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TMCNet:  Self-driving cars, Facebook passwords, atomic energy; there's interesting stuff in proposed bills

[January 07, 2013]

Self-driving cars, Facebook passwords, atomic energy; there's interesting stuff in proposed bills

Jan 07, 2013 (The Telegraph - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- What sort of geeky things are percolating under the Statehouse dome in Concord More than you'd think, including self-driving cars, smart meters, open-source software, privacy in social media, atomic power and whether to let human cadavers be dissolved in pressurized vats of lye.


I culled those topics from the list of proposed bills called Legislative Service Requests or LSRs, which are filed by lawmakers so they'll get a place in line for public hearings. Many LSRs never become bills and few ever become laws, so don't get carried away as you read this. Still, the LSR list is a good way to keep track of what's being pondered by the massive mob scene that is the New Hampshire General Court (400 representatives plus 24 state senators).

Here are a few intriguing titles: Establishing a committee to study the use of autonomous vehicles in N.H.

Self-driving cars Woo-hoo! Well, not just yet.

Rep. John Hikel, R-Goffstown, who owned Uptown Auto Repair on Nashua's East Hollis Street for decades, is the prime sponsor of this intriguing proto-bill.

Hikel says it was requested by Granite State Independent Living, a statewide nonprofit, which is intrigued by the possibility of cars that could "someday allow people who can't see, can't use their arms to drive a vehicle, to someday be independent." This committee would start the long process of making sure that New Hampshire laws and regulations are ready for autonomous cars when the technology becomes street-legal.

"It's looking into the future, 20 or 30 years," he said.

California and Nevada have already passed initial autonomous-vehicle laws, but lots and lots of questions remain, partly technical ("Will they be able to see a deer " Hikel mused) but mostly regulatory, such as who gets a ticket if a driverless car does something wrong.

Repealing the New Hampshire atomic energy act.

I was surprised to learn that New Hampshire even had an atomic energy act, since atomic power is a federal concern.

It doesn't have a lot of authority, as you might expect.

The LSR's main sponsor, Rep. Robert Backus, D-Manchester, says our act is based largely on the U.S. Atomic Energy Act, a piece of legislation dating from the 1950s Atoms for Peace era that has "a lot of anachronisms in it." "We thought it was time to ... make it clear that it's not the state's job to promote atomic energy over other sources of energy," he said.

Unlike contentious Vermont Yankee, Seabrook's federal operating license has years to run. Despite wistful memories from atomic-power fans about early talk of a second Seabrook reactor, there's no likelihood it will try to expand or that anybody else will try to build another plant. So why bother with the state act Backus, a lawyer who spent years involved with the licensing of Seabrook Station, says there might be issues with which New Hampshire's ability to protect our economic interest could give us clout, perhaps in something as important as how Seabrook stores its spent fuel rods. Those rods are kept in pools but would be safer in so-called dry casks.

Relative to the use of open source software by state agencies; including the department of information technology in the uniform electronic transactions act; and repealing the information practices act.

Rep. Lynne Ober, R-Hudson, who worked in IT for BAE Systems and Southern New Hampshire Medical Center, is a prime sponsor of a bill to make it easier for state agencies to use open source software, particularly as a Microsoft Office alternative.

It continues earlier efforts, including a bill passed last year.

"The idea is not only to save us money, but these guys (in state IT) are constantly fighting issues of being behind," she said, telling the tale of shared documents on one committee made on three versions of Office that conflicted with each other on things such as page numbers and appendices.

The proposed bill is unlikely to mandate open-source but would give bureaucrats the authority to adopt it.

Ober thinks it will meet less opposition than in the past because of a maturing of the whole free/open model.

"I think what has happened is that open-source software has gotten stronger, has become a proven tool for use in business," she said.

Relative to regulating alkaline hydrolysis for the disposal of human remains.

Alkaline hydrolysis, sometimes called Green Cremation, disposes of bodies by dissolving them in what is basically lye under high pressure, reducing them to a liquid residue.

It was legal in New Hampshire for a while but was banned in 2008 after the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester opposed it as undignified. There was much discussion at the time about pouring Grandma down the drain.

The process is labeled "green" because it uses much less energy than cremation and takes up less land than burial. It is legal in many states.

This would allow it and regulate it, probably under New Hampshire's cremation statutes, and is similar to a failed attempt last year.

One sponsor is Rep. Joel Winters, D-Nashua.

Prohibiting an employer from requiring an employee or prospective employee to disclose his or her social media passwords.

This jumps into the issue of how much business an employer has to go poking into our Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, Pinterest collections and other social-media stuff.

Specifically, it targets an alarming trend in which some people have been required to give their online passwords to their bosses if they want to stay working.

Prime sponsors are Reps. Katherine Rogers, D-Concord and Peter Sullivan, D-Manchester.

Requiring consent prior to the installation of smart meters.

This bill, sponsored by Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, continues a long debate about electric utility's use of interactive, wireless meters to help upgrade the grid and control their costs.

Hearings on this topic in past years have featured concern about the health effects of wireless signals on people (baseless, according to real science), as well as much more legitimate questions about privacy and data retention.

PSNH has not announced any plans to install smart meters, but New Hampshire Electric Co-operative has them, which it's using to pilot a "time-based price" system that would charge less for off-peak power.

Authorizing group net metering for limited electrical energy producers.

The existence of "net metering," a legal requirement for utilities to buy your excess electricity if your solar panels temporarily outproduce your consumption, has been a boon to personal renewable energy usage at small scale.

The law has strict size limits -- 5 kilowatts maximum, generally. This looks like an effort to ease those limits and allow larger users to sell their excess power. The main idea is that multiple homes or small businesses can join together in a single solar/wind installation.

Prime sponsor is Sen. Molly Kelly, D-Keene.

Establishing a committee to study the resolution of barriers to the use of telehealth technology in New Hampshire.

Telehealth mostly means videoconferencing between patients and their doctors and nurses, allowing the latter to diagnose and treat you from far away, thanks to the miracle of the Internet.

It's likely to expand as broadband does. With enough throughput and advances in remote-controlled robotic arms, even "telesurgery" is possible.

This bill has a chunk of sponsors. It will be far more concerned with regulatory and legal issues, including insurance coverage of telehealth, than with technology.

Granite Geek appears Mondays in the Telegraph, and online at www.granitegeek.org. David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashuatelegraph.com.

___ (c)2013 The Telegraph (Nashua, N.H.) Visit The Telegraph (Nashua, N.H.) at www.nashuatelegraph.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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