- Associated Press - Thursday, March 24, 2016

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - The Senate unanimously approved more than $5 million in fresh funding to fight the state’s substance abuse crisis Thursday after a partisan spat over where the money should come from.

The bill gives $4.5 million to the Department of Health and Human Services, which can choose to spend it on affordable sober housing or give to the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Treatment and Recovery for various programs. It also provides $500,000 in grant funding for peer recovery support services and about $125,000 for the state attorney general’s office to hire a new drug prosecutor.

With drug deaths climbing in the state and topping 400 last year, fighting heroin and opioid addiction is a top priority for lawmakers this session. Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan has been pushing for more money to tackle the issue. The bill also requires the governor’s commission to begin reporting to the Legislature on its work.

Despite agreement on the need to spend more money, Democrats and Republicans spent considerable time arguing over how much to spend and where to get it. A rejected proposal by Democrats would’ve given $5 million to the commission and an additional $2 million for housing programs. Democrats wanted to fund the new programs through extra tax revenue.

Republicans, meanwhile, said the money should come from unspent funds, known as lapses, in other state departments. Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Republican, suggested it could come from unspent education money or savings earned during last year’s budget stalemate.

“This is the best way, the fastest way and quite frankly the most fiscally responsible way to fund these necessary programs,” Bradley said.

The plan now moves to the Republican-controlled House.

Already this year Hassan has signed bills aimed at cracking down on fentanyl dealers and streamlining insurance coverage for substance abuse services.

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