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NH State House Watch

AFSC's weekly newsletter for activists and all who want to pay attention to state policy-making

AFSC’s New Hampshire State House Watch newsletter is published weekly during legislative sessions (and occasionally at other times of the year) to bring you information about matters being discussed in Concord including housing, immigration, and labor rights.  We also follow the state budget and tax system, voting rights, corrections policy, and more. For an email subscription, visit our main page and click on <SUBSCRIBE>. 

We also have a weekly radio show on Mondays from 5 to 6 pm, re-broadcast Tuesdays from 8 to 9 am.  You can listen live on WNHN, 94.7 FM in Concord, or over the internet. You can download a podcast of any of our earlier shows.

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AFSC logo State House Watch

August 18, 2021

Greetings, State House Watchers,

We are writing to share with you our “State House Watch Year in Review 2021,” including a comprehensive list of the bills we were tracking for the 2021 session and their various outcomes. As we labored to gather this information for our readers, we were renewed in gratitude for the extraordinary work that Susan Bruce did over the past seven years to bring order and clarity to the weekly newsletter and the end of session report. We imagined her clever, shrewd and rueful humor as we called to mind the highs and lows of this wild legislative year.  We sure do miss her, as a companion, co-worker and friend.

We’re hoping that summer is giving you an opportunity to rest, relax and care for your spirit, and that you are enjoying a break from the demands of the busy legislative session. That said, you have probably remained attentive and active in support of many important federal policy proposals which are moving or poised to move soon in the U.S. Congress – the ‘For the People’ Act, the budget resolution, pathways to citizenship, the infrastructure bill, and more. There is always something important going on!

The last couple of weeks have brought news of intensifying crises around the world – a resurgence of COVID, an escalating climate crisis, an assassination and an earthquake in Haiti, a chaotic end to the devastating US war in Afghanistan. From AFSC’s recent statement, The US must invest in diplomacy in Afghanistan and grant asylum for those fleeing:

We support people’s efforts to leave the country to find safety or seek a better life, and also call for the rights of those who remain to be respected and protected. The U.S government has a responsibility – after decades of military occupation, war, and lies – to assist Afghans wishing to emigrate, and to provide them asylum in the United States. The way forward in Afghanistan is engagement and diplomacy with all parties. Twenty years of resources were squandered on militarized occupation, many times the amount that went toward strengthening civil society, education, infrastructure, or community level support that would actually benefit the Afghan people. We must now grapple with the real costs of war and stop using the same militarized approaches that have failed us time and again.

We are holding in the Light all who are suffering harm and in a particular way, the New Hampshire families who are awaiting news of loved ones in Afghanistan and Haiti. And we remind ourselves that the need for movements grounded in love, justice, humility, and nonviolence is greater than ever. From Valerie Kaur (On Revolutionary Love):

“Love calls us to look upon the faces of those different from us as [siblings]. Love calls us to weep when their bodies are outcast, broken or destroyed. Love calls us to speak even when our voice trembles, stand even when hate spins out of control, and stay even when the blood is fresh on the ground. Love makes us brave. The world needs your love: the only social, political, and moral force that can dismantle injustice to remake the world around us – and within us. …To pursue a life of revolutionary love is to walk boldly into the hot winds of the world with a saint’s eyes and a warrior’s heart – and pour our body, breath, and blood into others.”

Latest news from the State House

Governor Sununu signed 30 bills into law last week, on a variety of topics including the environment, broadband expansion and designating church services as essential during a state of emergency. You can read more details at InDepthNH. This brings to 84 the total number of bills signed into law since the legislature adjourned on June 24. He has also vetoed six bills in that time, including HB 98, the bipartisan bill that would have moved state primaries to the first week of August instead of the second week in September. See the Conway Daily Sun for more of the story. You can keep track of bill signings and vetoes (and read the signing/veto statements) at the governor’s website.

This is as good a spot as any to remind you of the deadlines for filing new bills for the 2022 legislative session. House members must submit legislative service requests (LSRs) during the period of September 13 to 17; for senators, the period is later and longer, from October 13 to 27.  By late fall, we will start to see some of these new bill titles on the General Court website which will give us some idea of the work ahead of us in 2022.

House and Senate committees will meet in the fall to take up the 2021 bills that were retained in committee (in the House) or rereferred to committee (in the Senate).  Committees must take some action on these bills by the deadline (November 18 in the House, December 16 in the Senate); these recommendations will be considered by the full body when the legislature reconvenes in January.

Looking Back at the 2021 Session

Click here for our comprehensive list of the 2021 bills we were tracking and their outcomes.

