By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Senate Republicans voted to support a Parents Bill of Rights, declaring parents have a “fundamental right to direct the upbringing of their children” and that no information about a child’s health and behavior can be withheld from them by a teacher or school without a compelling state interest.
Democrats unanimously opposed the measure, saying it singles out the LGBTQ community and may make those children exploring their sexual identity more vulnerable.
The vote goes on to the House on a 14-10 vote.
In other action, the state Senate killed a no-excuse absentee voting provision but advanced a measure to prohibit cities and towns from adopting sanctuary policies that would protect illegal immigrants who are wanted for arrest.
PARENTS’ BILL OF RIGHTS
Senate Bill 272 https://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/bill_status/billinfo.aspx?id=1079&inflect=2
The bill was sponsored by all 14 Republicans in the Senate and 400 members of the public but opposed by 1,533 individuals who signed in for the bill at its hearing.
Last year, a similar bill passed the Senate but died in a House committee of conference.
Sponsored by State Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, she said it follows a case last year in Manchester of a parent who asked about their child and behavioral changes and said the school said they did not have to tell the parent anything.
“Parents love their children,” Carson said, “And if a child goes to a teacher or any administrator questioning their gender, don’t you think they (the parents) have a right to know?”
The bill states that any parent could go to court to seek a declaratory judgment against the school or personnel and if they prevail, would be able to seek monetary damages against the school or district.
State Sen. Donovan Fenton, D-Keene, rose in opposition to the bill. He said by singling out transgender children it may make them vulnerable to harm.
Sen. Suzanne Prentiss, D-Lebanon, also opposed the bill.
She asked “What is the real need?” and said it would make teachers become enemies rather than trusted partners in a child’s upbringing.
Sen. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem, rose in support as a father of two and a husband.
“This isn’t about phobias,” he said. “This is about putting parents in a position of being able to stay involved.”
Sen. Dan Innis, R-Bradford, also supported the bill. He said the bill does not ask teachers to tell their conversations about their kids unless a parent asks for information.
“This bill is not anti-anything. It is pro-child, pro-parent,” Innis said, “and in many ways, pro-teacher.”
Sen. Shannon Chandley, D-Amherst opposed the bill saying it was not right for New Hampshire.
“We are facing a crisis in mental health,” she noted. “I am concerned (the bill) may do further damage.”
She said many LGBTQ youths face suicidal ideation and need another trusted adult.
Sen. Denise Ricciardi, R-Bedford said there is a false narrative about this bill. It is not anti-gay, she said, reading from teachers who wrote her to support the bill.
Sen. Rebecca Whitley, D-Hopkinton said the bill “is dividing us.”
Most of the bill is citing statutes that already exist, she said. The rest is specifically targeting the LGBTQ community.
She said if passed the measure will open the floodgates for litigation. It would violate rights, she said, based on discrimination based on gender identity.
The bill is antithetical to protections recently in place for those who identify as LGBTQ, she noted.
It would force schools to report to parents, violations of the law and their safety.
“It will only stoke the culture war,” she said.
Sen. Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton, said the public employee has an obligation to be honest to its citizens and that is the essence of the bill.
After the vote Senate President Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro and Senator Carson released the following statement on the passage of the bill.
“New Hampshire Republicans believe parents love their children, and that’s why we are fighting to ensure that parents are truly and completely informed when they ask schools about their children through the Parents’ Bill of Rights in Education,” said Bradley.
“Our Parents’ Bill of Rights in Education states that ‘Parents have the fundamental right and responsibility to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their minor children and that in order to meaningfully and effectively exercise this right, no educational institution may withhold information about a child, the child’s health, the child’s school environment, or the child’s in-school behavior from the child’s parent or parents..’ – No school should withhold information from parents about a child because the school thinks it knows that child’s interests better than the parents.”
“Our Parents Bill of Rights in Education is essential in ensuring good parents are provided with complete and accurate information impacting their children’s development,” added Carson. “This bill helps parents be the best parents they can be, by offering their children the kind of love, support, and access to appropriate professional care that only families can provide. SB 272 is about doing right by New Hampshire parents, doing right by New Hampshire students, and making sure parents have the information they need to raise healthy, thriving children.”
REPEAL OF LIMITED LIABILITY FOR FIREARMS MANUFACTURERS, DEALERS DIES
A bill repealing the limited liability for manufacturers of firearms, which would impact New Hampshire’s Sig Sauer, retailers, and others, was killed in the Senate on a vote of 14-10.
The shield from civil liability action encourages negligence Democrats said. Republicans said it was about suing those who misuse a product.
But Democrats, including Sen. Debra Altschiller of Stratham, said the limited liability discourages pro-active life-saving innovations and leaves those who have been victimized with no recourse for harm.
The safety of consumers should be the top priority, she said.
“It is important for all manufacturers to be responsible for their products,” she said. “Lets make New Hampshire the next state to take action,” she added.
But Senate Bill 247 was opposed by Republicans who noted that the measure was being used as a way to reduce the number of arms in possession.
And they said the manufacturers are still liable.
There are 35 states which have similar laws.
Altschiller said there are no other manufacturer exceptions to liability.
Sen. Carson said it would impact a huge industry in New Hampshire which contributes $2.7 billion in economic activity in the state.
SANCTUARY CITIES AND TOWNS
Senate Bill 132-FN which would prohibit cities and towns from adopting sanctuary policies, for safe havens for individuals passed 14-10 along partisan lines.
