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State House Watch: December 17, 2021

Greetings, State House Watchers! We're back!

A new state legislative session is rapidly approaching, and we'll be here to help you navigate it, stay informed and take action. We've been plowing through the blizzard of new bills and preparing to report on our priorities and those of our partners and State House Watch readers. It is sure to be another wild and consequential year. All of us who are committed to racial, social and economic justice in New Hampshire will need to be actively engaged.

First, some exciting news: We welcome a new member of our State House Watch team this year—the talented Anne Saunders! Anne is an experienced journalist who was a reporter for the Associated Press; she's a knowledgeable State House Watcher who worked for former Senate President Sylvia Larsen; and she's a longtime member of Concord Friends Meeting (Quakers). We are excited and grateful to be working with Anne to bring you our newsletter every Friday evening from January 7, 2022 until the session ends in early June. Our friend Susan Bruce would be happy and relieved that we have found such a capable companion.

Both the House and the Senate will launch the new session on Wednesday, January 5, 2022. House members plan to meet on January 6 and 7 as well. Legislators will take up the governor's vetoes as well as the retained and re-referred bills from the 2021 session. Read on for details. We'll report the outcomes to you in our next issue, on Friday, January 7.

 

In this issue:

  • On the Horizon - 2022 Bills
  • COVID and the Legislature
  • Bills Carried Over from 2021 - Vetoes & Retained/Re-Referred Bills
  • Redistricting (Or is it gerrymandering?)
  • State House Watch on the Radio
  • Upcoming Events

On the Horizon - 2022 Bills

There are 900+ bills to be considered in the 2022 session. At this point, some are still only "legislative service requests" (LSRs), so we only have the title and not the bill text or bill number. Others have a bill number and proposed text. You can see the full list here. Garry Rayno at InDepth NH has a preview of the upcoming session here.

We see many reasons for alarm, including many bills promoted by out-of-state organizations and backed by well-funded campaigns. For example, Representative Mike Sylvia proposes that NH declare independence from the United States and proceed as a sovereign nation.

Among the nearly 100 bills headed to the House Education Committee is the so-called "teacher loyalty" bill (HB 1255), which is already garnering national attention, including in Forbes Magazine. The bill amends a McCarthy-era bill to expand its scope to limit instruction about socialism or Marxism. It also reads: "No teacher shall advocate any doctrine or theory promoting a negative account or representation of the founding and history of the United States of America in New Hampshire public schools which does not include the worldwide context of now outdated and discouraged practices. Such prohibition includes but is not limited to teaching that the United States was founded on racism."

The NEA of NH will help us to stay on top of these. You can read their action alerts here. By the way, did you know that the AFT filed a lawsuit this past week in opposition to the censorship law which was passed as part of the state budget? Read about it here: "The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire in Concord, N.H., names the state attorney general, state Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut and the state Commission for Human Rights. It asks that the court rule the divisive concepts statute is unconstitutionally vague, making it impossible for educators to teach their students." We'll be following this closely.

While we're on the subject, here are some holiday reading recommendations:
What Critical Race Theory Is – And What It Isn't (YES Magazine)
A Lesson on Critical Race Theory (American Bar Association)
Teachers Are Being Silenced. What Can Be Done About It? (Cult of Pedagogy)
Five Things to Know about the Attack on Anti-Racist Education (Tim Wise)

Masks and vaccinations will continue to be a major issue with prohibitions aimed at schools, private businesses and government. HB 1027 would make it treasonous to "subvert" the legislative process with "a false claim of emergency caused by COVID-19."

Threats to LGBTQ youth come with a proposal to lift the ban on conversion therapy for minors and another to make sexual reassignment a form of child abuse.

On the positive side, both the House and Senate may be considering legislation to expand access to postpartum health care for low-income women on Medicaid. Legislation is also proposed that would give various categories of immigrants the right to apply for a NH driver's license. Another proposal would allow a pilot program for electric school buses.

More bills are coming on abortion (banning after fetal heartbeat detected, giving men who impregnate a woman the right to block, and, on the positive side, a bill that would repeal the abortion ban that passed in the state budget last year), education freedom accounts, guns, election rules, and voting, among others. Stay tuned! We will provide more information as these bills are scheduled for public hearings.

 

COVID and the Legislature

Speaker of the House Sherman Packard recently announced plans to hold the January House sessions in Manchester at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, where a 30,000-square-foot hall will allow for greater social distancing. Masks are still not required, but sections for masked and non-masked representatives will be provided. The sessions will be livestreamed for the public, according to InDepth NH. Legislators will start with attempts to override the governor's vetoes and votes on retained and re-referred bills. You can find all of these items in the December 3 House calendar.

