NH committee delays buffer zone decision; discussion reveals split

Legislative Office Building, Concord NH
Legislative Office Building, Concord NH

Fearless forecast: When the House Judiciary Committee finally votes on the buffer zone bill, it’ll get an ought-to-pass recommendation, 12-8. That’s my guess & I’m sticking to it. I won’t be proven wrong for at least six days. An hour of deliberation by the committee today left SB 319 up in the air, with the vote now rescheduled for 10 a.m. next Tuesday, May 6.

“Bouchard Amendment” accepted

Rep. Candace Bouchard’s name wound up on the amendment to which she and chief sponsor Sen. Soucy referred at last week’s public hearing: change the zone to “up to 25 feet,” allegedly to allow for more local control; require written warnings; make the bill effective 30 days after passage.

An hour-long debate ensued, quickly revealing the lines along which the final vote is likely to fall. The amendment was eventually adopted 12-8. Barring the adoption of other amendments – and at least one is forthcoming next Tuesday – I think that’s what the final recommendation will look like.

PP neighbor shows buffer zone would damage neighborhood; rep blames “demonstrators”

Greg Salts, who lives across the street from Planned Parenthood’s Manchester facility, testified at the House committee hearing last week. Afterward, he decided to make a video to illustrate just how bad a fit a “buffer” would be on Pennacook Street. (See link at the bottom of this post.) Committee member Jeanine Notter said today that all of her Judiciary colleagues had had the opportunity to view Salts’s video.

Rep. Larry Phillips (D-Keene) acknowledged that he had watched it. “I concluded that the problem is demonstrators.”

Split: party line, with one exception

All the Democrats on the committee supported the Bouchard Amendment. They were joined by Republican Charlene Takesian of Pelham. The other Republicans voted against the amendment, and most during discussion also expressed opposition to the underlying bill.

The First Amendment got some support, starting with the session’s opening remarks by Rep. Michael Sylvia of Belmont. Manchester Democrat Peter Sullivan dismissed the First Amendment as “a red herring” in buffer-zone discussions. That whirring sound I hear must be James Madison spinning in his grave. Poor guy gets a workout every time this sort of measure comes up.

Rep. Joseph Hagan (R-Chester)
Rep. Joseph Hagan (R-Chester)

Rep. Joseph Hagan of Chester, courteous and decisive, reminded his colleagues that at the public hearing, supporters of a buffer zone seemed to put silent prayer witnesses in the same category and people who commit violence against abortion providers and facilities. “There is no such linkage.” Good for him. Rep. Takesian had an immediate reply for him, though: she said that handing a woman a leaflet as she enters an abortion facility “could be an act of violence.”

“This is aimed at one business”

Rep. Gary Hopper of Weare listened to the discussion about rights of abortion-minded women and rights of pro-life witnesses, and then waited his turn to speak. “I’m going to oppose this bill because article 10 of our [New Hampshire] Constitution says that government shall not be used to benefit any one group.” (That’s in the Right of Revolution clause, by the way.) Rep. Kathy Souza: “This bill is to protect Planned Parenthood and their income.” Rep. Lawrence Kappler: “This is aimed at one business. No one asked the neighbors.”

Rep. Rowe to propose amendment

Rep. Robert Rowe of Amherst advised his colleagues that he intends to introduce an amendment at next Tuesday’s session. He is not a buffer zone fan. More than that, it offends him to cast a vote without having important information at hand.

Rep. Robert Rowe (R-Amherst)
Rep. Robert Rowe (R-Amherst)

While the text of his amendment is not yet available online, Rep. Rowe spoke with me after today’s committee meeting. HIs concern: what are the facts about events outside New Hampshire abortion facilities? How come SB 319’s supporters talk about violence, when the police chiefs of towns where abortion facilities are located haven’t shown up to support the bill? How many complaints have been made to local law enforcement? Are current laws inadequate, or merely unenforced? How many abortion facilities are there, anyway? – “We don’t even know that,” he said. True. We’ll see next week if a majority of his Judiciary colleagues want to go ahead with First Amendment nullification anyway.

Public may attend executive session

Members of the public are welcome to sit in on the continued executive session next Tuesday at 10 in room 208 of the Legislative Office Building in Concord (behind the State House). No public testimony will be accepted.


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