By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — Before going home for the summer, lawmakers decided to change the date of the state primary, make religious services an essential service during a state of emergency and allow loaded guns on recreational vehicles.
Meeting Thursday to finalize the last bills of the 2021 session that the Senate and House negotiated last week to deal with changes made in the other body’s bills, the House decided not to take up a senate bill that would require New Hampshire law enforcement not to enforce federal orders, laws, or regulations restricting gun rights.
Although supporters said they believe SB 154 would stand a constitutional challenge, House leadership decided there were conflicting views on whether that was true and wanted it held for a careful review this fall.
Deputy House Speaker Steve Smith, R-Charlestown, said, “We would like an opportunity for a meeting of the minds and work the differences out.”
He said a new proposal could be put on a retained bill or another bill filed for next session.
But Rep. Max Abramson, R-Seabrook, said the Biden administration — less than 24 hour ago — announced “another round of supercharged gun control and zero tolerance.”
Opponents said the bill would have unintended consequences that could prevent federal, state and local collaborations for public safety.
The gun lobby rejected the proposed provisions in Senate Bill 154, because they did not go far enough, said Zandra Rice Hawkins, director of Granite State Progress.
The bill was tabled on a 354-19 vote, effectively killing it for this session.
The House and Senate both approved a bill that would make religious gathering an essential service during a state of emergency. During the pandemic’s state of emergency, Gov. Chris Sununu ordered all non-essential businesses or meetings closed.
Supporters of House Bill 542 noted Home Depot was allowed to stay open but religious services were prohibited.
“During the State of Emergency, we found ourselves in a situation where churches and synagogues were closed while liquor and hardware stores remained open,” said Rep. Keith Ammon, New Boston. “Even during a state of emergency, houses of worship must continue to be promoted for the critical role that they play in promoting spiritual, mental, and physical health in our communities.”
The House passed the measure on a 205-158 vote, while the Senate adopted it down party lines on a 14-10 vote.
The House and Senate approved an amended bill that would allow carrying a loaded gun on a recreational or off-road vehicle, something sponsors say was overlooked when the legislature agreed to do away with requiring concealed weapons permits.
House Bill 334 also contained a provision about ending its State Police gun line for background checks when someone seeks to purchase a pistol and instead using the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s database which proponents said is much quicker.
But Rep. David Meuse, D-Portsmouth, said the state gun line has addressed cracks and gaps in the federal system.
“Forty to fifty percent of all homicides in New Hampshire are related to domestic violence and this can only increase with the passage of a bill that reduces the safety measures in place to ensure someone with a history of domestic violence is not able to obtain a deadly weapon. Passage of this bill does nothing but place Granite Staters in danger and give firearms to people who intend to use them for harm,” Meuse stated.
The House approved the bill on a 212-159 vote, and the Senate approved it on a voice vote.
The House and Senate approved a bill that would change the date of the state’s primary from the second Tuesday in September to the first Tuesday in August.
Supporters of House Bill 98 say it will allow for more time between the primary and the general election, noting the current system gives incumbents a significant advantage.
The House passed the bill on a 192-183 vote, while the Senate approved it on a voice vote
Sununu said he is leaning toward vetoing the bill as he likes the current system’s time frame.
Both the House and Senate approved the $127.5 million capital budget by voice votes.
House Bill 25 contains the construction and rehabilitation projects for the state but does not include highway and bridge construction projects.
The total capital budget for the next two years will be $346 million in all funds, but $127.5 million in state general fund bonds.
The bill requires the Department of Administrative Services to report quarterly on the progress of projects funded through the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
The House failed to override Sununu’s veto of House Bill 184, which would prohibit the operation of personal watercraft around the marshlands of the Rye estuary and the New Castle back channel.
Sununu said the bill creates a barrier to public access to address a non-issue in his veto message.
The House vote was 173-181 and failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed for an override.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.