By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
Welcome to the evenly divided House committee world.
Thursday’s regular House calendar has 15, yes 15 bills, that will come to the floor without a committee recommendation meaning the committee split 10-10 or 12-12 or some other evenly divided party line vote.
Without a majority vote, there can be no recommendation from a committee, but every bill has to receive a vote on the floor at some point so they come without a majority committee decision.
With no recommendation, there is apt to be more than one debater on each side — either passing the bill in some form or killing it — of the bill.
And many of these bills have generated a sizable interest both in committee and among the public, meaning they are controversial.
The House Education Committee has three bills and the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee has five bills with no recommendations for Thursday’s session which begins at 9 a.m. instead of the usual 10 a.m. start time.
Surprisingly, none of the bills from House Education have anything to do with the Education Freedom Account Program. Many of those bills had to pass before the House took its break because they had to go to a second committee and others were acted on last week.
However, there is House Bill 514, which sets up a process to ban books at public libraries, and libraries in public schools, colleges and universities, and museums.
The bill would require school boards to develop procedures to deal with complaints about obscene materials in schools, but does not define what obscene material would be or follow existing case law.
Parents or anyone else could file a complaint, first with the school principal, whose decision could be appealed to the local school board, and then appealed to the state board of education.
Teachers could face arrest if the material is deemed to be obscene or “harmful to minors.”
Higher education and community college institutions, museums, public libraries or governmental agencies would face an advisory hearing, where the material could be determined to be obscene and the person or institution could be held accountable.
The bill adds the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to the attorney general or county attorneys who can file complaints against the institutions.
“The question is why are our schools exempt from obscenity laws,” asks the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Glenn Cordelli, R-Tuftonboro, in supporting the bill. “This is about making sure that our children have access to age-appropriate educational materials.”
But opponents have a different take.
“This bill is an attempt to restrict access to controversial materials and intimidate educators from retaining certain items in their library collections,” said Rep. Peggy Balbon, D-Rye Beach. “History has witnessed book bans like this before with devastating results.”
House Bill 104, which would require multi-stalled bathrooms and locker rooms be used by the same sex, also comes with no recommendation from the Education Committee.
The bill would prohibit transgender students from using the facilities of their chosen sex.
“Biological girls and boys have valid concerns about their safety and privacy,” Cordelli writes. “Local accommodations can be made and have been made by school districts for transgender students.”
But opponents said it would cause some students anxiety and depression.
“Indeed, this bill may be unconstitutional as it is a blatant form of discrimination. Further, transgender and gender-nonconforming teens are experiencing increased incidence of anxiety and depression. Sadly, they are more likely to consider suicide,” said Rep. Hope Damon, D-Croydon, in opposition to the bill. “Schools, as crucial developmental environments, should be places where people can be comfortable with their identity.”
The other Education Committee bill with no recommendation is House Bill 170, requiring the teaching of cursive handwriting and multiplication tables.
Under the Science, Technology and Energy Committee, House Bill 208 would have New Hampshire join the rest of New England and establish greenhouse gas emission reduction goals and establish a climate action plan.
“Setting and pursuing ambitious GHG reduction goals is both the right thing to do from a climate and environmental perspective,” said Rep. Jacqueline Chretien, D-Manchester, in support of the bill, “and fiscally prudent for the future of the state.”
But others said the goals are too high.
“The greenhouse gas goals listed are extreme and could put the state and residents at economical risk during this time of high inflation and extraordinarily high electricity and fuel costs,” contends Rep. Douglas Thomas, R-Londonderry.
House Bill 523 would increase the cap on net metering for residential and business producers from 1 megawatt for a renewable energy project to 5 megawatts.
Supporters call it a moderate approach that will help businesses and homeowners and move to diversify the grid with home grown energy.
But opponents say net metering has escalated the cost shift to other customers and amounts to corporate welfare at the expense of those least able to pay.
House Bill 605 would have solar generation be included in the renewable portfolio standards utilities are required to meet, which is true of every other state in New England.
Opponents claim it will increase the cost of electricity by $11 million a year.
Other bills without recommendations from Science, Technology and Energy are:
House Bill 263, which would require utilities to inform small generators eligible for Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) they are sweeping or taking their unused certificates to lower their costs;
and House Bill 524, which would increase the amount of money the state receives from the quarterly Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative auctions for energy efficiency and conservation programs. Most of the money will continue to go to customers as rebates.
The Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee has two bills without recommendations.
House Bill 58 would prohibit payment of subminimum wages to workers who receive other compensation like restaurants and hotel workers.
And House Bill 125 would change the requirements for youth employment during the school year and at night.
The bill would include greater restrictions on students’ work hours.
The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee has two bills without recommendations.
House Bill 76 would impose a three-day waiting period between the sale of a firearm and when it is delivered to the purchaser.
“Similar waiting periods have been adopted in other states whose legislatures have recognized that a brief ‘cooling-off’ period can reduce suicide and other forms of violence by offering a troubled person who impulsively purchases a firearm additional time to gain perspective when a situation in the moment seems intolerable or hopeless,” said Rep. David Meuse, D-Portsmouth, in support of the bill.
But opponents say it is an unneeded restriction on a constitutional right.
“We should not be restricting the overwhelming majority for a very small minority of our citizens,” said Rep. Jonathan Stone, R-Claremont. “No New Hampshire law enforcement agency asked for or testified in favor of this bill.”
House Bill 596 would prohibit racial profiling in law enforcement activities and in sentencing.
The Children and Family Law Committee could not agree on a recommendation on House Bill 497 which would let the courts instead of the Health and Human Services commissioner decide which records within the division for Children, Youth, and Families should be confidential.
The Transportation Committee could not reach agreement on House Bill 198 which would require resident drivers who become non-residents to inform the Department of Safety within 60 days of their move, and safety would inform the Secretary of State for voting purposes.
The Environmental and Agriculture Committee could not agree on a recommendation for House Bill 231, which would prohibit the removal of a cat’s claws.
Bring lunch and also dinner.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.