It would allow law enforcement to exercise their discretion in making arrests and not be thwarted by any adoption of a “sanctuary” city or town.
This would impact a person with an arrest warrant who is an illegal immigrant. He or she would not be allowed to have sanctuary in any town or city under the bill.
Sen. William Gannon, R-Sandown who filed the bill, said the United States has seen disastrous border policy.
Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said the bill seeks to put targets on the backs of individuals and law enforcement opposes it, saying it would diminish the relationships with their immigrant communities.
She said there is additional concern about forcing the local officials to serve as federal agents.
“This bill is the antithesis of local control,” she said.
Sen. Carson said many drug overdoses in New Hampshire result from smuggling across the border. This would help protect citizens, she argued.
After the vote, Bradley issued a statement praising the vote and said the state needs “strong safeguards to protect New Hampshire families,” citing a spike in Fentanyl overdoses and deaths due to lax border security.
Gannon also said the bill is “a huge win for Granite Staters in protecting the safety of our local communities.”
NO-EXCUSE ABSENTEE VOTING DIES
Senate Bill 220 would have added “illness or other medical condition” to allow for access to an absentee ballot. But it died 14-10.
Sen. Soucy said this is a moderate step, proven secure and successful in 2020 during the pandemic. It would make that experience in 2020 permanent.
“More people than ever cast ballots,” she said in 2020. It was safe, and timely and does not make someone say they had a disability, which is currently a provision allowed for getting an absentee ballot.
The Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee recommended the bill be killed on a 3-2 partisan line.
Sen. James Gray, R-Rochester said, “If I have a medical condition which prevents me from appearing in public that’s covered,” under current law. Also, a reason to be able to get an absentee ballot currently is if you are away from home.
“We want to protect the election,” he said.
Following the vote, Gray issued a statement that passage would have weakened state voting laws.
Soucy also issued a statement saying the vote was “extremely disappointing.”
“Voters should not have to choose between their health and their right to vote,” she said.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING CHAMPION PROGRAM PASSES
Senate Bill 145 https://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/bill_status/billinfo.aspx?id=1054&inflect=2 passed 21-3.
Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester said New Hampshire is at a “crisis level in affordable housing” and this would be a voluntary program for municipalities to help the problem.
Sen. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka, D-Portsmouth, said the state is short about 20,000 units of affordable housing units impacting the workforce shortage.
After the vote, Perkins Kwoka said: “SB 145 establishes a voluntary, Housing Champion Program for municipalities to access state funds to address this crisis through their commitment to policies that promote workforce housing – locally crafted, state funded. Such policies can include zoning ordinances that promote workforce housing development, the improvement of sewage and water infrastructure, and the building out of sidewalks and public transportation.
“I am gratified to see that the Senate so strongly supported SB 145. This legislation is an integral piece of the puzzle to solve this crisis by breaking down the barriers our communities face in developing workforce housing, such as the rising cost of infrastructure. I know my Democratic colleagues and I are looking forward to working with our friends across the aisle and on the other side of the wall to combat this crisis head on, on behalf of all of our constituents.”
HEALTHCARE WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT
Last year $4 million was set aside to create new beds for mental health in hospitals but Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, said there were no takers from hospitals willing to open new beds “and the state is entangled in litigation” with the hospitals.
Senate Bill 86, which was passed would help with healthcare workforce development.
She said children and adults now wait in Emergency Rooms for mental health care, in large part due to a lack of workforce.
“As usual money is not the only answer to a problem,” she said.
Sen. Whitley said the state’s childcare system is in crisis, with few spots and high costs. Wages remain low for workers, she said.
Senate Bill 237-FN-A would create a scholarship program to help with the issue and it passed on a voice vote.
“Max’s Law” which would allow police K-9s to be transported by ambulance, passed the Senate unanimously.
Senate Bill 268 is to be known for the late Portsmouth Police Department dog who died in the line of duty.
Sen. Carson said the average K-9 costs $10,000 and is highly trained and sent into dangerous situations. “They don’t ask questions and they just go.”
The canines “save officers’ lives” and should be allowed to be transported in an emergency to a veterinarian, proponents said.
A Constitutional Amendment putting to the voters the question of whether the House should be scheduled to meet on the same day as the governor’s state of the state address passed the Senate unanimously.
OVERSIGHT OF ADVANCED RECYCLING FACILITIES
By unanimous recommendation of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, an amended Senate Bill 267-FN passed unanimously.
It would allow for more oversight of air and water quality related to advanced recycling facilities.
Sen. Altschiller said the state has been ahead of the curve on PFAS legislation to set standards in 2020 and she said it seemed to be noticed by the Biden Administration recently.
“We need to continue to be proactive and assess the cumulative impact before…health is affected,” she said.
ALZHEIMERS AWARENESS PROGRAM SUPPORTED
SB 234-FN-A, a campaign estimated to cost $500,000 from the general fund would create a public awareness campaign on brain health, Alzheimer’s diseases, and related dementia passed on a voice vote.
Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, praised the vote after and said it is important to raise awareness “of this terrible disease,” in a statement following the vote.
The Senate re-referred to the committee a bill that would require a plan to improve safety for Route 101 in Amherst, Bedford, and Milford in the 10-year transportation improvement plan.
Senate Bill 259-FN would require the state Department of Transportation to create a plan to address gateway treatments, physical traffic calming, and psychological traffic calming on the stretch of highway which has been plagued by accidents.
Whitley rose to remember the 50th anniversary of the NF equal rights amendment.
Paul Holloway of Rye was honored.