The legislative session ends in a few weeks, with most attention now on the state budget. Here’s the status of bills we’ve been following since January. Each bill cited below is linked to its legislative docket. Click on “RC” within any docket to get roll call results.
Buffer zone repeal
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The Senate refused to pass HB 403 to repeal the anti-First-Amendment “buffer zone” law, with the 12-12 vote falling one shy of passage. The bill is tabled and will die if it’s not brought up again before the Senate adjourns at month’s end. If the legislature refuses to act, New Hampshire residents are prepared to move forward with litigation to overturn the law.
From Stephen Scaer of Nashua comes this illuminating reply he received on May 29 from Sen. Jerry Little (R-Weare) regarding Little’s disappointing vote. Little and Nancy Stiles of Hampton were the two Republicans who joined the Senate Democrats to block the bill. (This reply was sent from Little’s legislative email address and is thus public.)
Dear Mr. Scaer:
Thank you for your comments regarding my vote in opposition to the proposed repeal of New Hampshire’s so-called “buffer zone” law. As I said during my speech on the Senate Floor and as I reiterated in the attached article, which ran in several
area newspapers, I share your concern that the current law may violate first amendment rights of those who wish to counsel women to avoid abortion. That is why I plan to submit legislation soon to amend the New Hampshire law so that it reflects the laws of other states that have already been found constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court and/or other existing New Hampshire laws that also implement constitutional buffer zones.
There is a precedent for this type of response in New Hampshire. Although we have not used it for a very long time, we have a state death penalty on the books. At times the U.S. Supreme Court has found similar death penalty laws in other states unconstitutional and, when that has happened, New Hampshire has responded not by repealing its law but by amending its statute to bring the law back into compliance with the most recent standard of constitutionality as set by the court. That is the path of corrective legislation I intend to follow.
Again, thank you for your comments. Let’s stay in touch.
It’s fair to say that at least one senator is prepared to keep unconstitutional language on the books until there’s a replacement ready to go. Backers of the buffer backpedaled on their handiwork this year and recommended just such a course of action. In related news, the Reddy v. Foster case is still pending, and taxpayers remain on the hook for the costs of litigation. The buffer zone remains unenforced under the terms of a restraining order issued last year by a federal judge.
The Senate version, SB 40, has been sent to a conference committee in an attempt to reconcile differences between House and Senate preferences. A report and vote are due by month’s end. The conferees are Representatives Leon Rideout (R-Lancaster), John Burt (R-Goffstown), John Tholl (R-Whitefield), and David Welch (R-Kingston), and Senators Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry), Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro), and Bette Lasky (D-Nashua). The bill that originated in the House, HB 560, has been re-referred to committee for action in early 2016.
Governor Maggie Hassan vetoed HB 151, which sought to set up a legislators-only study committee on end-of-life issues. To her credit, she recognized the danger of any “study” excluding the voices of disability rights groups and health care providers. The House passed the bill in March on a 189-161 vote. That’s short of the two-thirds that would be required to override the veto.
- The House rejected conscience protections for health care professionals, 237-88 (HB 670), killed an effort to keep public funds away from the abortion industry, 216-142 (HB 677), and tabled a ban on post-viability abortions on a voice vote (HB 595).
- The House inexplicably shied away from passing a bipartisan abortion statistics bill, after a year of study that included participation from self-identified pro-life and pro-choice advocates. HB 629 has been retained in committee for now.
- The Senate wisely tabled SB 42, a bill I called a Hobby Lobby tantrum. Supporters couldn’t get the 13th vote they needed to move the bill forward.