What Is Your Legislature Doing?

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Garry Rayno is InDepthNH.org's State House Bureau Chief. He is pictured in the press room at the State House in Concord.

By GARRY RAYNO, Distant Dome

You better damn well know who you are voting for in the upcoming elections this year.

Most of the attention will be on the presidential race and the two open races in New Hampshire for governor and the 2nd Congressional District, but what will have a far greater effect on your life will be who are the members elected to the New Hampshire House and Senate.

The last two legislatures elected should be a warning to anyone who has lived in the Granite State before the influx of the mob owned by the Koch Foundation and others of the same ilk who have used their fortunes to put people who do not represent the views of a majority of the state’s residents into the legislature.

They want to make the minority the majority by turning the state’s political landscape into such a wasteland it will attract more of their like-minded minions.

They want New Hampshire to be the Texas or Florida of the North and they have done their damage by flying under the radar to be elected and now the Koch organizations control half the Republican members of the House.

That has brought the war on public education into our living rooms and kitchen tables in a way never envisioned by most residents who were happily living here before former Gov. Craig Benson invited the Free State Project to become squatters in the Granite State and that will always be his legacy.

Some of the things that have become law in the last two legislatures are things most longtime observers would have told you New Hampshire lawmakers would never do, but now everything is possible and nothing is worth saving if it doesn’t fit the libertarian dictates.

Thursday’s House session was indicative of how things have changed in the past four years.

A number of bills were before the House that could only be described as a full-frontal assault on local control, something once sacred around the State House.

The cities and towns can only do what the state says they can do or if the state is silent on the matter, then the cities and towns can try to do their own thing.

It should not be a surprise with the individual-rights-loving crowd that school districts were the target.

There are basically four types of school districts in the state: the single stand alone, regional school districts or joint maintenance agreements, cooperative districts and area regional enrollment area schools.

They have different arrangements but cooperative districts involve a central school like a high school, and various surrounding towns that agree to send their students to that school with a joint governing board but not complete control over the district whose school receives the students.

There are also tuition agreements, but the receiving district has control over the schools, not the sending communities.

Cooperative, regional and area regional enrollment areas schools all have articles of agreement and various other arrangements like proportional representation and assigning costs through daily attendance and town valuations.

All of these arrangements are essentially contracts between the communities and determine how schools are governed and administered.

Not unlike reaching down into classrooms to tell districts what must and what cannot be taught as lawmakers have done the past three years, and was basically unheard of before that, there were four bills mandating how cooperative school districts must operate despite their own articles of agreement.

House Bill 1493 would expand the authority of the cooperative district’s budget committee, and was sent to interim study from the consent calendar which has a number of bills on it with unanimous or near unanimous committee agreements on recommendations and is approved by one vote.

House Bill 1383 would change how board members replacing those who resign are elected. Instead of the entire district voting for a new board member, the bill would have the town of the member who resigned only vote for the new board member.

The bill failed to pass by three votes and was sent to interim study, which is a polite death in the second year of a two-year term because the incoming legislature does not have to take any action on the report generated from the study.

House Bill 1481 would require a cooperative school district to replace a resigning at-large member with another citizen from the same community as the person who resigned.

The bill failed by two votes and likewise was sent to interim study.

And House Bill 1642 would have prevented the school board’s representative on the district’s budget committee from voting on that committee’s decisions.

The supporters of the bill claimed the school board member would have two votes while others would have only one vote on the budget.

Many communities allow the selectmen’s representative on budget committees to be voting members just as they are on planning and zoning boards.

The bill failed by four votes and was also sent to interim study.

This legislature continues to fight the same fights from session to session and that was true again with House Bill 1093, which would prohibit school board’s from mandating mask policies in schools for students, staff and members of the public.

Much like the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen, the same misinformation about masks was front and center during debate on the bill Thursday as it has been since the pandemic began in 2020.

The bill was sponsored by a long list of known Free Staters or Libertarians who have always claimed mandatory masking was an assault on their individual rights.

Despite pleas from members associated with the medical community not to tie the hands of local school boards who are the closest to what is happening in their districts, the House voted 187-184 to approve the bill and send it to the Senate.

Only three Republicans voted against the bill, while the rest of the GOP members were in favor and all the Democrats voted against it.

Last year, Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a similar bill, but this is another year and he may change his mind if the bills makes it through the Senate — which is very likely — and onto his desk.

But the real eye catcher Thursday was House Bill 1683, which would have ended Medicaid coverage for voluntary circumcisions of baby boys at birth.

The bill was tabled a week earlier when it looked like it was going to be killed when Democrats out-numbered Republicans near the end of the session.

The bill’s prime sponsor is Free Stater and House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, R-Auburn, with a list of Free State co-sponsors.

You have to wonder what motivates legislation like this to take away something that has been in place for decades with no significant problems.

You could say this group wants to lower the cost of Medicaid and the state tax dollars that pay for it, but you also have to wonder if the group does not believe in circumcision and therefore wants the rest of the state to adhere to their philosophy, or if they are fine with creating two health care systems for new born babies, one where the parents may freely choose what they want for their newborn son and one that prevents parents from having the same choices.

Or dare it be said, could there be some antisemitism involved.

The question is what the hell is going on that lawmakers have become so involved in people’s lives they want to determine who is able to be circumcised or not?

This is so far beyond the absurd, it is hardly imaginable this is before the legislature, but that is happening more and more these days.

Please, please, please know who you are voting for in the primary and the general election this year so maybe the legislature can return to dealing with the issues that New Hampshire needs to address, like equitable education funding and opportunities, homelessness and the housing crisis without the state mandating local zoning ordinances, more pervasive mental health services and addiction treatment, expanding affordable child care, funding social services to allow a hand up, reducing higher education costs so students can graduate without owing the equivalent of a mortgage, and more home-based services for the elderly.

The state does not need the legislature meddling with cooperative school districts, medical practices including circumcision and the LGBTQ+ and transgender communities.

Those things are not what most people want their legislature doing.

Garry Rayno may be reached at garry.rayno@yahoo.com.

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.

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