Attempt to override buffer zone veto coming on September 15

Don’t let this get lost in the pile of messages you’re receiving about the primary election: The New Hampshire House will meet on September 15 for “Veto Day,” taking up the eight bills vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu this year. Among them is HB 1625, repeal of the unenforced “buffer zone” law designed to restrict the First Amendment rights of peaceful pro-life witnesses outside abortion facilities.

A two-thirds majority is required to overturn a veto. If the House overturns the veto, the Senate will then attempt an override. Both chambers are meeting at 1 p.m. on September 15.

Note that Veto Day comes two days after the state’s primary election. If your representative happens to be defeated that day, he or she will still be in office until next December and will therefore be able to vote on Veto Day.

Look up your representatives’ names and contact information: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/house/members/

When you send your message to OVERTURN the veto of HB 1625, remember that your reps will be hearing from many people. Keep it short and to the point. If you email your rep, make sure your subject line has the relevant information, since that might be all that gets read. For example: “From a constituent: overturn HB 1625 veto.”

HB 1625 passed the House narrowly last March, 168-162, with every Democrat present voting against the bill and all but ten Republicans voting for it.

Governor Sununu in his veto message said, “In the eight years since this law was originally enacted, we know of no instance where an individual or group has been harmed by it. As a result, I am not looking to make any changes at
this time.” He has no problem with keeping on the books a law that’s based on one overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Update: The House sustained the Governor’s veto. The vote to override the veto failed, 145-175. The 152 Democrats who cast a vote all voted to sustain the veto; they were joined by 23 Republicans.

An earlier post about HB 1625: Three reasons for Governor Sununu to sign buffer zone repeal (still relevant as reasons to override his veto). I had a few things to say after the veto, too.

Three reasons for Governor Sununu to sign buffer zone repeal

After protracted debate, including attempts to attach two non-germane amendments, the New Hampshire Senate has passed the buffer zone repeal bill, HB 1625. The vote was 12-11, in spite of Governor Chris Sununu’s veto threat. Twelve of 14 Republicans voted to pass the bill. While the bill’s docket hasn’t yet been updated with the official roll call, news reports indicate that Sen. Hennessey (R-Littleton) voted with the chamber’s ten Democrats, and Sen. Reagan (R-Deerfield) was absent.

The Governor has not detailed his reasons for opposing buffer zone repeal. Perhaps it’s tied up with a wish to look more “pro-choice,” a label he wears with pride. In any case, his determination to veto the bill flies in the face of a written commitment he made in 2016. (More about that later.)

He can still do the right thing and sign HB 1625. He has good reasons to do so. You can call his office at (603) 271-2121 with a quick message, or email him with longer comments.

The Supreme Court’s McCullen decision

One would think that the Governor’s legal team might have read McCullen v. Coakley, but I am beginning to have my doubts.

There is such a thing as a “constitutional” buffer zone law, in the eyes of U.S. Courts. New Hampshire’s law isn’t one of them. It is modeled on the Massachusetts buffer zone law that was thrown out by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court – yes, including Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – back in 2014’s McCullen case, days after the New Hampshire law was signed by then-Governor Hassan.

The Massachusetts law was thrown out on narrow grounds, which happen to apply to our situation in New Hampshire. In an effort to accommodate abortion providers who didn’t want pro-life witnesses outside their facilities, Massachusetts had failed to enforce more targeted and less restrictive laws before going after the pro-lifers’ First Amendment free-speech rights. Here’s Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the Court: “Respondents assert undeniably significant interests in maintaining public safety on those same streets and sidewalks, as well as in preserving access to adjacent healthcare facilities. But here the Commonwealth has pursued those interests by the extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a tradi­tional public forum to all speakers. It has done so without seriously addressing the problem through alternatives that leave the forum open for its time-honored purposes. The Commonwealth may not do that consistent with the First Amendment.

“Without seriously addressing the problem through alternatives” is exactly where New Hampshire stands. It’s exactly why New Hampshire abortion providers have never yet posted a buffer zone. There is no record with any law enforcement agency of repeated arrests, never mind convictions, of peaceful pro-life witnesses outside abortion facilities. It would require such a record to justify infringement of First Amendment rights.

