Retailers, restaurateurs gird for debates

When it comes to New Hampshire’s retailers, perhaps the biggest issue coming up in the 2005 New Hampshire Legislature is the strong possibility of an increased cigarette tax, endorsed by the new governor. But there are several minor issues that also concern owners of small stores as well as restaurants.

The New Hampshire Retail Grocers Association will be closely watching a proposal from Rep. Richard Morris, R-Seabrook, to require the sale of fire-safe cigarettes, which employ a technology that extinguishes a lit cigarette if it isn’t being smoked.

“This is a specific attempt to save a life, period,” he said. Morris went on to add that he might support a tax break for such cigarettes to make the measure more acceptable to merchants.

“The concern we have is the product is more expensive and is in limited supply, and it would stop people from coming across the border to New Hampshire,” said John Dumais, president and CEO of the Retail Grocers Association.

Morris also is proposing a bill – inspired by similar legislation in Russia – that would require food handlers to carry a passport-sized health record, signed off by some medical authority, to assure employers that they don’t have a serious communicable disease.

Both the employer and employee would chip in and pay for the program.

While he expects some restaurants to oppose the idea, other fast-food establishments might sign on to clean up the industry’s image.

“It’s a lot more progressive to look at this in the long haul,” said Morris.

Retail stores that specialize in clothing are taking a hard look at a bill from Rep. Howard “Crow” Dickinson, R-Conway, concerning devices woven into clothing to track inventory. Dickinson is worried that devices might be used to track people, or to find out what they purchased or how much they spent on their outfit.

“I think that is ridiculous,” said Nancy Kyle, president of the Retail Merchants Association of New Hampshire. “Who is going to pay thousands of dollars and who is going to care what you are carrying in your shopping bag?”

Dickinson said that he no longer wants to ban the tracking devices, but he just wants the consumer to be notified that they are there.

Finally, there are several new bills that could affect another form of high-tech retailing: advertising over the Internet.

Rep. Roy Maxfield, R-Loudon, would outlaw spyware, a secret software program installed on an unknowing user’s computer. Such software not only can grind a computer to a near halt, it’s an invasion of privacy, Maxfield said.

Similarly Morris’ bill would go after spam: unwanted e-mail that can choke an inbox. However, Morris’ bill would require state and local government computers to come up with anti-spam software. It’s not an attempt to ban spam, he said.

And Dickinson has a measure that would prohibit anyone from publishing a cell phone directory. Those that wish can put their cell phone in the regular white pages, he said, but cell phones are different.

“When someone calls you, you get charged,” he said.

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