It will start rather gray on Saturday with clouds and lingering showers. It will be very humid with dew points around 70 degrees, making for a 'tropical' feel. Much drier air will move in during the afternoon with a clearing sky and developing sunshine. Highs on Saturday will be in the mid 80s for most.
Saturday night will be much more comfortable lows in the 50s.
Sunday looks decent with a mix of sun and clouds and highs in the low 80s. A shower or thunderstorm can't be ruled out in the northern half of New Hampshire especially Sunday afternoon.
Next week looks fairly typical for this time of year with few shower chances and a mix of sun and clouds. These small disturbances are difficult to time. No days look to be washouts but there will be higher chances for showers at times. Right now, Wednesday looks like one of the drier days of the week.
Heat and humidity may try to build back in by the end of next week.
HAMPTON — Aquarion Water Company is warning customers about a phone call scam, where imposters are identifying themselves as Aquarion and requesting immediate payment for water services.
Aquarion Water Company serves 25,000 people in the towns of Hampton, North Hampton and Rye.
Across its operations, Aquarion strives to act as a responsible steward of the environment and to assist the communities it serves in promoting sustainable practices. It is the largest investor-owned water utility in New England and among the seven largest in the U.S. Based in Bridgeport, Conn., it has been in the public water supply business since 1857.
Any customers that receive a similar call should immediately contact their local police department. Aquarion Water Company is working with the local authorities to assist customers affected by this scam.
Anyone who has further questions or would like to confirm their account status may contact Aquarion’s New Hampshire Customer Service Center at 603-926-3319 or toll-free at 800-403-4333.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump signed a bill into law Friday that will make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire employees, part of a push to overhaul an agency that is struggling to serve millions of military vets.
"Our veterans have fulfilled their duty to our nation and now we must fulfill our duty to them," Trump said during a White House ceremony. "To every veteran who is here with us today, I just want to say two very simple words: Thank you."
Trump repeatedly promised during the election campaign to dismiss VA workers "who let our veterans down," and he cast Friday's bill signing as fulfillment of that promise.
"What happened was a national disgrace and yet some of the employees involved in these scandals remained on the payrolls," Trump said. "Outdated laws kept the government from holding those who failed our veterans accountable. Today we are finally changing those laws."
The measure was prompted by a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died as they waited months for care. The VA is the second-largest department in the U.S. government, with more than 350,000 employees, and it is charged with providing health care and other services to military veterans.
Federal employee unions opposed the measure. VA Secretary David Shulkin, an Obama administration holdover, stood alongside Trump as the president jokingly suggested he'd have to invoke his reality TV catchphrase "You're fired" if the reforms were not implemented.
The legislation, which many veterans' groups supported, cleared the House last week by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 368-55, replacing an earlier version that Democrats had criticized as overly unfair to employees. The Senate passed the bill by voice vote a week earlier.
Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, applauded the move, saying, "In a nasty, partisan environment like we've never seen, veterans' issues can be a unique area for Washington to unite in actually getting things done for ordinary Americans."
The bill was a rare Trump initiative that received Democratic support. Montana Sen. Jon Tester said the bill "will protect whistleblowers from the threat of retaliation."
The new law will lower the burden of proof to fire employees, allowing for dismissal even if most evidence is in a worker's favor.
The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, opposed the bill. But the Senate-passed measure was seen as more in balance with workers' rights than a version passed by the House in March, mostly along party lines. The Senate bill calls for a longer appeal process than the House version — 180 days versus 45 days. VA executives would be held to a tougher standard than rank-and-file employees.
The bill also turns another of Trump's campaign into law by creating a permanent VA accountability office, which Trump established by executive order in April.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, called the bill signing "a significant step to reform the VA with a renewed purpose and ability to serve our veterans."
"The ultimate goal is nothing less than a transformation of the culture within the VA so that our veterans receive the best care possible," McCarthy said.
The VA has been plagued for years by problems, including the 2014 scandal, where employees created secret lists to cover up delays in appointments. Critics say few employees are fired for malfeasance.
