By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — By a one-vote margin the House voted to prohibit racial profiling by law enforcement and in sentencing Thursday.
The House also overturned a committee report and approved a simple marijuana legalization bill, but not a bill legalizing psychedelic drugs for those over 21 years old, and decided to prohibit cat declawing by veterinarians.
The House put off debate —maybe for the rest of the session — on two of the most controversial bills before the House Thursday, book banning and limiting bathroom use by a person’s gender at birth.
The House also failed to approve a three-day waiting period for a gun purchase or to prohibit firearms at polling places.
House Bill 596 to prohibit racial profiling became a debate over law enforcement in the state and whether or not federal prohibitions were sufficient to protect every citizen.
“In New Hampshire, people of all races, ethnicities and color rely on police,” said Rep. Linda Harriot-Gathright. “Racial profiling makes some of our residents live in fear.”
She said supporters were asking the House as a body to stand and say it is not OK to racial profiling here in New Hampshire, something that is ingrained in the country.
“Racial profiling results in the loss of trust and confidence in law enforcement,” Harriot-Gathright said. “Racial profiling assumes certain people to be predisposed to criminal activity and we know that is not true as well.”
But opponents said the bill is disrespectful of law enforcement and is prohibited by federal law and can be dealt with by police standards and training.
Rep. Jonathan Stone, R-Claremont, said the committee heard that under Title 18 racial profiling is already a crime. “Different standards lead to allegations of racial profiling against police without any evidence,” Stone said. “This bill provides a further divide within the criminal justice system.”
He said supporters said they wanted the bill to make a statement, but laws are not appropriate methods to make a statement.
The bill passed on a 186-185 vote and now goes to the Senate.
House Bill 76 would have required a three-day waiting period between the purchase of a firearm and picking it up.
Supporters said the wait would serve as a cooling off period that could prevent a suicide or a violent act and be a small step to stopping gun violence in the state.
But opponents said a fundamental right delayed is a right denied and would impede the protection of a woman at risk.
Rep. Jennifer Rhodes, R-Winchester, said supporters of the bill had said to certain groups not to worry, as it would not apply to them, such as those who have taken the hunter safety course, off-duty law enforcement, active duty military and women who express fear.
Rhodes said she is not going to wait three days for a rapist or a man threatening her, “I am going to protect myself.”
But Rep. David Meuse, D-Portsmouth, called it a simple bill with a three-day waiting period that will not become five or six days because of a weekend or holiday.
The time would give law enforcement time to do a thorough background check to ensure someone who should not have a firearm does not buy one, he said.
While homicides are not a huge problem in New Hampshire, suicides are, Meuse said, and people attempting suicide by guns are 91 percent successful.
“I will be the first to tell you this is not going to end suicide or gun violence in New Hampshire,” Meuse said, “but what it will do is reduce the risk of suicide and some impulsive acts.”
While opponents say it is unconstitutional, Meuse said, they should also look at Article 3 which talks about balancing an individual’s right against the public’s right to safety.
“You have the right to freedom of speech but not freedom to libel, the right to practice your religion but not force it on others, the right to bear arms, but not harm or threaten others,” he said. “In society rights are not absolute, the rights of individual are balanced against the rights of others.”
The bill was killed on a 193-168 vote.
House Bill 444 would have prohibited carrying a firearm into a polling place or in a zone 100 feet around the area.
Rep. Timothy Horrigan, D-Durham, said he has been in polling places for 60 years and has never seen a violent crime committed, or anything that could not be handled by election officials and local police.
“It is pretty rare to see someone carry a gun at a polling place and that is a good thing,” he said. “I find that intimidating rather than reassuring.”
Others said many workers and others do not feel comfortable with guns around polling places.
“Armed intimidation is voter suppression,” said Rep. Loren Selig, D-Durham, “and against fair and free elections.”
But Rep. Terry Roy, R-Deerfield, said the state has had open carry of firearms for 200 years.
“If you see someone with a gun in New Hampshire and are intimidated,” he said, “I don’t know where you’ve been? The New Hampshire and US constitutions do not say you have to sacrifice one right for another.”
The bill was killed on a 202-167 vote.
The House overturned its Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and voted to legalize recreational use of cannabis for those over 21 years old and allowing for home growing.
House Bill 360 was supported by Rep. Kevin Verville, R-Deerfield, who said since the legislature overrode Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto of a bill to decriminalize marijuana, something did not happen. “The sky did not fall,” he said.
The bill is the easiest and quickest way to give the people of New Hampshire what they want, Verville said, without the carrot of revenue and government having a cut of the operation.
Roy said marijuana is still illegal under federal law and the state needs to be careful not to attract too much attention because right now it is turning a blind eye to legalization.
And he predicted the bill was going nowhere.
The House voted 210-160 to approve the bill.
House Bill 328 did not have a similar fate, although Verville argued the psychedelic drugs like LSD, mescaline and peyote are not addictive or habit forming like narcotics and other drugs, and instead are useful in helping people beat their addiction to heroin and alcohol.
He said the unique characteristics of these drugs is you use them on a regular basis, the effect is diminished, so you cannot chase a high.
“If you want to stop drug addiction in this county, you need to join me,” Verville said. “These bills got swept up in a world of illegality as a knee-jerk reaction.”
But Roy said the drugs are deadly if someone is on them behind the wheel of a car because they alter your perception of reality.
“It is very dangerous to turn this loose to the public,” he said. “They are dangerous substances without experience and not controlled.”
The bill was killed on a 200-76 vote.
Book Banning and Bathroom Use
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 arrests 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 bill was tabled on a 200-175 vote.
House Bill 104 would require multi-stalled bathrooms and locker rooms be used by the same sex came with no no recommendation from the Education Committee.
The bill would prohibit transgender students from using the facilities of their chosen sex.
The bill was tabled on a 345-28 vote.
The House approved:
House Bill 170 to require teaching of cursive handwriting and multiplication tables on a 199-174 vote.
House Bill 497 to let the courts instead of the Health and Human Services commissioner decide which records within the division of children, youth, and families should be confidential.
House Bill 198 to 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.
And House Bill 231 to prohibit the removal of a cat’s claws.
And the House killed House Bill 222 to require seat belt use for adults:
House Bill 58 to prohibit sub-minimum wages like those for restaurant workers and hotel chambermaids.
And House Bill 125 to reverse changes made last session to allow greater hours for students working during school nights.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.