2021 legislation coming into focus

The New Hampshire State House remains closed to the public, but legislative business is underway with live-streamed sessions and Zoom hearings. Proposed legislation includes several life-issue and conscience-rights bills that are awaiting scheduling.

I should illustrate this post with a photo of a laptop screen instead of the State House. The screen is as close as we’ll get to the committees, until someone in COVID-19 authority declares otherwise.

A partial list

Here’s a partial list of bills, with legislation still being developed. Hearings are not yet scheduled for these measures.

Number of bill or legislative service request (LSR; that’s a bill-in-formation), title or analysis as printed in the bill, sponsors’ name/town with chief sponsor listed first:

  • LSR 146, prohibiting public funding of abortions and establishing the New Hampshire foster care and adoption initiative fund. (Rep. Fred Plett, Goffstown)
  • HB 233-FN, relative to the right of any infant born alive to medically appropriate and reasonable care and treatment. (Reps. Jordan Ulery, Hudson, and Walter Stapleton, Claremont)
  • LSR 541, relative to the protection of fetal life. (Reps. Beth Folsom, Wentworth; Jeanine Notter, Merrimack; Linda Gould, Bedford; Katherine Prudhomme-O’Brien, Derry; Maureen Mooney, Merrimack; Walter Stapleton, Claremont; Sens. Regina Birdsell, Hampstead; Ruth Ward, Stoddard)
  • HB 430, repealing the prohibition on entering or remaining on a public way or sidewalk adjacent to a reproductive health facility. This would repeal the unenforced “buffer zone” law. (Reps. Niki Kelsey, Bedford; Jeanine Notter, Merrimack; Linda Gould, Bedford; Maureen Mooney, Merrimack; Walter Stapleton, Claremont; Mark Pearson, Hampstead; Hershel Nuñez, Pelham; Matthew Simon, Littleton; Vanessa Sheehan, Milford; Tim Baxter, Seabrook; Sens. Jeb Bradley, Wolfeboro; Gary Daniels, Milford; Regina Birdsell, Hampstead; Kevin Avard, Nashua; Denise Ricciardi, Bedford)
  • HB 434, prohibiting the use of public funds for abortions. (Reps. Vanessa Sheehan, Milford; Maureen Mooney, Merrimack; Kimberly Rice, Hudson; Debra DeSimone, Atkinson; Linda Gould, Bedford; Mark Pearson, Hampstead; Matthew Simon, Littleton; Bill King, Milford; Diane Pauer, Brookline; Jim Creighton, Antrim; Sens. Denise Ricciardi, Bedford; Ruth Ward, Stoddard; Gary Daniels, Milford)
  • HCR 4, a resolution recognizing the authority of states to enact laws protecting the lives of the unborn and calling for a Constitutional Convention to propose a human life amendment to the Constitution. (Rep. Max Abramson, Seabrook)
  • LSR 791, protecting nascent human life as a reasonable and valid state interest. (Reps. Walter Stapleton, Claremont; Bill Nelson, Brookfield; Mark Pearson, Hampstead; Max Abramson, Seabrook)

A few notes

While the House and Senate have Republican majorities, I haven’t heard any chatter about giving these bills high priority within the GOP caucus. I expect COVID-19 policy, education choice, and the state budget to predominate.

Speaking at a Business and Industry Association online event earlier this week, Speaker of the House Sherman Packard said “all testimony will be virtual” – he meant online. While House committees might meet at the State House in modified hearing rooms (air filters are being installed, among other COVID accommodations), the public will participate electronically for now.

Senate committees are meeting online via the Zoom platform, which allows for public participation. As with the House, there is currently no provision for the public to be physically present with legislators during testimony.

The Senate has announced that it will allow “omnibus” bills this year. That’s one of the worst ideas held over from last year’s pandemic disruptions. Multiple bills will be bundled together in each omnibus, with a single hearing for each bundle. While that may be appropriate in an emergency, let’s hope the emergency doesn’t extend beyond this session. Making omnibus bills routine gives rise to a we-have-to-pass-it-to-find-out-what’s-in-it mentality.