ARLINGTON, Mass. — Police are looking for a man they fear may harm himself.
Patrick Beagan's vehicle was found at the Alewife MBTA Station on Friday afternoon.
Beagan, 45, has been missing since Thursday.
He is described as 6-feet, 1-inch tall, weighing approximately 190 pounds. He has green eyes and gray hair and was last seen wearing a dark colored shirt, possibly blue with a buffalo on the front, and khaki colored shorts or pants. Beagan wears glasses and has a 14-inch scar on his right shoulder blade. He may be seem to be in a depressed state.
If anyone has seen Beagan or has any information on his whereabouts, they are asked to call the Arlington Police Department at 781-643-1212.
WASHINGTON — Tyson Foods announced a recall of nearly 2.5 million pounds of ready-to-eat breaded chicken products because of misbranding and undeclared allergens.
The US Department of Agriculture's Food safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) said the products contained milk, which is an established allergen, but did not state that on the label.
The products below are being recalled according to the report by the FSIS:
31.86-lb. bulk cases of “Tyson FULLY COOKED, WHOLE GRAIN STRIP-SHAPED CHICKEN PATTIE FRITTERS-CN” with case code 003859-0928 and production dates of 09/09/2016, 10/05/2016, 10/14/2016, 10/15/2016, 11/09/2016, 12/10/2016, 12/30/2016 and 01/14/2017.
31.05-lb. bulk cases of “Tyson FULLY COOKED, WHOLE GRAIN CHICKEN PATTIE FRITTERS-CN” with case code 003857-0928 and production dates of 11/12/2016.
30.6-lb. bulk cases of “Tyson FULLY COOKED, WHOLE GRAIN BREADED CHICKEN PATTIES-CN” with case code 016477-0928 and production dates of 09/10/2016, 09/16/2016, 09/23/2016, 09/30/2016 and 10/06/2016.
30.6-lb. bulk cases of “Tyson FULLY COOKED, WHOLE GRAIN CHUNK-SHAPED BREADED CHICKEN PATTIES-CN” with case code 016478-0928 and production dates of 09/16/2016, 09/28/2016 and 10/06/2016.
20.0-lb. bulk cases of “Tyson FULLY COOKED, BREADED CHICKEN PATTIES-CN” with case code 005778-0928 and production dates of 09/14/2016, 09/19/2016 and 10/03/2016.
32.81-lb. bulk cases of “Tyson FULLY COOKED, WHOLE GRAIN GOLDEN CRISPY CHICKEN CHUNK FRITTERS-CN CHUNK-SHAPED CHICKEN PATTIE FRITTERS” with case code 070364-0928, packaging and production date of 08/17/2016.
20-lb bulk cases of “SPARE TIME, Fully Cooked Breaded Chicken Patties” with case code 005778-0861 and production date of 10/03/2016.
20-lb bulk cases of “SPARE TIME, Fully Cooked Chicken Pattie Fritters” with case code 016477-0861 and production date of 09/16/2016 and 10/06/2016.
The products subject to recall bear establishment number “P-1325” inside the USDA mark of inspection. These items were shipped for institutional use nationwide. According to Tyson’s records, schools have purchased products through the company’s commercial channels.
Consumers with questions about this recall can contact Christina Self, Supervisor-Consumer Relations, at (866) 328-3156.
MANCHESTER — Police arrested a woman accused of stealing a purse from a mother eating at Wendy's on Thursday.
According to police, an investigation led to the arrest of Elizabeth Santos, 30, of Pembroke around 2 p.m. Friday.
The victim had been eating lunch with her two children at Wendy's on South Willow Street when a woman stole her pocketbook as she walked by, police said.
After reviewing video surveillance, conducting follow ups, and initial statements, police say probable cause was established to arrest Santos and charge her with the robbery.
A warrant was obtained and she was taken into custody.