Again, Chief Justice Roberts: “To meet the requirement of narrow tailoring, the government must demonstrate that alterna­tive measures that burden substantially less speech would fail to achieve the government’s interests, not simply that the chosen route is easier. A painted line on the sidewalk is easy to enforce, but the prime objective of the First Amendment is not efficiency.”

Whether using a painted line as in Massachusetts or a printed sign as prescribed in New Hampshire’s law, McCullen applies.

The cost of litigation

After Massachusetts lost the McCullen case, the pro-life plaintiffs quite reasonably sought to recover their legal fees. A settlement agreement reached six months after the Supreme Court decision resulted in Massachusetts having to pay up, to the tune of $1.24 million. That’s on top of whatever the Commonwealth spent in the years-long effort to win its case.

Governor Sununu is steward of the New Hampshire treasury. I doubt defending a McCullen-style law is what he means to do with your tax dollars. It would be much wiser to get the McCullen-style law out of New Hampshire statutes.

Sununu’s 2016 commitment to support buffer zone repeal

Perhaps even more persuasive than the preceding two reasons is the third one, which speaks to the Governor’s character.

When Chris Sununu first ran for governor in 2016, pro-life voters were concerned. Like the Democrat on the ballot, he called himself “pro-choice.” After hearing from concerned Republicans, the message went out a few days before the November election that there were a few policies he could support. One of them was repeal of the buffer zone law. He put that in writing.

I provided his statement in a post in November 2016: A concerned Republican and Sununu’s reply

In the same message, he said he could support a late-term abortion ban. He did so when he signed last year’s budget, which contained the Fetal Life Protection Act – and now he intends to walk that back, by announcing his intention to sign HB 1609 adding a post-24-week eugenic exception to FLPA.

It’s possible that as a popular governor with a lot of political capital to spend, he has decided to repudiate his 2016 statement. Maybe his political calculus does not take pro-lifers into account. Maybe he thinks we’re politically negligible.

Are you willing to prove him wrong?

Remember: (603) 271-2121. Second floor of the State House, if you want to deliver a written message to the reception staff. Use that “share your opinion” page on his website. Get some friends together and write postcards, addressed to the Governor at 107 North State Street, Concord NH, 03301. Cite one reason for him to sign HB 1625, or cite all three, or simply say “please sign buffer zone repeal.”

Governor Sununu is listening to abortion advocates. He needs to be listening to his own better nature – the one he gave us a glimpse of in 2016.

post header photo: Scott Graham/Unsplash

Anticipating Senate vote, Sununu says he’d veto buffer zone repeal

According to Union Leader State House reporter Kevin Landrigan, Governor Chris Sununu has said he would veto the buffer-zone repeal bill if it reaches his desk. That bill, HB 1625, is scheduled for a Senate vote on Thursday, May 5. I’ll be watching to see if normally pro-life and pro-First-Amendment senators vote against the bill after they’ve heard the veto threat.

The report follows Sununu’s remarks earlier this week in the wake of the leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion in the Dobbs case that he remains “pro-choice.” On his official website, he has posted the following statement: “As a pro-choice governor, I am committed to upholding Roe v. Wade, which is why I am proud of the bipartisan bill headed to my desk this year that expands access. So long as I am governor, these health care services for women will remain safe and legal.”

The “bipartisan” bill to which Sununu was referring is HB 1609, which adds a eugenics exception to the Fetal Life Protection Act (FLPA), New Hampshire’s recently-enacted 24-week abortion limitation.

Buffer zone repeal: Senate hearing Tuesday 4/19

Buffer zone repeal, HB 1625, has made it past the New Hampshire House and is on its way to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. The committee will hear testimony Tuesday, April 19, at 2:30pm in room 100 of the State House in Concord. Everyone who engages in peaceful pro-life witness on public sidewalks has a chance to tell the committee to do the right thing by voting Ought to Pass on HB 1625. Everyone who supports First Amendment rights ought to be right there with them.

HB 1625 is the latest effort to repeal the unenforced buffer zone law, which gives abortion facility managers the right to decide whether peaceful pro-life witness may take place on public property adjacent to their facility. The law has no business being on the books. Repeal is overdue.

If you attend: the committee will have hearings on several bills throughout the day, and the HB 1625 hearing might begin late. Be sure to sign in on the HB 1625 sheet that will be on a table just inside the door of the hearing room. Even if the committee runs late and you have to leave, your sign-in will let the senators know where you stand.