There are more than 800 bills in the works, covering a myriad of topics including human trafficking, religious liberty, and allocation of state resources. Most will be dealt with by the end of May, with June to be dedicated to finalizing the state budget for the next fiscal biennium which begins on July 1.

Veto sustained: abortion insurance mandate bill fails

The New Hampshire House has sustained Governor Chris Sununu’s veto of HB 685, which would have created an abortion insurance mandate applicable to certain health insurance policies.

The vote on the veto override attempt was 195-139, well short of the two-thirds majority required for override. (“Yea” indicated support for the override; “Nay” indicated support for the Governor’s veto.)

The vote broke down along party lines. One Republican (Skip Rollins, R-Newport) joined 194 Democrats in supporting the override. Democrats Barbara Shaw (D-Manchester) and Mark Vallone (D-Epping) joined 137 Republicans in voting to sustain the veto.

Pro and Con

Rep. Rebecca McBeath (D-Portsmouth), speaking to colleagues before the override vote, said “abortion care is an essential procedure for women’s health.” In 2019 McBeath voted against collecting and reporting abortion statistics as a public health measure – something that 47 other states do. Further, Rep. McBeath has not taken any steps I know of to require New Hampshire abortion providers to have any medical training.

Rep. McBeath cited the new privacy amendment to the state constitution as another reason for overturning the veto. I wrote about that amendment before it came to a vote in 2018, warning how it could be misused by abortion advocates.

Given a chance to make a brief statement in favor of sustaining the Governor’s veto, Rep. Kim Rice (R-Hudson) reminded her colleagues that HB 685 would have put New Hampshire afoul of a federal law (the Weldon amendment), thereby costing the state millions of dollars.

In his veto message, Governor Sununu cited the Weldon Amendment as one reason for his action. He went on to say, “This legislation is unnecessary, and would threaten the State’s ability to receive federal funding for our many healthcare programs in the middle of a global pandemic. The vast majority of the commercially insured in New Hampshire already have coverage of abortion services. The legislation also raises constitutional concerns by forcing employers who morally object to offering coverage that violates their religious tenets.”

Edited to add link to House roll call vote.

House, Senate to consider veto override on September 16

The New Hampshire House will meet on Wednesday, September 16, to consider bills vetoed by Governor Chris Sununu. Among those bills is HB 685, the abortion insurance mandate.

A two-thirds vote in House and Senate is required for an override. If the House overrides a veto in its 10 a.m. session, the Senate will take it up at its own session at noon.

What will the question be?

The motion on HB 685 will be a question: Notwithstanding the Governor’s veto, shall HB 685 become law?

A Yes vote will be in support of the abortion insurance mandate and opposed to the veto. If two-thirds of House members and two-thirds of Senators vote to support the override, HB 685 will become law.

A No vote will be in opposition to the mandate and in support of the veto. That’s the one I’ll be cheering for.

How do I reach my legislators?

Look up information for your House members on the General Court website, gencourt.state.nh.us. You can search by town or by legislator’s name.

Look up House members

Look up Senate members

A brief, clear, courteous message to sustain the Governor’s veto of HB 685 could help prevent the abortion insurance mandate from becoming law.

Are the veto override sessions open to the public?

House and Senate are still operating under COVID restrictions. There is no announced public access except as described below. However, the sessions will be live-streamed so the public can monitor the proceedings online.

According to the House Calendar, the lounge of the Whittemore Center will be open to the public during the session. This is in a separate area from the arena floor where the House will be meeting.

According to a tweet from the House Clerk, the House livestream will be available at 10 a.m. on September 16 at nhhouse.edifymultimedia.com.

The Senate session livestream will be available at noon on September 16 at http://sg001-harmony.sliq.net/00286/Harmony/en/View/Calendar/20200916/-1

In order to allow for social distancing, the House will meet at the Whittemore Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham and the Senate will meet in Representatives Hall at the State House in Concord.