PORTSMOUTH — Seacoast Outright is hosting New Hampshire's third annual Portsmouth PRIDE day.
The Marketplace will be open at Strawbery Banke from 2-6 p.m. Saturday for the day of PRIDE.
New lineup this year in PRIDE Marketplace will feature booths from local nonprofit organizations and family-friendly vendors. The event also includes some local restaurants serving up some of the best casual eats on the Seacoast.
For the third year in a row, the City of Portsmouth will allow demonstrators to march through downtown Portsmouth while wearing T-shirts that represent all colors of the rainbow.
This year, all marchers are set to meet at the Portsmouth Public Library starting at 2 p.m. to organize into color groups, and we will march together on one route to Strawbery Banke at 3:15 p.m.
From 4-6 p.m., there will be music and entertainment from several local artists and important words from guest speakers .
On PRIDE Day local business supporters will be offering various specials, discounts, and giveaways for PRIDE attendees.
Activities for all ages will be offered by Seacoast Outright volunteers.
BEDFORD, Penn. — After a Pennsylvania teen took her own life on June 19, her family used her obituary as an opportunity to speak out against bullying and ask people to be kinder to one another.
Sadie Riggs, a 15-year-old high school student in Bedford, Pennsylvania, hanged herself Monday.
In her obituary, Sadie's family took the chance to offer a brave explanation for the death and to try to change the minds and hearts of bullies in the future.
"In an effort to debunk the rumors about Sadie's death, we would like to share this information. Yes, Sadie took her own life, she hung herself," the obituary read. "Sadie was seeking help, she was in counselling and taking medication, but it was all too much for such a young soul to live with."
Despite trying to get assistance with the bullying and the negative effects caused by it, Sadie was not able to cope with it all at such a young age, the obituary said.
"Sadie had a tough life and until a recent incident at school she handled everything life served her," her family wrote.
But then the family shifted the focus away from Sadie's tragic end, and instead opened a discussion about bullying and the people who made Sadie feel like death was the only choice.
The family did not hold back.
"For the bullies involved, please know you were effective in making her feel worthless," they wrote.
A family member continued to address all bullies describing the grief the family feels.
"I just want you to know that as much as we despise your actions never, ever do we wish for you to feel the paralyzing pain that engulfs our bodies, a pain so severe that it makes the simple act of breathing difficult or the guilt that leaves us wondering what we could have done differently," Sadie's family wrote.
At the end of the obituary, the family asked that instead of sending flowers, people "be kind to one another."
LONDON (AP) — A local London council has decided to evacuate some 800 households in apartment buildings it owns because of safety concerns following the devastating fire that killed 79 people in a west London high-rise.
The move comes amid escalating concerns among residents of thousands of tower blocks around Britain. The Camden Council is the first to take such a dramatic step in light of June 14 fire at Grenfell Tower.
Council leader Georgia Gould says the borough made the decision to empty the buildings after the London Fire Brigade and council experts had conducted a joint inspection of the properties.
"Camden Council is absolutely determined to ensure that our residents are safe and we have promised them that we will work with them, continue to act swiftly and be open and transparent," Gould said in a statement.
British Prime Minister Theresa May offered a message of sympathy to the affected residents, taking to Twitter to pledge she would work with relevant authorities to offer support.
"My thoughts are with residents being evacuated in Camden while their homes are made safe tonight," she said.
The council is encouraging residents to stay with friends and family, but promised to provide temporary accommodations, if that weren't possible. Repairs on the building are expected to be completed within three to four weeks.
"The Grenfell fire changes everything," Gould said. "We need to do everything we can to keep residents safe."
Camden is one of the councils in England which has learned that combustible cladding has been placed on buildings during renovation projects, though they had ordered non-flammable cladding.
Earlier Friday, police said they were considering filing manslaughter charges in the Grenfell incident.
In its most detailed briefing yet on the criminal investigation, the Metropolitan Police on Friday confirmed residents' suspicions that the inferno at Grenfell was touched off by a refrigerator fire.
