House Votes Down Tenant Rights, Gun Control, Expands Education Freedom Accounts

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Paul Mirski, who focused his 12 years in the House on limited spending, and who directed fellow legislators to form the House Republican Alliance was honored. Mirski, an Enfield Republican died Feb. 19. He was remembered with a moment of silence Thursday.


CONCORD – Bills to restrict gun rights and expand tenant rights in housing matters got nowhere in the House, but bills related to expanding the state’s Education Freedom Account program got the green light to proceed to the Senate Thursday by narrow votes.

Two years ago, the state created Education Freedom Accounts which now serve over 3,200 students at a cost of $20 million a year. This is way more than lawmakers expected when the program was first envisioned.
It was created to allow low-income families to receive a voucher of about $5,000 a year to help pay for their children to attend a school other than their public school.
The EFA program, though wildly popular has been criticized by those who believe it takes funding away from public schools, has little oversight, and plenty of unknowns in terms of future costs.

The House voted narrowly to expand the program to more families by changing the income requirements.

It voted to lower the barrier to access by about $9,000 more in family income a year to qualify.
An amended HB 367 passed 187-184. A move for reconsideration failed 182-190.
The state has spent almost $25 million on the program this year and will cost another $60 million over two years in the governor’s budget.
Opponents said it will divert funds from public schools and increase local property taxes.

Rep. David Luneau, D-Hopkinton, said the program would expand to families making more than $100,000 and will limit the state’s ability to fund other programs.

House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, R-Auburn, said the bill would move eligibility from 300 to 350 percent of the federal poverty line and called it a “modest” increase.

Another related measure, HB 464 which would include children in foster care, military families, the homeless, and transients and eliminate financial thresholds to qualify for Education Freedom Accounts by the creation of the new categories passed 192-185.

New Hampshire is in a housing crisis with fewer units available for rent than demand and rents have jumped 10 percent on average in a year.

The House Judiciary Committee heard a number of bills related to giving tenants more notice on rent increases, protecting people with housing vouchers from discrimination and others but they were all killed by about a 50-vote margin with majority voters saying the bills would ultimately lead to more difficulty for tenants and higher rents.

House Bill 112, which would have given tenants 60 days notice before the sale of the property, failed 175-199 and was killed. Concerns were that it gives way too much time in this hot housing market.
HB 401 which would give timely notice to tenants about property renovations contemplated by the landlord failed 154-213 and was killed.

Rep. Scott Wallace, R-Danville, said the bill would place an unnecessary burden on the landlord and only worsen availability and likely higher rental rates.

But others said it would even the playing field between landlord and tenant.
HB 469-FN prohibiting discrimination against tenants holding Section 8 vouchers also failed 165-206 and was killed.
This would exacerbate rent increases, opponents said.

But Rep. Cam Kenney, D-Durham, said under current law, potential tenants can be refused.
The bill would allow the tenant to “just get his foot in the door.” Many of the holders of the vouchers should be offered protection because they are disabled or elderly, he said.

HB 567 relative to notice of rent increases would actually increase rents, said opponents. On a vote of 166-207, it failed and was killed.
It would have required 30 days’ notice for nonrestricted property (private landlords with few tenants) and 60 days for restricted property (corporate landlords) for a rent increase and six months notice would be required for rent increases of 15 percent or more.

Rep. Tim Horrigan, D-Durham supported it as a transparency bill requiring advance notice and is not a rent control bill, he said.

House Bill 117, opposed by NH Legal Assistance and others trying to protect tenants which could change existing law by repealing a 38-year-old statute related to tenant law passed 211-157. Proponents said the measure could make it easier for landlords to evict tenants without any reason.

The measure does not apply to vacation rentals or owner-occupied structures.
Rep. Robert Lynn, R-Windham, supported the measure. He said it is unfair to the landlord who may be stuck with the tenant forever.
“Please restore the law to what it should mean,” he said, “so that landlords are not discouraged from renting.”

HB 32 which would prohibit guns in school zones was killed on a recommendation of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee 199-174.
Rep. Steve Shurtleff, D-Concord said he submitted the bill for two reasons: his grandchildren.

“There are certain places in New Hampshire where we just don’t allow weapons,” he said noting airports and other locations prohibit guns. He said schools should be one of those places.
Shurtleff said the bill had a provision if hunting, locked inside a vehicle or unloaded, it would be all right and would not pertain to the private property next to a school.
But supporters of the move to kill the bill said if you are carrying a gun on school grounds you had to get a permit, and no time under any circumstances should a person lose their ability to protect themselves.

Considered by Democrats to be a loophole in state law which allows gun show purchases at gun shows not to require a background check, where it is required at commercial sales with licensed dealers, House Bill 59 which would close that loophole was killed in the House 197-175, at the recommendation of the committee.
Republicans said it was not necessary because there is existing law to prohibit such sales to strangers.
House Bill 78 which would prohibit the state from enforcing federal statutes related to gun and knife laws was recommended to be killed by the committee and that recommendation carried, 200-173.

A committee recommendation to kill HB 106
 which would temporarily limit access to firearms for certain individuals who pose a threat, was killed on a vote of 198-172.

State Rep. Nancy Murphy chair of the committee said the bill is very limited and filing a false claim would be the same punishment as a possession for those who have ERPOs.

The supporters said this is a public safety bill to protect the state from mass shootings and targets unstable individuals who pose a danger to themselves and others as deemed by family, partners, and law enforcement.

But state Rep. Terry Roy, R-Deerfield said we already have an involuntary commitment process and people will not have firearms when they are detained and dangerous.
It is very complicated and puts a defendant in the position of having to pay for an attorney to argue personal rights, he said.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have Red Flag laws and 13 states are considering such bills this year.
House Bill 31, a prohibition on the possession of brass knuckles passed by a vote of 196-176 in the House with the Public Safety Committee recommending its passage.
Currently, possession is a misdemeanor.

But a wrench or baseball could do the same damage, proponents said and argued it is really about the Second Amendment and self-defense.

HB 216-FN which would remove the drug DMT from the state-controlled drug act and allow it for use was killed.
State Rep. Jason Gerhard R-Northfield, who supported the bill said the “trip” you get from this drug is not one where people are driving or “running around naked in Canterbury.”

While there are those who believe it has therapeutic and religious purposes, there are no guardrails to protect minors, opponents of the bill said, and when combined with other drugs could put pose a serious health risk.
The bill is here

An amended HB 624 which would require the federal government to establish a protocol in New Hampshire to give the public advanced notice about checkpoints on highways, which are allowed within 100 miles of the international border with Canada, passed the House 220-152.

Some who opposed the bill said that advanced notice would defeat the purpose of having a checkpoint and that border patrol agents deserve public support.
Those who supported it said that it would be the same as current sobriety check laws and would help the public make travel decisions, rather than being inconvenienced by the delay.

State Rep. Ned Reynolds, D-Portsmouth supported HB 181 which would expand net metering to allow for shared bill credits for renewable energy projects such as solar in a community. But opponents said the measure causes cost shifting and adds to the expense. The bill failed on a vote of 172-187.  

Paul Mirski, who focused his 12 years in the House on limited spending, and who directed fellow legislators to form the House Republican Alliance was honored. Mirski, an Enfield Republican died Feb. 19. He was remembered with a moment of silence.

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