Does the recent primary election affect the veto session?

No. The 2019-20 legislators will remain in office until Organization Day in early December following November’s general election.

Edited to provide link to House livestream.

Abortion Insurance Mandate On Its Way to Governor Sununu

The New Hampshire House voted today to concur with the Senate’s abortion insurance mandate. Following an administrative procedure known as enrollment, HB 685 will go to Governor Chris Sununu. He has not indicated whether he will sign or veto the measure.

The Governor’s office can be reached at (603) 271-2121. I’ll be asking for a veto of HB 685.

The House vote on concurrence was 196-132. A “Yea” supported advancing the insurance mandate, despite the fact that the House had held no hearing on the bill as amended.

As previously reported, HB 685 was amended by the Senate to remove its original language on a different topic, replacing it with an abortion insurance mandate. The House violated its own rules (#45-b, if anyone asks) by taking up the amended bill at all, never mind concurring with the Senate’s changes.

If HB 685 becomes law, you will be helping to subsidize abortion if you are an insurance provider covered by the bill, if you are a business owner who offers health insurance as a benefit to employees under a policy covered by this bill, and if you are an individual paying premiums for a policy covered by this bill.

Conscience rights were dismissed by the House and Senate majorities when they voted on HB 685 as amended. Will the Governor take the same approach?

Earlier posts on HB 685: Second Abortion Insurance Mandate Bill Created in Rushed Process, House to Vote on Abortion Insurance Mandate

House to Vote On Abortion Insurance Mandate June 30

The New Hampshire House will vote on June 30 whether to agree with a Senate amendment creating an abortion insurance mandate bill. The House will vote to concur (agree) or non-concur (disagree) with the Senate’s changes to HB 685. The House intends to wrap up its session on the 30th, coming back only in September to consider vetoed bills.

If a majority votes to non-concur, HB 685 and the abortion insurance mandate will die. If a majority votes instead to concur, the bill will go to Governor Chris Sununu. The Governor has made no public statement on whether he’ll veto HB 685.

Reaching House members

To reach House members before Tuesday, June 30, look up your district and representatives’ names at the General Court website. Note that you may live in two districts, one for your town and another “floterial” district covering several towns. In that case, contact representatives from both districts.

To kill HB 685, the message is please vote to non-concur with HB 685.

Brief and courteous messages are always the way to go.

Reaching out to the Governor will be the next step if the House concurs. If you want to get a jump on that, call the Governor’s office at (603) 271-2121 and ask for a veto if HB 685 gets to his desk. Thumbs up to the staff at the Governor’s office, which fields all such calls and makes sure the Governor hears about them.

The sneaky swap: senate’s non-germane amendment

As previously reported, HB 685 bears no relationship to the original bill passed by the House. As introduced, HB 685 was about insurance for ambulance services. That’s what the House passed. The Senate, where a majority is more interested in abortion than in ambulance services, amended the bill by stripping out the original language altogether and replacing it with an abortion insurance mandate. The vote on the non-germane amendment – meaning the amendment has no relationship to the topic of the original bill – was 14-10 along party lines.

To add insult to injury, the Senate majority accepted a new name for the bill: “The Reproductive Health Parity Act of 2020.”

Even a House member who’s a fan of abortion mandates could take offense at the Senate’s casual dismissal of a House bill. Procedure alone is reason enough to torpedo HB 685 as amended.

There’s more: there was NO House hearing on the material in HB 685 as amended. No House member should be supporting that kind of sneaky process.

If this procedural nonsense succeeds, it will set a precedent for future legislatures. Its use won’t be limited to one party or the other. No House member should be willing to open that door. No representative voting to concur with HB 685 as amended will have any business objecting if his or her own pet bill falls prey to shenanigans in the future.

Because the House intends to finish this session’s regular business on June 30, without forming any conference committees, a vote to non-concur will kill HB 685.

I’ll add a link to the roll call after the House vote.