The department also said exterior cladding attached to the 24-story public housing project during a recent renovation failed safety tests conducted by investigators, and that police have seized documents from a number of organizations.
"We are looking at every criminal offense from manslaughter onwards," Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormack told reporters. "We are looking at all health and safety and fire safety offenses, and we are reviewing every company at the moment involved in the building and refurbishment of Grenfell Tower."
The government has ordered an immediate examination of the refrigerator model that started the blaze. McCormack said the Hotpoint model FF175BP refrigerator-freezer had not been subject to any product recalls before the fire.
Hotpoint said Friday that "words cannot express our sorrow at this terrible tragedy" and added it was working with authorities to examine the appliance.
The overnight fire rapidly engulfed Grenfell Tower, with flames shooting up the outside of the building, raising concerns that the cladding material attached to the concrete block didn't comply with fire-safety rules.
Police are looking at all parts of the cladding system and its installation, McCormack said.
"Preliminary tests show the insulation samples collected from Grenfell Tower combusted soon after the test started," she said. "The initial tests on equivalent aluminum composite tiles failed the safety tests."
Authorities now acknowledge the risks posed by exterior cladding to thousands of people around the country who live in blocks like Grenfell Tower.
The government has called on all building owners, public and private, to submit samples of cladding material used on their buildings for testing. Samples from 14 buildings in London, Manchester and Plymouth have already been found to be combustible.
Fears about cladding are not limited to apartment buildings — at least one hotel chain is calling in experts to make certain it meets safety regulations. Premier Inn said Friday it had "concerns" about the material used on some of its buildings, though it is different from the type used at Grenfell Tower.
McCormack also repeated calls for anyone with information about the fire and all those in the tower at the time to come forward as police continue to comb through the devastated building to try to identify all the victims.
Police says 79 people are either dead or missing and presumed dead in the blaze, although that number may change.
To make sure everyone comes forward, London Mayor Sadiq Khan pledged to seek an amnesty for people who may have been living in the public housing block illegally. Prime Minister Theresa May also said the government won't penalize any fire survivors in the country illegally.
"We want to identify all those who died as result of the fire at Grenfell Tower, and that is where I need the public's help," McCormack said. "I do not want there to be any hidden victims of this tragedy."
Firefighters and emergency workers who battled the inferno have been leaving messages and tributes to the victims at a makeshift memorial near the charred apartment block.
Heartbreaking messages written on red London Fire Brigade T-shirts offer poignant tributes alongside flowers, toys and candles at the shrine. One tribute, from a firefighter in the Kensington and Chelsea borough read: "20th floor, we tried... we're sorry."
Another firefighter wrote "Our hearts go out to everyone touched by this tragedy. We did our best I promise."
One shirt bearing the London Ambulance Service logo said: "We refuse to forget you."
A roundup of some of the most popular, but completely untrue, headlines of the week. None of these stories are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked these out; here are the real facts:
NOT REAL: Retired MI5 Agent Confesses On Deathbed: 'I Killed Princess Diana'
THE FACTS: A piece on a site called the Anti News Network renews a take on conspiracy theories blaming British agencies or the royal family for the princess' August 1997 death in Paris. A coroner's jury ruled in 2008 that Diana and boyfriend Dodi Al-Fayed were killed by the reckless actions of their driver and paparazzi. Investigators testified that no British government agency was involved in her death. MI5, Britain's domestic security agency, has a policy of not identifying current or past employees. The ANN story cites as its source the website yournewswire.com, which says it makes no representations about the accuracy of the information it posts.
NOT REAL: NASA'S KEPLER TELESCOPE DISCOVERED ARTIFICIAL ALIEN MEGASTRUCTURE
THE FACTS: Some scientists speculated that an unusual light pattern coming from a star about 1,400 light years away could be the result of megastructures built by aliens to surround the star and harness its energy. A headline from univverse.org suggests the theory has been confirmed, but the authors of a study about the light pattern wrote that it was most likely the result of comet and planet-like space debris passing nearby.