The House and Senate adjourned on June 24, ending a session marked by pandemic accommodations (and lack of accommodations), dysfunction, hyperbole, racist and anti-Semitic words and deeds, lack of accountability for said deeds, and the codification of regressive policies that threaten to erode the well-being of New Hampshire institutions, communities and families.

First, Some Highlights

We want to lift up some highlights from the 2021 session first, starting with the inspiring leadership of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community members, especially youth and young adults, whose participation in legislative hearings and other advocacy actions gave voice to urgent and interconnected demands for racial, social and economic justice in New Hampshire.  At rallies and in hearings, these spirited activists challenged capitalism and White supremacy while calling for climate justice, gender justice, racial justice, reproductive rights, prison abolition, immigrant rights, disability rights, higher taxes for the wealthy, fair wages, and support for public education. Despite many obstacles and setbacks, it is clear that there is a growing resolve and capacity in the Granite State to bring transformational change to our institutions and communities. For this reason, the future looks bright.

Overall, public participation in legislative hearings was extraordinary. The House and Senate gave access to the public via Zoom and YouTube, and the people responded with enthusiasm, showing up by the hundreds and even thousands to testify or sign in to show support or opposition to bills, sharing their stories and perspectives. At State House Watch, we believe this participation is essential to a healthy representative democracy, and we urge House and Senate leaders to continue these practices in 2022.  Every elected official should value transparency, access and participation in our legislative processes.

Another good news story during the last session was the defeat – by organized labor, faith leaders and others – of SB 61, the “Right to Work” bill, despite lots of out-of-state money and lobbying in support of the anti-union, anti-worker proposal. And because this bill was ‘indefinitely postponed,’ it can’t come back in 2022.  One less thing to worry about!

Two anti-immigrant bills were defeated in 2021, thanks to the leadership and organizing of immigrant community members and allies – HB 266, which would have required state and local governments to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement, was tabled on a voice vote in April; and HB 587, which would have required that citizenship status be indicated on driver licenses and non-driver identification cards, was defeated through inaction during the House crossover session.

The state budget allocates $30 million for the creation of a new 24-bed forensic psychiatric hospital which would replace the secure psychiatric unit (SPU) at the state prison, and sets a deadline of 2023 for the closure of the Sununu Center. 

The state budget also includes $35 million for NH’s Affordable Housing Fund. As explained by Housing Action NH, “this appropriation represents the largest state expenditure to the Fund since it was created in 1988…and supports the creation of multi-family housing developments that may not have other resources, such as supportive housing for individuals with special needs; allows NH Housing to support local housing needs more effectively and to meet important public goals; provides flexibility to developers since AHF financing has fewer regulatory restrictions than most federal funding; and enables housing developers to significantly leverage their total project financing.” (See more at HousingActionNH.org)

(For a detailed summary of the state budget, we urge you to read the NH Fiscal Policy Institute's most recent issue brief, The State Budget for Fiscal Years 2022 and 2023.)

In a win for transgender athletes, HB 198 was retained in committee. The bill would have prevented transgender girls and young women from participating in high school and college sports. “There are no changes that could make this discriminatory bill acceptable, but today’s move by the committee is a victory for trans girls in New Hampshire, who will continue to be able to play on sports teams with their peers.” said Palana Belken, who authored a report on trans-inclusive student policies. “Teammates, coaches, parents, and trans athletes turned out overwhelmingly against this bill, with 1135 people signing in to oppose the bill and 30 individuals sharing powerful testimony against it. That made it impossible for the committee to send it to the House with a positive recommendation.”(More at Glad.org)

In other good news….

The NH Supreme Court, by a vote of 4-0, struck down the 2017 voter suppression bill, SB 3, as unconstitutional, and placing an undue burden on the right to vote. See the story at NHPR.

Throughout the session, there were grassroots mobilizations in support of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities and Black Lives Matter, and celebrations in honor of Martin Luther King, May Day and Juneteenth. There were demonstrations in support of ‘courage over censorship’ and in favor of a People’s Budget for New Hampshire. We are glad for all who organized and attended these events, which strengthen our resolve and our connections to each other, both of which are needed for the long road ahead.

And Now for Some Lowlights

From the chaotic opening session in January – drive-in movie style at UNH, with lots of honking of horns, and disregard for the needs of House members with disabilities—it was clear that voting days would be crude affairs as long as the Speaker Packard refused to consider remote sessions.

We at State House Watch are cheering on the House members who have challenged these decisions with a lawsuit in federal court, Cushing v. Packard, arguing that legislative immunity does not exempt the legislature from its duties under the Americans with Disabilities Act. A negative decision in the US District Court was vacated by the Court of Appeals and the case moves forward. The U.S Department of Justice supports the plaintiffs, and recently filed an amicus brief.

