Hampshire lawmakers Wednesday overwhelmingly signed off on a joint task force charged with addressing the state’s opioid epidemic. The vote came in a special session of the Legislature.
The House passed the measure creating the task force by a vote of 290 to 46, while the Senate unanimously passed it. The 26-member committee will look at a range of possible solutions to the state's substance abuse crisis, including harsher penalties on the distribution of fentanyl, establishing a statewide drug court program and requiring more involvement in the state’s prescription drug monitoring program.
House Majority Leader Richard Hinch told his colleagues that a task force is the best way for the state to tackle the drug crisis.
“These are complex issues with huge consequences, by assembling this group of legislators and putting together a process by which they work with external stakeholders, we believe we have a better chance of not only having good legislation but having the best," he said.
Governor Maggie Hassan applauded the Legislature's action, but said she would have preferred legislation that reformed the state's drug policy, not just a task force.
Sen. Molly Kelly, a Keene Democrat, expressed a similar sentiment on the Senate floor.
"The talking and the studying about this epidemic has been done, over and over and over," said. Kelly. She ended up voting for the task force, but said she was "disappointed" that immediate action could not be taken Wednesday.
The group will have its first meeting on Tuesday with a preliminary report of recommendations due by December 21 and a final report due on January 6.
Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley said a bill on this issue will likely be passed as early as January. But he said bills that require additional funding, such as the statewide drug court program, may take longer to pass.