NOT REAL: Sarah Huckabee Blames Clinton For Comey's Removal: "If She'd Confessed, He Wouldn't Have Had To Commit All Those Atrocities Against Her"
THE FACTS: The deputy White House press secretary did use the word "atrocities" when explaining the reasoning behind former FBI director James Comey's May 9 firing by President Donald Trump, but she didn't put the blame on Hillary Clinton. A story that originated with admitted satire outlet Newslo falsely claimed Sanders said if Clinton confessed to her role in mishandling of emails, Comey wouldn't have lost his job. Sanders cited Comey's handling of the investigation into the emails as the reason for his firing.
NOT REAL: FOX HEADLINES British Actor 'MR BEAN' Rowan Sebastian Atkinson dies at 62 After CAR-CRASH - TODAY 2017
THE FACTS: Hoaxes on the actor's death, alternately describing a car crash or a suicide that ended the "Mr. Bean" actor's life, have been circulating since last summer. Some pieces have listed Atkinson's age as two years younger than he is — he was born Jan. 6, 1955. Others falsely superimpose reports of his obituary on BBC and Fox News logos, which never ran such reports. Atkinson recently resurrected his portrayal of French detective Jules Maigret in a British TV series.
NOT REAL: Charles Manson has been granted parole
THE FACTS: The website now77news.com has one story saying Manson is out on parole and another saying he's dead, but California corrections officials say Manson remains incarcerated. Manson was last denied parole in 2012 and continues to serve time for a series of slayings, including the 1969 murders of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and six other victims over two nights. The false story claiming Manson is out on parole lists his age as 79; he's actually 82.
VERMONT — A New York man was sentenced to seven years for conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine charges.
The United States Attorney's office in Vermont announced that Dorsey Hunt, 25, of the Bronx, was sentenced Thursday in Rutland, Vermont, to 84 months in prison following his guilty plea to a charge of conspiracy to distribute heroin and crack cocaine.
Hunt, who was known as “Jah,” pleaded to an indictment charging him with conspiring with Michael Brockenbaugh (also known as “JD”), Felicia Livingston (also known as “Snoop”), Maurice Nix (also known as “Mo”), Michael Villanueva (also known as “Unc”), and others, to distribute heroin and crack cocaine from 2013 to September 2015.
Court records show this conspiracy focused much of its activity in and around Malletts Bay Avenue, in Winooski.
The prosecution is still pending against Brockenbaugh, Livingston, and Nix. This was Hunt’s first criminal conviction.
This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Vermont State Police, the Burlington Police Department, the South Burlington Police Department, and the Winooski Police Department.
MANCHESTER — A man has been arrested after a crash Friday afternoon involving a car on fire hanging over a guardrail.
The crash happened just after noon in the area of Bridge Street Extension and Ohio Avenue. The suspect of the crash fled the scene and refused officers' requests to stop, police said.
He was identified as John Cassidy, 48, of Manchester, and police eventually placed him into custody.
During an investigation of the crash, police said Cassidy had attempted to force another car off the road on the Exit 8 off ramp on Interstate 93 south. Cassidy threatened the victim with a gun after trying to force him off the road, police said.
The car Cassidy was driving and subsequently crashed was reported as stolen earlier in Manchester during a burglary, police said.
Police charged Cassidy with burglary, motor vehicle theft, resisting arrest, reckless conduct, criminal threatening and operating with a suspended license.
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A health insurance cooperative that covers 37,000 individuals in Massachusetts and New Hampshire is shutting down but hopes to reopen as a for-profit company in January.
Minuteman Health and other small nonprofit insurers were created by the Affordable Care Act to stimulate competition and lower prices, but most have since folded. In an announcement Friday, Minuteman blamed a provision of the law that was intended to shift money from insurers with healthier members to those with less healthy members.
Minuteman started in Massachusetts in 2014 and later expanded to New Hampshire, where it has nearly 27,000 customers. Policies will remain in effect until Jan. 1, when officials hope to transition customers to the new company.