The Senate, in turn, will meet in Representatives Hall in the State House instead of the smaller Senate chamber. You can watch the Senate proceedings here. (Note that the link will not be live until the session begins.)
 
The House Speaker insists on doing business in person, denying a remote access option for Members who have health concerns due to the ongoing pandemic. 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. The case is currently being considered in the Court of Appeals; oral arguments took place on September 10 and we await a decision.

When the Senate convenes, there will be consideration of an amendment to allow for remote participation: "Upon the vote of two-thirds of members present and voting, a member may participate in a Senate session from a remote location by electronic or other means that ensures that the member participating remotely is able to simultaneously see and hear each of the other members of the Senate speak during the session... A quorum of the Senate shall be present in the chamber at all times. This rule shall expire at the end of the 2022 legislative session." Sounds reasonable to us!

When it comes to committee hearings, the public can watch remotely via streaming services, but there will no allowances for remote testimony. We are dismayed and frustrated that New Hampshire residents won't have the same options to be heard that we had last year. We think democracy functions better when more people can participate.

We encourage you to sign this petition from New Futures, urging the NH legislature to take all necessary steps and precautions to ensure safe public access to the legislative process during the coming session, including enabling the option to join committee hearings and meetings remotely from outside of the State House.

 

Protecting Voters, Ending Voter Suppression

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that they would sue the state of Georgia for the voter suppression bills that Georgia Governor Brian Kemp recently signed into law in response to the record voter turnout during the November elections.

NHPR has the story: “[Attorney General] Garland said the lawsuit is the first of ‘many steps’ the department is taking to protect the right to vote for all eligible voters. He said the Civil Rights Division will continue to examine voting laws that other states have passed. ‘We will not hesitate to act,’ Garland said. The Justice Department announced this month it would vigorously defend voting rights. Garland said that the department will double the number of voter enfranchisement lawyers and focus attention on litigation related to voting rights.”

We commend Senators Hassan and Shaheen for co-sponsoring the For the People Act which would expand and protect voting rights and reduce corporate influence and corruption in our political system. We encourage our readers to attend the For the People rally on Sunday, June 27 at 3 PM in Market Square, Portsmouth to join with others organizing to protect our democracy.

 

Bills Carried Over from 2021 - Vetoes & Retained/Re-Referred Bills

Usually, the legislature takes up the governor's vetoes in the fall, well before the new year, but House and Senate leaders postponed these votes until Convening Day, January 5. This is their opportunity to see if they have the 2/3rds votes necessary to pass any of the 2021 bills vetoed by the governor. The governor vetoed four House bills and two Senate bills.

The vetoed bills from the House include one that would change the date of the primary, moving it into August instead of September (HB 98). Sununu objected to this proposal despite bipartisan support, saying too many Granite Staters would be on vacation, which could reduce turnout.

He also vetoed a Senate and a House bill intended to streamline procedures for gun background checks (HB 334 and SB 141). The changes were opposed by the NH Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence, the state Attorney General and the Judicial branch.
 
In other cases, Governor Sununu said he supported the intent of the bill even as he vetoed it. For example, he gave his support for a section of HB 334 to allow people to carry guns while using off-road vehicles including snowmobiles even as he vetoed the overall bill because of the gun background check issue.

Sununu also vetoed a bill that would eliminate the requirement that cannabis dispensaries in NH operate as non-profits (SB 38).
 
With regard to retained and re-referred bills, here's a quick primer on the process: House and Senate committees have the option of deciding that they want more time to consider a bill beyond the timeline of the regular session. In the Senate, these bills are 're-referred' to committee, and in the House, they are 'retained.' A committee with retained or re-referred bills has a deadline (in November or December) by which they have to make some sort of recommendation. They can recommend Ought to Pass (OTP), or OTP as amended (OTP/A), or Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL). They can also 'Refer for Interim Study' (IS) which means the committee wants to keep working in it. You can read more about the process here. These recommendations come up for a vote on the first (and maybe second) day of the new session.

You can find the full list of retained and re-referred bills in the House and Senate calendars; we want to draw your attention to several of them here so that you can let your legislators know how you would like them to vote.

 

Coming Up in the House

HB 607, establishing local education savings accounts for students. Recommended OTP/A by a vote of 10-9. In addition to the costly school voucher program passed into law with the state budget, HB 607 would create another, even more dangerous school voucher plan that allocates locally raised school taxes to fund school voucher accounts that can be used to pay for private, religious, or homeschooling. For most NH communities, the majority of the funding needed for their public schools is raised at the local level through local property taxes. HB 607 targets that funding. This bill would have devastating impacts on local communities and public schools. Please take action to urge your Representative to defeat it. Good talking points are available here from the NEA-NH.

