A postscript to yesterday’s New Hampshire House committee vote on buffer zone repeal, HB 589: Rep. Gary Hopper (R-Weare) read aloud to his fellow committee members a communication he had received from Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice in response to a query from him about what the state has spent so far defending the buffer zone law.
He read the letter aloud in a meeting that was open to the public; he posted it today on Facebook; his correspondent is a state employee; the topic was state business. Sounds like quotable stuff to me. So here is Deputy AG Rice to Rep. Hopper, as posted by Rep. Hopper this morning:
…So far, the Department has devoted 313.75 hours of attorney time in defending the buffer zone law, which equates to $43,611.25 (313.75 hours x $139.00/hr). We do not track the time that support staff devotes to any particular case so I cannot provide a cost for that. As far as future costs, that will depend on what the plaintiffs chose to do. If they appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court, we would file an objection, which I would estimate would involve approximately 40 hours of attorney time at $139/hr, or $5560 in cost. If the US Supreme Court accepted the appeal, the Department would likely devote several hundred hours on the appeal. I am unable to better estimate the amount of time required.
The plaintiffs could opt to refrain from further litigation unless and until a buffer zone is actually being considered. At this point, I cannot estimate if or when that would occur, or the amount of time that this office would spend on the litigation.
Recall that in the Supreme Court’s McCullen v. Coakley decision overturning a Massachusetts buffer zone law, taxpayers not only covered the cost for the state to defend an ultimately unconstitutional law but were later on the hook for $1.2 million in plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees.
I’m sure Massachusetts’ costs started small. Look where they ended up.
[Update, 2/22/17: the original version of this post listed Rep. Jordan Ulery as absent from the hearing. Rep. Dan Hynes has advised me that Rep. Ulery is no longer on the Judiciary Committee. I regret the error.]
Update, 2/23/17: Well, well, well. Here’s a photo of the official roll call.
The upshot of all those scratched-out checkmarks is 10-7 in favor of “Inexpedient to Legislate” on buffer zone repeal, HB 589. The formal, “official” tally is as follows.
Voting in favor of ITL on HB 589: Reps. Rouillard, Graham (that’s a change from what I heard when the vote was cast), Leavitt, Wall. Horrigan, Berch, Kenison, Keans, DiLorenzo, and Mulligan.
Shannon Bream of Fox News has just reported that the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a California law mandating that pro-life pregnancy care centers advertise abortion services.
The law that went into effect early this year requires pregnancy care centers to post a notice including this language: “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women.”
Alliance Defending Freedom represents the plaintiffs challenging the law in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Harris. ADF’s Matt Bowman said today,
“It’s bad enough if the government tells you what you can’t say, but a law that tells you what you must say—under threat of severe punishment—is even more unjust and dangerous. In this case, political allies of abortionists are seeking to punish pro-life pregnancy centers, which offer real hope and help to women. Forcing these centers to promote abortion and recite the government’s preferred views is a clear violation of their constitutionally protected First Amendment freedoms. That’s why other courts around the country have halted these kinds of measures and why we will be discussing the possibility of appeal with our clients.”
“The new law’s text was reportedly written by a pro-abortion pressure group. It singles out pro-life facilities. The intent is clearly to put them out of business. Under penalty of crippling fines of $500 and $1,000 per “offense,” the law would make licensed pro-life medical clinics directly contradict their baby-saving mission, and violate their staffers’ consciences, by advertising for abortion providers.
“…What? you ask? No government body would dare impose such a totalitarian violation of Americans’ individual consciences? No lawmaker would dare coerce a group to do the exact opposite of what its whole purpose is? No politician would dare force private entities to refer clients to their competition? No law could tell selected private groups they must utter government-mandated speech, especially speech they regard as damaging to the person receiving it? And surely no court would uphold such an obviously unconstitutional trampling of individual liberty?
“But unbelievably, all this is exactly what has happened.”
A New Hampshire Senate committee on a 3-2 vote today recommended passage of HB 1570, a bill to repeal New Hampshire’s yet-unenforced buffer zone law targeting peaceful pro-life witness outside abortion facilities. The news was reported on the Facebook page for a Planned Parenthood agency and was confirmed to me by a representative of Cornerstone.
The full Senate must now vote on the measure. The next Senate sessions are scheduled for Thursdays, May 5 and 12.
I’ll post more information as it becomes available.