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.

Best of 2020: pro-life neighbors at work

No contest: this year’s rock stars have been the staff, volunteers, and board members of New Hampshire agencies that offer pro-life assistance and support to pregnant and parenting women.

This odd year calls for an unusual best-of list. I won’t list multiple categories or runners-up. Pregnancy care centers have swept the board, as far as I’m concerned. They are committed to being effective and abortion-free.

Here’s a link to contact information for the agencies I know about. There’s probably one near you, if you’re a Granite Stater. (I welcome corrections and updates.)

balloon with "Walk for Life" emblem
photo by Ellen Kolb

Service in a challenging year

In an abortion-friendly economic and social environment – the COVID-19 pandemic, economic upheaval, and a shortage of housing options – these are the people who have kept going with critical human services work. Most have done so without benefit of customary annual fundraisers, as one event after another fell victim this year to COVID cancellation.

As if offering practical assistance isn’t enough, these agencies have to follow laws and regulations that let them stay in business. With or without a pandemic, someone has to file the IRS forms, report to donors, make sure the charitable-trust paperwork is in order with the state, and pay attention to local zoning requirements.

logos of New Hampshire pro-life pregnancy care centers
A few of the pro-life agencies in New Hampshire serving women and families.

Different missions

Some agencies are part of national or international ministries; Birthright and CareNet come to mind. Some, like St. Gianna’s Place, are home-grown. Others operate under the umbrella of a larger organization, as Our Place works within Catholic Charities. Some agencies are probably operating under my radar (and I hope to learn more about them).

“Agency” sounds impersonal. Perhaps “team” is a better word. Each individual team member brings a gift, an experience, a talent to the table. It takes the right mix of talents to bring a team to life.

These teams serve families all over New Hampshire, from pregnancy through the early years of parenting. Specific missions vary. What unifies them is commitment to the value of human life.

What you can do

Every agency relies on donor support. They’re all hurting this year, with cancellations of things like annual fundraising banquets and Mother’s Day flower sales. No matter your location or the specific mission you’d like to support, you can find an agency whose clients could benefit from your generosity, however much or little you can afford.

Find out if there’s a “wish list” on the agency’s website. Even one package of diapers can help keep a closet stocked.

Go on whatever social media platform you favor, and look for pages or accounts for New Hampshire pregnancy care centers. That’s where you’re likely to find the most up-to-date information about needs and services. Share what you find.

Is your local team looking for volunteers, staff, or board members? Then it’s time for prayerful discernment. Maybe there’s a place for you.

I’m filled with gratitude for everyone who plays a role in a pro-life human services ministry. In a year where inspiration has been in short supply, you’ve inspired me.

The attack ad told me to check the facts – so I did

(I wrote this essay for Cornerstone, which has kindly given me permission to re-post here.)

I am an “undeclared” voter, in the parlance of my state’s election laws, which means I’m not registered with any political party. I get a hefty pile of political ads in the mail every day during election season, as both major parties try to win my vote. Check the facts, they urge me.

I recently got a mailer from the state Democrat party attacking a state senate candidate, Gary Daniels, who happens to be a friend of mine. The mailer informed me that Daniels was coming to take away my reproductive rights.

No wonder “check the facts” is in the tiniest print.

I know the candidate and his voting record, so I was skeptical of the mailer right off the bat. But right there in tiny print on the front was that challenge: check the facts.

Fact number one: the first claim printed on the mailer cited a “vote” that Daniels never cast. He was not a member of the legislature at the time the bill in question was introduced.

“Opposes reproductive health care”

The footnote to the claim that Daniels “opposes reproductive health care” points to HB 685 (2020). Gary Daniels, while he is a former senator, was not in office in 2020. The incumbent in that seat is Shannon Chandley, whose party is responsible for the false claim that Daniels voted on HB 685.

Chandley voted in favor of the bill. That is not to her credit.

HB 685 was an abortion insurance mandate. It was not about reproductive health care. It was about violating the conscience rights of people who would rather not be involved in abortion, even tangentially, by providing insurance for it. It was about equating abortion with maternity care. As the Governor pointed out in his veto message, it was also about violating the federal Weldon Amendment, which would have cost the state millions of dollars in federal funds for human services programs in New Hampshire.

(The Weldon Amendment prohibits federal funds from going to states that discriminate against any health care entity which does not pay for or provide coverage for abortions.)

A vote for HB 685 doesn’t look to me like support for health care. Instead, it looks like contempt for conscience rights.

“Opposes doctor-patient confidentiality”

The mailer goes on to proclaim that Daniels “opposes doctor-patient confidentiality.” Another footnote, this one for HB 629 (2016).

HB 629 was an abortion statistics bill. Not only was it written to protect patient confidentiality, but it contained language to protect provider identity as well. That was how the bill made it through the House on a voice vote, before it was tabled in the Senate after an effort to pass it failed on a 12-12 vote.

I participated as a representative of a policy group, Cornerstone Action, in every hearing and work session between the time the bill was introduced in January 2015 until it died on the table in the state senate in May 2016. I know how great a role confidentiality played in the lengthy negotiations.

To say that support for abortion statistics is “opposition to doctor-patient confidentiality” is a lie. Period.

