GOP Agenda Takes a Big Hit in the House

Print More

Nancy West photo

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

By GARRY RAYNO, Distant Dome

Another legislative session in the books and this one was more about the culture wars than anything of substance.

After last year’s kumbaya session with its bipartisan budget, and congratulations all around, the 2024 session began ugly with the war on trans youth and stayed that way until almost the very end.

Thursday’s final day was a bit of a shocker as many of the fundamental legs of the Republicans’ neo-Libertarian agenda were ashes in a burn pile and no amount of House Speaker Sherman Packard’s ice cream could make it sweeter.

From the first vote of the day in the House, the message was sent that many “real Republicans” were coming home and the Free Stater/Libertarian element that has dominated the Grand Old Party’s agenda for the past three terms was left to stand by itself.

And truckloads of Koch Foundation money could not flip the scenario last Thursday.

When the day ended, the House had killed voting restrictions, banning sanctuary cities and towns, legalizing the recreational use of cannabis and the expansion of the Education Freedom Account program.

The biggest blow to the GOP agenda was voting down the compromise on the expansion of the Education Freedom Account program that could have cost the state an additional $50 million to $55 million from the Education Trust Fund that provides the real state money for public education and not the Statewide Education Property Tax which simply shifts money from one pocket to the other before it is paid in the same old way with your property tax bill.

The three-year-old program has grown considerably and so has the cost to the trust fund, but lawmakers have been unwilling to put guardrails around it or ask for more accountability or transparency.

A mandated performance audit of the EFA program was stymied by Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, but appears to be on track to allow the next legislature to digest its findings before deciding the program’s budget next year for the next biennium.

The compromise would have raised the income threshold from the current 350 percent of federal poverty to 425 percent making half the families in the state and 60 percent of the public school age students eligible for the program next year when the program was originally sold as providing alternative educational settings for students failing in the public school system from low-income families.

It is no secret, here or in other states with similar programs, that between 90 to 95 percent of the state outlay goes to grants to students in private and religious schools, or being homeschooled who were not in public schools when their parents applied for what amounts to a state subsidy for tuition or other costs the parents currently pay.

House Bill 1665 passed the House by one vote, and never was reviewed by the House Finance Committee because the Republican leadership did not want another vote on the bill after a finance committee review in fear of the bill going down.

The House version set the income threshold at 500 percent, the Senate changed it to 400 percent of poverty and the compromise was 425 percent.

The bill did begin to set some parameters by reducing the Children’s Scholarship Fund NH’s fee for administering the program from 10 to 8 percent.

When the vote came in the House the bill was killed on a 185-168 vote, after it had passed the Senate down party lines 14-10.

Considering how close the votes have been on EFA bills the past two years, the vote margin killing the compromise was a significant loss for proponents, who have largely won most battles with partisan politics, but not this time.

Another major loss was House Bill 1370, which would have made New Hampshire the only state in the country to require either a birth certificate or passport to register to vote if you were born in the United States or naturalization papers if a non-native citizen.

The bill set up a hotline and a state database that were ill defined and nearly impossible to make workable between now and the state’s Sept. 10 primary election. 

It also allowed for court challenges which would make it as impossible as the other provision for a legitimate voter to cast a ballot on election day.

And the change would have likely cost the state’s its waiver of the federal Motor-Voter Law because of the major constraints on the state’s election-day registration process.

Initially Gov. Chris Sununu said he would not support any changes in the state’s election process noting the Secretary of State oversees fair elections that have the confidence of the state’s voters, but backtracked a bit when Secretary of State David Scanlan said asking for proof of citizenship was reasonable, although he never backed the bill.

Opponents argued the bill would meet the same expensive fate as 2017’s Senate Bill 3, which the state Supreme Court found unconstitutional because it imposed unreasonable burdens on the right to vote.

And they noted the many problems with the hastily crafted compromise while supporters said it would provide more confidence in the system and fulfills the state’s obligation to ensure only qualified voters participate.

Although they said it was not voter suppression, voting advocacy groups had a different view noting it targeted students, the poor and elderly.

The bill was tabled on a lopsided 223-141 vote killing the bill.

One of the GOP’s key issues going into the 2024 general election, immigration, also suffered a similar fate Thursday when House Bill 1292 was tabled on a 192-165 vote in the House after the Senate passed it on a partisan 14-10 vote.

Senate and House Republicans argued the state does not want to be an attractive target for illegal immigrants like Massachusetts.

And they said it was aimed at illegal immigrants and not foreigners in the country legally.

In the Senate, the debate turned political with Republicans bashing the Biden Administration’s immigration policies, while Democrats reminded the GOP members Congress had a bipartisan bill that was tanked by the Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, so he could have an issue to use against Biden in the election.

House Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, effectively argued the bill should be tabled for the problems it creates for local law enforcement without additional money or training and would have counties facing litigation for holding federal prisoners in their correction facilities instead of those with state or local charges that they are allowed to house.

And she said local police will be asked to detain people on immigration retainers which lack due process, do not have warrants or oversight. “Hundreds have been held in error,” Smith said.

And the legalization of recreational cannabis had been a particularly popular agenda item for House Republicans for a number of years, and this year the votes were in the Senate to pass it, and Sununu signaled he would sign the right bill.

The House and Senate passed two very different versions of House Bill 1633, which had a long and changeable growing season to arrive at a committee of conference.

Negotiators faced two philosophically opposed plans, one a free-market approach and the other using the state liquor sales model maintaining tight regulatory control.

Senate President Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, who did not support the legalization of pot, put his stamp on the bill making it very narrow and highly controlled by the state with a 15 percent state tax on the goods.

The House was successful in allowing users to hold a little more cannabis than the Senate wanted and a few other concessions, but Bradley and Sununu created a very small needle hole for lawmakers to thread together a workable operation.

The tight control did not sit well with many in the House, but supporters argued passing something was more important than having nothing.

However, the House killed the bill by tabling it on a 178-173 vote, after it had passed the Senate on a yes 14-10, but bipartisan vote.

It was the fitting end to the session as was the first vote of the day, a 247-120 trashing of an attempt to establish an investigative committee to look into the state’s child welfare system particularly the Family Court system and the Division for Children, Youth and Families.

Trying to convince House members with one foot on the lake house dock and the other in Representatives Hall to establish any new committee would have been hard work on the best of days but was an impossible task on the last day of the session.

The House turned down the request from Rep. Leah Cushman, R-Weare, although she chaired one of the two committees already studying the issue appointed by the House Speaker.

She noted allegations of mismanagement, conflicts of interest, corruption, and criminal behavior saying the issues raised need a deeper dive than the two current study committees on the Family Court system and DCYF could provide.

Cushman alleged the two committees have come under improper pressure and cannot do what is needed to get to the bottom of the concerns.

Her proposal may have sounded a little too much like the Redress of Grievances Committee established by former House Speaker William O’Brien during 2011-2012 session, when the aggrieved were able to re-litigate their cases before lawmakers.

The lopsided vote drew more than enough “real Republican” support to say that they have had enough of the culture wars that have little to do with what is happening within the boundaries of the Granite State and the real problems facing New Hampshire.

We can only hope.

Garry Rayno may be reached at

Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for 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.

Comments are closed.