The announcement comes as Congress is considering how to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
Celebrate the end of New Hampshire's light house week with a tour of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse.
The 48-foot cast iron and brick light house is one of four in the state, attracting tourists from across the country.
Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse is open to the public Sunday afternoons from 1-5 p.m. from Memorial Day weekend in late May to Columbus Day weekend in October.
White Island Lighthouse is New Hampshire's only offshore lighthouse and is located in Rye. The lighthouse is not open to the public, but you can get a good view of it from the water from cruises offered out of Rye and Portsmouth.
Lake Sunapee is home to three lighthouses — Burkehaven, Herrick Cove, and Loon Island. Though they aren't open to the public, all have viewing areas where guests can gaze upon the floating cast iron structures.
Learn more about New Hampshire's historic lighthouses here.
MANCHESTER — A water main break has shut down a portion of Union Street near Willie B's Subs.
According to a Manchester Water Works official, the break occurred around 4 p.m. Friday and is causing the road to be shut down for a period of time.
The road will be closed from Somerville Street down Union Street.
It is unknown how long workers will be on scene repairing the leak.
Drivers are advised to seek alternate routes and stay away from the area.
NASHUA — An unlicensed New Hampshire has plead guilty to a crash in January that flipped her friend's mother's car.
Gabrielle Belanger, 16, of 15 Blackstone Drive, lost control of the four-door Nissan that she used without permission on Pine Hill Road in Hollis. Police say the car went off the road before rolling over and bursting into flames.
One male passenger was able to pull himself out of the wreckage before attempting to assist another passenger with fairly substantial injuries from the vehicle.
Police said that the four passengers sustained various injuries and each was transported to a Nashua hospital for treatment.
Belanger pleaded guilty Thursday in Nashua district court to one count of reckless operation, which is a violation, according to The Telegraph of Nashua. The plea is part of an agreement she reached with police prosecutors, requiring Belanger to pay a $620 fine, to perform 50 hours of community service and to complete a AAA-sponsored driving course. She also must surrender her driver's license for 60 days once she earns it back.
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine wildlife managers say their effort to restore a vulnerable population of Arctic charr in the northern part of the state is a success.
Arctic charr are cold water salmon-like fish that are found in just 14 bodies of water in Maine The state Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife says the species came dangerously close to disappearing from one of the last Maine ponds where it still lives.
The department says rainbow smelt were illegally introduced into Big Reed Pond in northern Maine, which upset the ecosystem and threatened charr. Biologists began an effort in 2007 to capture, transfer and breed charr from the pond. The state then eliminated the smelts from the pond and returned the charr.
Biologists found this month charr are spawning in the pond again.
CHELMSFORD, Mass. — Police said a shotgun stolen out of an unmarked police cruiser has been located in Lowell and the town's police chief is apologizing to the city of Lawrence.
Sometime overnight from Wednesday into Thursday, thieves reportedly broke into the garage of a Chelmsford police detective and stole several sets of keys from inside.
Police said the thieves also stole a 2011 Ford Taurus unmarked police cruiser and a Saturn wagon from the detective’s driveway.
The Saturn was reportedly found a short distance from the detective’s home, and police found the Taurus at approximately 9 a.m. Thursday on Bowden Street in Lowell, near the Lowell-Chelmsford border.
According to police, the shotgun was no longer inside the vehicle, and it became the subject of a high priority for police in the area.
On Thursday, Police Chief James Spinney commented on the possible whereabouts of the shotgun.
"For all I know it could be in Lawrence," Spinney said.
On Friday, he said the comment had been made to convey distance and was not intended as a slight.
"I sincerely apologize to the residents of the City of Lawrence," Spinney said. "Please know that while I understand that my choice of words was wrong, I did not intend to offend anyone or speak poorly of the city. I was only trying to comment that the missing firearm may be miles away from Chelmsford for all we knew ... I have also been in contact with Lawrence Police Chief James Fitzpatrick this morning to convey the same sentiment, and I asked him to share my apology with Mayor Dan Rivera. I have also reached out to City Council President Kendrys Vasquez."