If you can’t attend: sign in electronically, using the Senate Remote Sign-In Sheet. You’ll need to enter the hearing date (4/19), committee (Judiciary), bill number (HB 1625), and then click the box indicating SUPPORT for the bill.

Whether you attend or not, you can email the committee with your testimony – which can be as simple as a polite request that they vote Ought to Pass on HB 1625. On the Judiciary Committee’s web page, click on “Email Entire Committee.”

Update on FLPA bills

Let’s take a look at the status of the bills seeking to amend the Fetal Life Protection Act, New Hampshire’s 24-week abortion restriction.

On its way to Governor Sununu’s desk: HB 1673, a good bill that clarifies FLPA’s ultrasound language while leaving the rest of the law intact. You can contact the Governor’s office and ask him to SIGN the bill. He might be reluctant to sign this one, preferring to wait for another bill that adds an exception to FLPA, so your voice in support of HB 1673 is important.

On its way to the Senate for a vote on Thursday, April 21: HB 1609, which in its current form clarifies FLPA’s ultrasound provision but also adds an exception to the 24-week abortion limit that would allow eugenic abortion for “fetal anomalies incompatible with life.” (This is the Governor’s preferred version.) I will be asking my senator to resist the overwhelming pressure he must be under to add an exception to FLPA.

On its way to the full House for a vote, not yet scheduled: SB 399, which is pretty much a duplicate of HB 1673. After being introduced as a bill to repeal FLPA, the bill was amended by the full Senate into one that would keep FLPA intact except for clarification of the ultrasound language. The House Judiciary Committee has recommended Ought to Pass on SB 399 as amended in the Senate. The vote in the full House is likely to be close.

Post header photo: Michael Drummond/Pixabay.

Buffer zone repeal, 2022: House to vote week of March 15

Amidst an extremely long agenda on the New Hampshire House calendar for next week, buffer zone repeal – HB 1625 – awaits action. The Judiciary Committee on a 12-9 vote is recommending “inexpedient to legislate” (ITL). The full House in its multi-day session will vote on the bill sometime between Tuesday, March 15, and Thursday, March 17.

Identify your representatives by checking the House roster by town. Click on each name to find contact information. As them to overturn the Judiciary Committee’s ITL recommendation on HB 1625, and instead support a motion of “ought to pass” (OTP). You may find that you belong to two districts, and if that’s the case, contact all the representatives listed. If you send email, be sure your subject line is clear, since that may be the only thing a rep has time to read: “From a constituent: please vote OTP on HB 1625.”

Why HB 1625 deserves special attention

There will be other life-issue bills on the House calendar, and I will address those in a separate post. Why single out buffer zone repeal for special attention? Certainly the First Amendment implications are important, but there’s another reason. The committee’s majority report recommending ITL contains two falsehoods. Any representative supporting the ITL recommendation will be embracing them.

I cast no aspersions on Rep. Mark Paige (D-Exeter), who wrote the majority report. He may have depended on unreliable sources. All the more reason to clear up the false information.

New Hampshire’s buffer zone law threatens the right of peaceful pro-life witnesses to be present on public property outside abortion facilities. The law has never been enforced since its 2014 passage. Nevertheless, it remains a stain on our statutes.

No, the buffer zone law was NOT drafted to follow Supreme Court guidelines

From the Judiciary Committee’s minority report, which is printed in the House calendar and may be the only thing most reps read about HB 1625: “…the drafters of our current buffer law carefully crafted it after the [U.S. Supreme] Court decided McCullen, thus with particular knowledge of the constitutional limits of buffer zone laws.”

That is four-alarm nonsense.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McCullen v. Coakley, striking down the Massachusetts buffer zone law on which New Hampshire’s law was based, was handed down on June 26, 2014. (You can read the case itself and my commentary written at the time the case was decided.)

New Hampshire’s buffer zone law was introduced on December 17, 2013, passed by the House in February 2014, passed by the Senate in May 2014, and signed by then-Governor Maggie Hassan on June 10, 2014. That’s 16 days before the Supreme Court handed down McCullen.

The governor and every legislator knew perfectly well that the McCullen case was pending in the Court. They enabled the New Hampshire buffer zone law anyway.

So much for being “carefully crafted” after McCullen.

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