Subsequent House sessions in February, April and June took place at the Sportsplex in Bedford, where large numbers of Republican House members insisted on being maskless. One would have thought that the death of Speaker Dick Hinch from COVID in December 2020, and the medical vulnerabilities of House members on both sides of the aisle would have inspired more compliance with the simplest of public health recommendations. But clearly many were unconvinced by common sense and the needs of others.

We were dismayed when 73 bills were left to die for lack of action by the House at ‘crossover’ time in early April. This careless act by the Speaker was disrespectful to the legislative process and to the hard work of bill sponsors, committee members and the public.

The worst and most consequential outcome of the 2021 legislative session was approval, on party lines, of a state budget that underfunds essential programs and services while delivering tax cuts to the wealthiest Granite Staters and corporations. HB 2, the budget trailer bill, contains a laundry list of regressive measures, including a sweeping school voucher program that will drain millions from public education; abortion restrictions that carry civil and criminal penalties for noncompliance, and without exceptions for rape, incest or fatal fetal abnormalities; and language which prohibits teaching the truth about institutional racism, sexism and other forms of oppression.

The latter issue, referred to as the ‘divisive concepts’ ban because of language in the original proposal, has sparked anger, fear and confusion among a diverse group of stakeholders throughout the state, including educators who are preparing for the start of school in just a few days, and those who work with public employees to address issues of equity and implicit bias.  The governor signed this censorship language into law when he signed the state budget, prompting the resignation of more than half of the members of the Governor’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion (see NHPR). 

As part of a national and well-funded campaign to erode the progress being made to recognize and dismantle oppressive systems, this debate is sure to gather steam in the coming months, especially at school board meetings where we are already noting an increased presence of White supremacist groups. Resistance to this new law will require persistent, creative and multi-faceted actions, including legal and legislative efforts. We appreciate the courage of the five protesters who were arrested at the State House on June 24 for insisting that they would not leave the building until Governor Sununu met with them to hear their objections.

(Join the We Will Not Be Silent rally on Friday, August 20 at 10 AM at the Concord District Court - 32 Clinton Street - to show solidarity with these leaders.)

We note with sadness the legislature’s failure, yet again, to enact a wage increase for New Hampshire’s lowest wage workers, defeating even a modest attempt to raise the minimum wage to $10/hour. It is terrible that despite public praise and gratitude for essential workers during this ongoing pandemic, we cannot deliver for them a more dignified wage. Not only did legislators fail to raise the minimum wage, but they approved, on a party-line vote, a mean-spirited measure to ensure that if Congress manages to raise the minimum wage, tipped workers in New Hampshire will not benefit from the increase. NHPR has the story.

In Other News….

As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in New Hampshire, and all but two counties are experiencing “high” or “substantial” rates of transmission, we urge all who are able to do so to get vaccinated and to continue or return to mask-wearing.  We keep track of infection, hospitalization and vaccine data at the state’s COVID dashboard, and we also read the NHPR COVID blog for related news.

We are relieved that the CDC’s eviction moratorium has been extended to October 3, thanks to the activism of many including U.S. Representative Cori Bush who slept for five nights outside at the U.S. Capitol. See InDepthNH and NH Bulletin for more information about the moratorium and how to access the protections.  We urge all in need of rental assistance to take immediate action to access the federal funds available via the Community Action Program.

The recent release of census data has good news for New Hampshire in terms of our growing diversity, and some important messages with regard to wealth inequality across the state. See Garry Rayno’s reporting, Census Data Paints a Picture of Two New Hampshires. The census data will be used to guide a redistricting process that, we hope, will be implemented with transparency and a commitment to fair representation rather than partisan political gain. Read about the advocacy in favor of fair and impartial redistricting here and add your voice to these important efforts.

Save the date!

Please mark your calendars and plan to join us on Saturday, October 2 for AFSC’s annual celebration and fundraiser. More details coming soon!

With best wishes, 

Maggie Fogarty, Grace Kindeke and the beloved Susan Bruce 

AFSC’s New Hampshire "State House Watch" newsletter is published to bring you information about matters being discussed in Concord including housing, the death penalty, immigration, and labor rights. We also follow the state budget and tax system, voting rights, corrections policy, and more. 

The AFSC is a Quaker organization supported by people of many faiths who care about peace, social justice, humanitarian service, and nonviolent change. Maggie Fogarty and Grace Kindeke staff the New Hampshire Program which publishes this newsletter.  Susan Bruce was our State House Watch researcher and writer for 7+ years until she passed away in mid-June 2021.

‘State House Watch" is made possible in part by a grant from the Anne Slade Frey Charitable Trust. Your donations make our work possible. Click the DONATE NOW button on our web page to send a secure donation to support the work of the AFSC’s New Hampshire Program. Thank you!