In March, Gov. Chris Sununu came under fire for comments he made about Lawrence.
"Eighty-five percent of the fentanyl in this state is coming straight out of Lawrence, Massachusetts," Sununu said at the time.
Since then, Sununu and Rivera have agreed to work together to combat the drug war.
Chelmsford police said the investigation into the stolen vehicles and shotgun remains ongoing.
LAWRENCE, Mass. (AP) — One man has been convicted and another acquitted of murder in the 2014 killing of a father of four struck by a stray bullet during a gang dispute in Lawrence.
Prosecutors say Joshua Chevez, 25, of Methuen, was convicted Thursday of second-degree murder, while co-defendant, Juan Castillo, 21 of Lawrence, was cleared of murder but convicted of witness intimidation for threatening to kill a witness.
Prosecutors say in the early morning hours of Aug. 17, 2014, Chevez went looking for revenge against a man he thought had shot his friend. He fired into a crowd at a party, striking Mark Trussell, 35, in the back of the head. He died at the hospital days later.
Authorities say Castillo acted as Chevez's lookout.
Sentencing is scheduled for July 18.
BOSTON (AP) — The Massachusetts Senate passed a bill Thursday calling for revisions to the state voter-approved recreational marijuana law, setting the stage for negotiations with the House, which just a day earlier backed a more far-reaching overhaul.
The debate in the Senate over the reshaping of the law which allows adults to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and grow up to 12 pot plants per household focused mostly on regulatory matters. It unfolded after the House angered many supporters of legalized marijuana by voting to repeal the existing law and replace it with a measure that would, among other things, raise the tax rate on marijuana from 12 percent to 28 percent.
The Senate bill, approved on a 30-5 vote, would keep the current measure in place but with proposed changes in the way both recreational and medical marijuana would be overseen by the state.
"We should not repeal and replace ... we should amend and improve," said Sen. Patricia Jehlen, co-chair of the Legislature's Marijuana Policy Committee, at the outset of debate. "That is what this bill will do."
"We need to try to restore some trust in government by not overriding the will of the people," added the Somerville Democrat, a veiled reference to criticism leveled at the House bill by pro-marijuana activists.
The next step will be naming a conference committee made up of three senators and three representatives that will attempt to reach a compromise. Legislative leaders self-imposed a July 1 deadline to deliver a bill to Republican Gov. Charlie Baker's desk, acknowledging that further delays would jeopardize the planned July 1, 2018 start of retail marijuana sales.
The Senate bill holds the tax rate at a maximum of 12 percent, as approved by voters. Keeping taxes relatively low, Jehlen said, would entice consumers to buy pot from legal suppliers, while a higher tax might persuade them to continue purchasing from an illegal dealer or perhaps even drive to Maine, where recreational marijuana will be taxed at 10 percent.
The House and Senate bills both change the structure of the Cannabis Control Commission, the state agency that will regulate marijuana. The ballot question called for a three-member panel appointed by the state treasurer, while lawmakers want a five-person board consisting of members named by the treasurer, attorney general and governor.
A key difference, however, is while the House envisions all five commissioners working full-time at their jobs, under the Senate bill only the chairman of the panel would be full-time and the others unpaid volunteers.
Sen. Jason Lewis, a Winchester Democrat who opposed marijuana legalization, promised to support the Senate bill but sought assurances that the cannabis industry would not become dominated by large national companies.
"We don't want to see big marijuana like we have big tobacco or big alcohol," said Lewis, who joined other lawmakers in calling for programs that encouraged women, minorities, veterans and small farmers to own or find employment in legal marijuana businesses.
Senators adopted several amendments before the final vote Thursday night, including one that would make it easier for people to erase past convictions for possessing amounts of marijuana that are now legal in Massachusetts.