HB 60, raising the minimum age of marriage. Recommended ITL by a vote of 8-7.

HB 473, establishing a renter's insurance notification requirement. Recommended ITL by a vote of 11-8.

SB 68, requiring an employer to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. Recommended IS by a vote of 11-8.

SB 69, requiring employers to provide access to a sufficient space for nursing mothers and reasonable break time. Recommended OTP/A by a vote of 10-9.

HB 237, relative to the legalization and regulation of cannabis and making appropriations therefor. Recommended IS by a vote of 12-8.

HB 238, prohibiting provocations based on a victim’s actual or perceived gender, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation from being used as a defense in manslaughter case. In effect this would prohibit the use of the so-called "panic defense" by defendants who kill someone who identifies as LGBTQ. Recommended OTP by a vote of 13-8.

HB 579, requiring notice to the public before immigration checkpoints are conducted.  Recommended OTP/A by a vote of 11-9.

HB 598, relative to the portion of a minimum sentence to be served to be eligible for parole. Recommended ITL by a vote of 10-9.

HB 620, requiring law enforcement agencies to gather and analyze certain demographic information. Recommended ITL by a vote of 12-8.

HB 20, establishing the Richard "Dick" Hinch education freedom account program. Refer for Interim Study by a vote of 11-9.

HB 87, relative to the definition of electioneering. This bill would allow campaign advocates inside polling places to wear clothes or paraphernalia for candidates. Recommended OTP/A by a vote of 11-9.

HB 84, declaring May 21 as Ona "Oney" Judge Day and naming the new terminal at Portsmouth international airport at Pease in her honor. Recommended OTP/A by a vote of 15-3.

HB 275, relative to the governor's power to initiate a state of emergency and various emergency powers. Recommended OPT with amendment by a vote of 10-8.

HB 103, establishing a dental benefit under the state Medicaid program. Recommended OTP/A by a vote of 19-1.

HB 359, creating a private cause of action for discrimination based on hairstyles relative to a person's ethnicity. Recommended ITL by a vote of 11-10.

HB 478, relative to treatment of PFAS contaminants in the drinking water of the Merrimack Village Water District. Recommended ITL by a vote of 14-7.

HB 622, protecting nascent human life as a reasonable and valid state interest. Recommended OTP, by a vote of 11-10, with an amendment that would remove a section of the Fetal Life Protection Act requiring an invasive ultrasound.

HB 517, relative to the state minimum hourly rate. This bill increases the minimum hourly rate, increases the base rate for tipped employees, and adjusts both rates annually based on the most recent 12-month average of the consumer price index. The bill also requires a youth minimum wage for employees under 18 years of age. Recommended ITL by a vote of 11-9.

HB 167, relative to net energy metering limits for customer generators and the purchase of output of limited electrical energy producers. Recommended ITL by a vote of 11-10.

HB 172, establishing greenhouse gas emission reduction goals for the state and establishing a climate action plan. Recommended ITL by a vote of 11-10.

HB 549, relative to the energy efficiency resource standard and the system benefits charge. Recommended ITL by a vote of 11-10.

HB 253, requiring law enforcement officers to use body-worn cameras and establishing a grant program to assist local law enforcement agencies to purchase body-worn cameras. Recommended IS.

HB 234, relative to freedom of speech and association on college campuses. Recommended IS.
 
HB 257, prohibiting political advocacy in public schools. Recommended IS.

 

Coming Up in the Senate

SB 63, relative to business liability protection for exposure to coronavirus and COVID-19. Recommended IS by a vote of 5-0.

HB 227, relative to termination of tenancy at the expiration of the tenancy or lease term. This would allow landlords to evict tenants for no other reason than that their lease had ended. Recommended (ITL by a vote of 5-0. The decision was explained by Senator Harold French: "Given the shortage of available rental units throughout the state, the Committee felt that this was not an appropriate time to enact this type of legislation." We don’t think it’s a good idea at any time.

HB 319, requiring students in the university and community college systems of New Hampshire to pass the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services civics naturalization test. Recommended as ITL by a vote of 5-0.

HB 135, requiring parties responsible for pollution of a drinking water supply to be financially responsible for certain consequences of that pollution. Recommended ITL by a vote of 5-0.

SB 75, relative to school district information on the COVID-19 dashboard maintained by the department of health and human services. Recommended IS by a vote of 5-0.

SB 156, relative to management of the secure psychiatric unit facility at New Hampshire hospital. Recommended ITL by a vote of 5-0.
 
SB 39, exempting information and records contained in law enforcement personnel files from disclosure under the right-to-know law. Recommended IS by a vote of 5-0.

