Last year, activity in the House was about the state budget. This year, the social issues train has certainly left the station in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
It’s hard to imagine that any focus Republicans give to bills like House Bill 1659, which would require a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion, would help them in November. But that’s probably not the point.
Analysts have said that Republicans have historically large majorities now and aren’t likely to hold onto them come November. With that in mind, many suggest Republicans need to tackle these issues now, even if they are issues New Hampshire and its libertarian streak haven’t historically cared much about. But is there a risk in energizing Democrats?
There is something interesting going on with House Bill 1659. On Wednesday, March 14, the House approved the bill 189-151, but the next day the House reversed its decision and sent the bill to committee for review. What’s interesting is that the Senate, probably a more moderate body anyway, doesn’t appear to have any interest in going there.
The bill would require a 24-hour waiting period. The bill had read that a violation of the waiting period would be a felony and punishable by a three- to seven-year prison sentence, but a House committee voted this week to remove the criminal charges. Women would be required to be told about their fetus’s brain and heart development, be provided with a video and educational materials on abortion, and be told the state urges them to reach out to an adoption agency.
Not surprisingly, the opposition responded.
“We are facing a full-scale attack on women’s health under Speaker Bill O’Brien,” said Jennifer Frizzell, senior policy adviser for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, in a statement. “In the past 15 months the New Hampshire House has adopted five times the number of restrictions on women’s health care than in all the 37 years prior since Roe v Wade. Despite this frightening trend, we recognize a growing bipartisan opposition to O’Brien’s anti-women’s health agenda.”
Same-sex marriage repeal
Along with two other abortion-related bills, the House has a same-sex marriage repeal bill to deal with. Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, has included a referendum on his bill that would put the issue of same-sex marriage before voters. The state has a same-sex marriage law, which Bates is seeking to repeal. If the question went before voters, it would be non-binding — even if voters supported the current law, repeal would still happen. Bates said in reports he and legislators would accept the will of the people. Bates has written several bills that would essentially repeal the state’s same-sex marriage law, which was enacted in 2008.
The assumption is that Gov. John Lynch would veto any repeal effort, though his support of the same-sex marriage law was lukewarm. The guess is that Lynch would have preferred not to have had to deal with the issue to begin with.
A University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll released last fall reported 29 percent of residents supported repealing the law, 50 percent strongly opposed repeal and 12 percent somewhat opposed repeal. Exit polls at the presidential primary in January were similar.
The House squashed a bill that would have allowed wedding service providers to refuse service to gay couples if it conflicted with their religious beliefs. The vote wasn’t close, but even some in support of same-sex marriage repeal probably cringed, from a re-election standpoint, at the fact that the House even had to hear that one. As evidenced by comments by Senate President Peter Bragdon in an interview with the Hippo, the Senate is keeping its head down and pushing for more legislation that helps businesses and the economy.
Right to work is back
The House passed right-to-work legislation last week, though not by a veto-proof majority. Last year, Lynch vetoed the legislation, and while the Senate overrode the veto, the House came up short. It was one of the biggest battles at the Statehouse last year and probably will be again. Right to work is related to collective bargaining and would eliminate requirements that state workers join unions, and that workers who opt out of unions be forced to pay union dues. Opponents say state law already protects workers who opt out of unions. The risk for Republicans in bringing the legislation up is, again, how much it energizes the opposition.