“Opposes access to contraception”

The footnote to the third claim on the anti-Daniels mailer (“opposes access to contraception”) takes us all the way back to a 2015 bill, SB 42, “relative to employee notification of contraceptive coverage” in employer-provided health insurance. This was an attempt to hang a scarlet letter on companies that were exempt from the Obamacare contraceptive mandate following the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision.

This bill was so poorly received in the state senate that it was tabled and killed on a voice vote. It never even made it over to the House.

The only roll call vote on the bill was on a proposed amendment that was rejected on a 12-12 tie. Daniels voted against the proposed amendment because he understood the underlying bill.

That’s it. There’s no truth that the vote on SB 42 was about “access to contraception.” No one’s access to contraception was at issue. This bill was all about annoyance with the Supreme Court and with anyone who objected to the contraceptive mandate.

Now, more than ever…

In bold print, the mailer from the state Democrat party tells me that “now, more than ever, we need to come together to protect state level reproductive health.”

Let me fix that for them.

Now, more than ever, we need to come together to respect each other’s rights of conscience.

Now, more than ever, we need to come together to put women’s health ahead of politics, and start reporting abortion statistics including maternal morbidity and mortality. Forty-seven other states have figured out how to do that with aggregate data that protects patient confidentiality.

Now, more than ever, we need to reclaim the authentic meaning of rights and health.

And while we’re at it: now, more than ever, we need to call out a party when it fabricates a vote in an effort to smear a candidate. Just because there are footnotes doesn’t mean the information is accurate or reliable.

I suspect Gary Daniels is not the only candidate whose pro-life record is going to be misrepresented. Do your local candidates a favor: if you hear an accusation about “opposing contraception” or “opposing doctor-patient confidentiality,” call for documentation. If what you get in reply are references to HB 685, HB 629, and SB 42, now you know what they really mean.

The party that created that mailer will have to find another way to attract my vote.

Header photo: Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay 

Edited for clarity.

Down-ballot: where the action is

Maybe you plan to vote by absentee ballot. Maybe you’re holding out for the big national election day on November 3. Either way, this one’s for you: pay attention to down-ballot races. Four hundred state representative seats and 24 Senate seats need to be filled. Don’t let anyone else make your choices for you.

I carry no brief for anyone at the top of a party’s ticket. I care deeply, though, about what our state legislature is going to look like. To that end, I offer some thoughts.

How to vote

There are two and only two authoritative sources for information on ballots and voting procedure: your town or city clerk, and the elections division of The New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office.

That’s it. Never mind what else someone tells you on Facebook.

Absentee balloting is allowed for COVID concerns. The people who say “if you can go to the grocery store, you can show up to vote” are not the ones who made the law. If they have a problem, they can take it up with the Secretary of State.

Your town or city clerk has the most up-to-date information from the Secretary of State about all election law. The clerk will have a sample ballot, an absentee ballot application and the ballot itself, and information about hours and location for polling on Election Day.

If you have not voted yet, whether you’re planning to vote in person or absentee, the number one thing on your to-do list needs to be get a sample ballot. (Ask your town clerk, or download one from the Secretary of State’s website.) That’s the only way you’ll know who’s on the ballot for all those races below President and Governor.

Know the candidates

We’re getting down to the wire here. There’s not much time to meet your candidates if you don’t know them already. Make the effort, by looking up their information online if not by speaking to them directly. Social media pages and candidates’ own websites can provide useful information.

Are there pro-life candidates?

Some candidates will tell you they’re pro-life, which is always nice to hear, and they’d better be able to back it up. There are incumbent representatives and senators who have already put their beliefs on display.

For the 2019-20 session, state legislators voted on legislation to protect children who survive attempted abortion. (Majority vote: no.) They voted on abortion statistics and on removing the unenforceable buffer zone statute. (Majority vote: no.) They decided whether or not to support Governor Sununu’s veto of a measure to mandate abortion coverage in some health insurance policies. (Yes, because an override needed a two-thirds majority.)

Down-ballot races put each of those people in office.

Hold them accountable.

“All Democrats are alike,” you might sniff. Democrats for Life sees it differently. They found one Democrat to endorse in New Hampshire, Cam Iannalfo, running for state rep in Salem, Rockingham district 8.

“All Republicans are alike,” you might think hopefully. Get over it. Look up their votes.

These earlier posts contain links to the relevant votes.

Where your reps stand: votes 2019-20

Veto sustained on abortion insurance mandate

Primary election: September 8

Welcome to September of an even-numbered year – which means there’s a primary election coming in New Hampshire. On Tuesday, September 8, New Hampshire voters from both major parties will make the choices that we’ll see reflected on the general election ballot in November.

Don’t just rely on the clusters of signs at every intersection in town. Do some homework and head to the polls with a purpose.

What voters need to know

Your town or city clerk’s office will be able to point you to everything you need to know about the election: a sample ballot, where to vote, the hours the polls are open, absentee ballot procedure, same-day registration procedure. Even if your town hall has limited public hours due to COVID restrictions, you can learn a lot through a phone call or a visit to your town’s website.

The New Hampshire Secretary of State website is another good source for information. Look for the “elections” drop-down menu at sos.nh.gov. Printable sample ballots for each town are available there, too, for Democrats and for Republicans.

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