HB 125, relative to post arrest photo distribution by law enforcement officers. Recommended IS by a vote of 5-0.

HB 427, prohibiting corporal punishment of children in state agency programs. Recommended OTP by a vote of 5-0.

SB 151, relative to renewable energy procurement. Recommended IS by a vote of 6-0.

HB 503, codifying the council on housing stability. Recommended OTP/A by a vote of 4-0.

HB 196, adding trespass as an exception to the charge of criminal threatening. Recommended IS by a vote of 5-0.

HB 197, relative to the use of deadly force in defense of another. This would essentially expand the right to use deadly force currently in place for one’s home to one’s vehicles. Recommended IS by a vote of 3-2.

HB 307, relative to the state preemption of the regulation of firearms and ammunition. Recommended OTP/A by a vote of 3-2. If passed, this would constrain the ability of communities and schools to restrict weapons within their bounds.

HB 440, prohibiting the suspension of civil liberties during a state of emergency. Recommended OTP/A by a vote of 3-2.

 

Redistricting (Or is it gerrymandering?)

Another early action in the NH House will be votes on the maps created by the Special Committee on Redistricting, a process undertaken every ten years. In the absence of an independent redistricting commission—despite many attempts to create one—the process has remained a partisan one.

Getting the most attention has been the Republican redraw of NH's two Congressional districts. According to Open Democracy Action, the proposal would leave the 2nd Congressional District heavily Democratic, voting 17.3% more Democratic than the state overall. The 1st Congressional District would lean Republican by 1.8% more than the state overall.

The national blog Fivethirtyeight explains the implications for NH: "The plan is a doozy…as it proposes some of the biggest changes to New Hampshire's congressional map since the late 1800s. It removes several Democratic-leaning communities from the 1st District and gives them to the 2nd District, creating one more clearly Republican-leaning seat and one more clearly Democratic-leaning seat. Both would still be competitive, but likely only in extremely good years for the opposite party."

Multiple changes are also proposed for the districts of NH House members, explained here by the NH Bulletin. Nashua state Representative Paul Bergeron, speaking for the minority on the Special Committee on Redistricting, says the Republican redistricting proposal for the House has "significant constitutional flaws."

The final redistricting bill up for consideration affects nine counties where districts elect their county commissioners—three are elected per county, with four counties looking at significant changes to their district maps. According to Walpole Representative Lucy Weber, serving in the minority, "No reasonable explanation has been given for the proposed upheaval in any of these four counties, so the minority believes that the least change is the best."

 

State House Watch on the Radio

State House Watch radio will return to the airwaves—at WNHN, 94.7 FM in Concord, and online at wnhnfm.org—on Mondays at 5 PM and rebroadcast on Tuesdays at 8 AM. We'll do our first show on Monday, January 10. We've got a fabulous new lineup of co-hosts for 2022, including Rich Gulla from the State Employees Association, and leaders from NH Youth Movement, Change for Concord and the Reproductive Freedom Fund of NH. It's gonna be great!


Upcoming Events

Sunday, December 19
Concord Climate Caroling — 4:45 PM at Storrs Street, Concord. Hosted by No Coal No Gas, 350 New Hampshire and Extinction Rebellion NH. Join our friends at XR South Central New Hampshire for this outdoor event serenading Concord shoppers about the evils of coal and the Merrimack Generating Station! You can check out this playlist of edited climate carols to prepare! Email xr-south-central-nh@pm.me for more details.

Monday, December 20
Peace & Justice Conversations: Ending Homelessness is Possible! – 7 PM. Hosted by NH Peace Action. Ellen Groh, Executive Director of Concord Coalition to End Homelessness will give a brief overview of homelessness and discussion solutions that are working and the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness approach to ending homelessness in Concord.

Tuesday, December 21
Homeless Persons Memorial Day – Scroll down for details about the ten vigils throughout the state.

Monday, January 3
Peace & Justice Conversations: NH Peace Action's 2022 Priorities – 7 PM. Hosted by NH Peace Action. Join NH Peace Action Executive Director Will Hopkins for a look forward to 2022. What are our legislative and policy priorities for the upcoming year? How can we maximize our impact in an election year and continue building peace? How are we going to continue to grow our organization and how do we relate to the larger progressive movement in New Hampshire and beyond? Hopefully more conversation than lecture, let's dive into the happenings of 2021, and figure out how to change the world in 2022!

Monday, January 17
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! Stay tuned for a statewide calendar of events to honor this important holiday.

With best wishes, 

Maggie Fogarty, Grace Kindeke and Anne Saunders

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. Donate now to support the work of the AFSC's New Hampshire Program. Thank you!

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