A reminder of what “local control” once meant to buffer zone advocates

The New Hampshire Senate Health and Human Services committee held a hearing on HB 1570 this afternoon. I’ll tell you what went on today that would have had me yelling at the committee if not for the restraining memory of the gentle teachings of my youth.

What was claimed today

Two state representatives who have supported the buffer zone from its days as a bill are Janet Wall and Timothy Horrigan, both Democrats from Strafford County district 6 (Durham and Madbury). Reps. Wall and Horrigan both testified against repeal at today’s hearing. Both were members of the House Judiciary Committee in 2014 when the buffer zone bill had its House committee hearing.

Representative Horrigan told senators at today’s hearing that buffer zones “have to be approved by municipal government.”

Representative Wall told the senators that the buffer zone law was written to be “consistent with local control. Current [buffer zone law] allows communities to determine what’s best for them.”

The problem with those claims is that the House committee on which both Horrigan and Wall served in 2014 refused to give municipalities a substantive rather than advisory role in the establishment of zones.

The fate of “local control” when the buffer zone bill was under consideration

I was present at the hearings when the buffer zone bill was under consideration in 2014. I attended the House Judiciary Committee’s executive session on the bill in May 2014. This is what transpired, according to the post I made just after that executive session. Note the remarks made by Reps. Wall and Horrigan.

Rep. Robert Rowe (R-Amherst) attempted to introduce an amendment to require that abutters be notified before imposition of a buffer zone and that there be a public hearing with the planning board to review the site plan in conjunction with law enforcement and public works representatives. That launched an illuminating if sobering discussion of what abortion advocates think of things like transparency, notice and hearings.

Rep. Janet Wall was concerned that the planning board “adds another layer to the process.” Rowe replied, “I did this not to add layers but to bring fairness to the process. I’m not trying to establish a roadblock.” Wall said, “Some people could interpret it that way.”

Rep. Paul Berch (D-Westmoreland) was blunter. “This would give municipalities veto power.”…

Rep. Charlene Takesian (R-Pelham) agreed with Berch. “I thought we were trying to set a state standard. Rep. Rowe’s amendment would give too much local control.” Durham’s Rep. Timothy Horrigan agreed. “This might give a planning board veto power. Don’t give a local board the power to override state statute.” From Rep. David Woodbury: this offers municipalities the chance “to make mischief.” Rep. Sylvia Gale, who said at last week’s executive session that she has been a patient “escort” at abortion facilities, warned that hearings and notice might allow people to “hijack the process.”

I was as distressed then as I was today at the willingness of legislators to delegate to private, unelected, unaccountable business entities the right to determine whether and when the public may occupy public property.

Here’s what the law says: “Prior to posting the signage [setting up a buffer zone] a reproductive health care facility shall consult with local law enforcement and those local authorities with responsibilities specific to the approval of locations and size of the signs to ensure compliance with local ordinances.” Note that word “consult.” No public hearings. No public notice. No municipality may prevent an abortion facility from establishing  a First-Amendment-free zone on public property; it may merely be “consulted” about the location and size of the signs demarcating the zone.

Long live local control.

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