Buffer zone bill gets committee OK 12-7; NH House vote could be next week

Rep. Janet Wall: don't "add another layer to the process"
Rep. Janet Wall: don’t “add another layer to the process”

The House Judiciary Committee has voted 12-7 to send SB 319, the buffer zone bill, to the full House with a recommendation of ought-to-pass-as-amended.

The vote came after a committee discussion that extended over two executive sessions. One representative who appealed to free speech and religious freedom, Rep. Rowe, was unable to muster a majority of his colleagues to agree with him. First Amendment arguments will have to come during the floor debate that will precede the House vote, which will probably take place next Wednesday, May 14.

Local control? Not if the locals say “no”

Rep. Robert Rowe (R-Amherst) attempted to introduce an amendment to require that abutters be notified before imposition of a buffer zone and that there be a public hearing with the planning board to review the site plan in conjunction with law enforcement and public works representatives. That launched an illuminating if sobering discussion of what abortion advocates think of things like transparency, notice and hearings.

Rep. Janet Wall was concerned that the planning board “adds another layer to the process.” Rowe replied, “I did this not to add layers but to bring fairness to the process. I’m not trying to establish a roadblock.” Wall said, “Some people could interpret it that way.”

Rep. Paul Berch (D-Westmoreland) was blunter. “This would give municipalities veto power.” He added “I don’t like the history of Manchester trying to keep Planned Parenthood out. I’d prefer language that abutters be ‘consulted’. I think it’s not helpful to ignore the past.” He was referring to a court case from the early 2000s arising from Planned Parenthood’s ultimately successful effort to establish an abortion facility on a residential street.

Not helpful to ignore the past, indeed. Fortunately, Rep. Kathy Souza is one of Berch’s colleagues on Judiciary. “I was part of that suit.” She recounted how the building on Pennacook Street was developed without the neighbors knowing what was going on. “A variance was needed. The representative of the developer told the Zoning Board that a general practice medical office was going in. Neighbors were delighted. Then one day, the Union Leader reported that bulletproof glass was being delivered to the site.” Some of the neighbors realized that meant it was going to be no “general practice” office. Yes, a court case ensued. Was the variance validly obtained, since the nature of the business had been concealed? Fine with us, said the federal district court. Without a definition of “general practice,” PP was safe from further zoning scrutiny.

Rep. Charlene Takesian (R-Pelham) agreed with Berch. “I thought we were trying to set a state standard. Rep. Rowe’s amendment would give too much local control.” Durham’s Rep. Timothy Horrigan agreed. “This might give a planning board veto power. Don’t give a local board the power to override state statute.” From Rep. David Woodbury: this offers municipalities the chance “to make mischief.” Rep. Sylvia Gale, who said at last week’s executive session that she has been a patient “escort” at abortion facilities, warned that hearings and notice might allow people to “hijack the process.”

Veto. Mischief. Hijack. That’s what abortion advocates think of things like “notice” and “hearings.” Remember, this is about a bill drafted at the request and for the benefit of one industry in New Hampshire: abortion providers.

“Collaborative spirit” didn’t prevail

Rowe carefully spelled out his reasons for proposing the amendment, in a “collaborative” spirit. He said he had called Rep. Bouchard, author of an amendment earlier adopted by the committee, “in the spirit of working together. She said ‘let me think about it.’ I have not heard further.” Rep. Bouchard, by the way, stopped by the committee room occasionally yesterday to hear the discussion. It was within the rights of the committee chair, Rep. Marjorie Smith (D-Durham), to give Rep. Bouchard the courtesy of being heard on Rowe’s amendment. Rep. Smith did not extend the invitation, nor did Rep. Bouchard ask for one.

How the final committee vote went:

Voting to recommend passage of SB 319 as amended: Democratic state representatives Marjorie Smith (Durham), Janet Wall (Madbury), Sylvia Gale (Nashua), Paul Hackel (Nashua), Rick Watrous (Concord), Peter Sullivan (Manchester), Timothy Horrigan (Durham), Paul Berch (Westmoreland), Frank Heffron (Exeter), Larry Phillips (Keene), and David Woodbury (New Boston), joined by Republican Charlene Takesian (Pelham.) Opposing passage were Republicans Robert Rowe (Amherst), Joseph Hagan (Chester), Kathleen Souza (Manchester), Gary Hopper (Weare), Lawrence Kappler (Raymond), Robert Luther (Laconia), and Jeanine Notter (Merrimack). Rep. Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont) was present for most of the discussion but had to leave before the vote was called.

Related posts on SB 319: 1st House Judiciary executive session, House Judiciary hearing, Senate Judiciary hearing, Senate vote