By Steve Woodcock, Special To The Conway Daily Sun
CONWAY — Jan. 5 and 6 saw the members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives reconvene in Manchester at the DoubleTree Conference Center.
The reason the House didn’t meet at the State House was due to limited ability to social-distance 400 people. The beautiful Concord facility is the oldest active legislative building still in use in the United States, and the 400-plus seats are connected arm to arm, and there is no technology support. The 24-member Senate did utilize the auditorium and created socially distant work areas.
The session of Jan. 5-6 had two primary functions. The first was to address the bills that the governor had vetoed, and the second was to complete the work on House bills remaining from the 2021 spring session.
This is the second year of the biennium and continues to be led by the majority Republican Party (207-185). With that majority, the Republicans can pretty much dictate the method and outcome of each bill. Many bills were tabled by the majority party and a large number were also voted on using a technique called “division.”
Division has two political purposes. The first is to allow a representative to vote their conscience and perhaps support the other party’s position without identification by their leadership. The second is to allow support of a position and then hide behind the anonymity of division vote so they are not held accountable by their home district. Regardless of the rationale, this session had an abundance of tabling and division votes orchestrated by the majority party.
Here are the results of six roll call votes. During a roll call vote if you are present you must vote and that vote becomes part of the permanent record on how an individual representative voted on a particular bill.
• HB 334, Prohibition on carrying a loaded firearm on an OHRV as well as a change to the firearms criminal background check system. This was a vote to overturn the governor’s veto of HB 334, which required a two-thirds majority. The Second Amendment and state law allow constitutional carry. That means anyone can carry a loaded weapon in plain sight. However, when the bill was drafted, its makers forgot about OHRVs and snowmobiles. The intent of the bill was to correct the loophole in the law.
The governor and many representatives didn’t have an issue with this portion of the bill, though others regarded it as an unsafe situation. The veto’s primary concern was the change in the criminal background check system. The Second Amendment folks thought current state police review was too slow and wanted to join in the federal background check to speed up the process.
However, the issue was not the speed of the background check process but rather that federal review misses many of the state’s concerns, especially as regards domestic violence. The bill was opposed by N.H. Firearms Coalition, Coalition against Sexual Violence, the state Attorney General and members of the Judicial Branch.
• HB 67 Amendment to change House Rules — specifically to allow for remote access participation and voting. This request is basically a cat chasing its tail. The Democrats have asked for this rule change multiple times in order to allow their members that are immunocompromised to be able to participate in House committee meetings and sessions for voting safely during the pandemic. It would also allow greater N.H. citizen participation during bill testimony. For our MWV residents it saves about three-hour round trip for a five-minute opportunity to speak. The Republican faction indicates that the current House Rule doesn’t allow for remote access. And now the tail. .... Once the request to amend the rules is made the Republicans vote no. The vote eliminates greater citizen participation, transparency and elected representatives the opportunity to represent their constituents, House Bill 50 and 52. Redistricting of House and Congressional Districts.
Every 10 ears after the annual federal census the House, Senate, Executive Council as well as the county and Congressional districts are eligible to be re-aligned to correspond with the population shifts. The Democrats had requested multiple times for an independent redistricting commission in order to provide a fair distribution. However, the Republican majority said no and chaired the Redistricting Review.
Locally, HB 50 moved Chatham, Hale’s Location and Eaton out of Carroll County District 2.
The Conways became a separate District 2 with three representatives. Prior to redistricting, Conway had four representatives, which included the floterial district that covered multiple towns in District 2.
The county pretty much remained the same, BUT the congressional districts were unbelievably gerrymandered to make one that heavily favored the Democrats and one that favored the Republicans. This shift really was to allow the Republicans to guarantee a seat in Congress by the way the district was structured.
• HB 237, Legalization and regulation of cannabis. It would create a program to legalize recreational cannabis for adults age 21 and older, regulate its use and commercial sale and levy a tax at the point of sale.
The sale of cannabis as allowed in neighboring states is expected to yield up to $40 million annually for N.H. revenue. The Republican majority indicated possible health issues, mental health issues, opioid misuse disorder and other problems. They also had concerns that by taxing marijuana sales this could lead to a sales tax. In the 2019 session, the same bill passed with broad bipartisan support.
• HB 275, Limit Governor State of Emergency Powers. This bill would modify the powers the Legislature grants the governor related to a state of emergency. It would allow the governor to declare three states of emergency of 21 days each.
The bill also would allow the Legislature to meet and terminate individual emergency orders. This is a significant change from the current law and moves the legislative into the executive duties of the governor versus their legislative role.
Currently, the law regarding executive orders allows the Legislature to terminate a state of emergency by concurrent resolution adopted by a majority vote of each chamber but not individual executive orders. It seems perplexing to think that during a state of emergency, 400 members of the House of Representatives would have the same access to timely data and information as the governor. Then collectively the House would meet and be able to pick and choose which emergency orders are necessary and eliminate others. Seems like a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, resulting in a spoiled recipe.
Stephen Woodcock is a Democratic state representative from Conway.