Senate Approves Voting Rights Bills, Undoing Previous Changes

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Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, speaks in Thursday’s Senate session which included a four-hour debate on the budget which passed 14-10 down party lines after Republicans joined Democrats in supporting some areas of the budget including child protection, increased school funding and higher education aid.

By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org

CONCORD — The Senate undid Thursday what the last legislature did to limit voting rights in approving several bills on election laws. 

The Senate also approved bills to allow Manchester to determine if the city wants to make their school board autonomous, and to establish a committee to study water and soil pollution in three southern New Hampshire towns.

 Voting Rights

The Senate approved a bill to repeal changes made last year that would require a person who wants to vote in New Hampshire to also register his or her vehicle in the state and to obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license.

Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, said last year’s change has unintended consequences for people who have more than one home resulting in turning some people away from the polls.

But Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Fremont, said the change would create a two-tier system and that is not fair.

House Bill 106 was approved on a partisan 14-10 vote. The bill goes to the governor.

The Senate also approved a bill that would ask for a federal constitutional amendment to reduce the money in political campaigns and to stop gerrymandering.

Sen. Melanie Levesque, D-Brookline, said one-third of the state’s towns and cities have approved articles calling for the change.

“They want money out of politics, and they want equal representation,” she said.

But Birdsell said the bill is really a resolution urging Congress to act and would require the state to do work normally done by the state’s Congressional delegation.

The bill, approved on a 14-10 vote, goes to the governor.

The Senate sent back to committee a bill to allow election officials to begin processing but not counting absentee ballots before election day.

Senate Bill 556 creates some issues that need to be resolved, Sherman said, and asked the Senate to refer the bill to his committee to work on and bring back next year.

Manchester School Board

The Senate voted to allow the city of Manchester to hold a charter commission to study whether the board of school committee should decide its own budget.

Currently the Board of Mayor and Aldermen have final say on the school district’s budget.

Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, who was a school board member for 10 years, said today a battle is going on between the school board and the aldermen.

“This allows the people of Manchester to make a very, very important decision on the education of our students,” he said.

“This is a good piece of legislation that gives the people of Manchester the opportunity to decide their fate.”

Opponents argued the bill is an attempt to bypass the city’s tax cap, but their argument did not prevail.

Clean Water

The Senate wants to establish a commission to investigate and analyze the environmental and public health impacts of perfluorinated chemicals in the air and groundwater in Merrimack, Bedford and Litchfield.

The Senate voted down an amendment proposed by Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, that would have delayed a report until July 1, 2021, to determine the costs of new clean water standards for the chemical.

Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, D-Concord, said the Department of Environmental Services is about to release its drinking water standards for perfluorinate, a chemical used in manufacturing non-stick cookware, which is known to cause cancer.

Bradley said town and city water districts would bear the costs of the new standards, but Feltes said he believes the first priority has to be the people drinking the water.

Garry Rayno may be reached at garry.rayno@yahoo.com

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