Upcoming legislative session will be as Yogi says, ‘deja vu all over again’
With the general election a little more than two weeks away, most of the attention is on races for the US Senate and US House.
Once again New Hampshire is a battleground that could tip control of the US House and US Senate one way or the other.
At this point, it appears the strategist in the Republican Party and its various branches have given up on former Gen. Donald Bolduc defeating Democratic incumbent US Sen. Maggie Hassan and moved their advertising dollars elsewhere.
However, the 1st District Congressional race between Democratic incumbent Chris Pappas and former president Trump aid Karoline Leavitt appears to be the one to watch although traditionally New Hampshire voters have not warmed to a candidate that far right on the political spectrum.
Maybe everyone’s favorite US Sen. Ted Cruz will come to visit and help turn the tide to send Pappas back to Washington with a comfortable victory. But unfortunately Cruz’s schedule does not have him coming to the first-in-the-nation state on his bus trip among contested states.
What does not receive the attention — and it should after what happened the past two years — is the down ticket races for state Senate and House.
There is no mystery that Republicans will control the highly gerrymandered Senate although it will be interesting to see if votes for the Democratic candidates outnumber votes for Republicans.
The House is also a tough row for Democrats as the new 400 redistricted seats highly favor Republican control, but the sheer number make it more difficult to gerrymander than the Senate or Executive Council, particularly if the redrawers followed the constitutional requirement that every town or ward with sufficient voters have its own district, which they did not follow when it was contrary to the overall goal of Republican control.
But the NH House is the Democrats’ best hope this election to break the GOP control of Concord. The past two years of Republican control resulted in the state’s first abortion ban, a divisive concepts law for schools, education freedom accounts, state tax money going to religious schools, tax cuts for large corporations, a number of prohibitions related to COVID vaccinations and mask mandates as well as restricting government’s power during a state of emergency.
Representatives have been able to file RSAs, which are requests for Legislative Services to write proposed laws, for a while and they have until Friday to continue to do that.
After that date, the requests have to be filed with the information needed to write the bill until Nov. 22.
The Senate has a more permissive process to file bills.
A look at some of what has been filed by Representatives should encourage voters on both sides of the political spectrum to head to the polls in two weeks.
Given what happened the last two years, it should be no surprise that public schools are center stage once again in the bill requests.
Several bills would expand eligibility for the new Education Freedom Accounts program, which cost the state $22 million for the first two years as opposed to the $2.3 million Education Commission Frank Edelblut told lawmakers it would cost.
Another bill is proposed to expand the program to local property tax dollars and not just state money as it currently stands.
The bill would allow local school districts –although it is doubtful any would — use their local property taxes to allow students to attend alternative programs of the parents’ and students’ choosing.
Other bills would increase the state per pupil aid for charter school students, which is almost double what regular public schools receive in per pupil aid, and another would allow charter schools to participate in the state’s building aid program, which is already limited because of projects approved in the past.
And the legislature will once again vote on a bill establishing a parent’s bill of rights, which is sponsored by House Speaker Sherman Packard.
The House and Senate passed a parent’s bill of rights last session but Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed it saying it conflicts with state law.
The bill of rights is mostly about requiring schools to inform parents if their child tells staff he or she is gay or transgender etc. instead of protecting the student’s privacy.
Other bills deal with multi-stalled bathrooms and locker rooms, and another would prohibit medical providers from performing gender transitioning procedures on minors.
Other bills would restrict who could serve on school boards, another would expand school boards’ authority, and another would restrict lobbying efforts by schools and towns.
One bill writing request would prohibit the teaching of discrimination in public schools and another would allow teachers in elementary and secondary schools to carry firearms if they are trained.
An end run around Edelblut’s attempt to change the state’s education standards through rules, is a bill establishing a commission to determine the standards, what is an adequate education and what does it cost.
Another bill would eliminate the statewide education property tax which supplies about $363 million of the nearly $3 billion it costs for public schools annually.
And a bill request would reduce the future benefits public workers receive from the state retirement system including teachers.
Several bills would increase the requirements for purchasing firearms, instead of loosening the restrictions which has been the legislature’s recent direction.
The bills would require a five-day waiting period to purchase a firearm, and a background check.
Another bill would increase the age to buy a gun from 18 years old to 21.
The legislature will have another opportunity to discuss a “red flag” law, which would allow family members and close friends to alert law enforcement if someone is in imminent danger and a weapon is available.
But other bills would repeal the prohibition on blackjacks, sling shots and metal knuckles, and lower the age to buy pepper spray from 18 years old to 16.
A proposed constitutional amendment would enshrine reproductive rights in the state constitution under one bill drawing request, and another would do the same in state statutes.
While the requests have yet to be filed, several House members have indicated they will introduce bills to further restrict reproductive rights.
A bill similar to the Texas law restricting abortions to the first six weeks of pregnancy is expected for the upcoming session as states become the battleground for reproductive rights after the US Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe Vs. Wade on the federal level.
Where would the New Hampshire legislature be without debates over taxes?
One bill would reduce the rate of the business enterprise tax, something that was contemplated last year, but rejected because it costs too much in revenue.
Other bills would eliminate the interest and dividends tax, and the communications services tax.
Other bills would take a more global approach to business taxes and one would freeze property taxes for the elderly.
Several bills would change the date of the state primary, something lawmakers approved last year but Sununu successfully vetoed.
Another bill would do away with recent voting restrictions passed by Republican majorities and several bills would explore ranked choice voting for the state.
One bill would establish the position of Lt. Governor and another would allow for recall elections.
Another LSR would require a voter to be a member of a party prior to the primary election thus doing away with independents’ ability to take a party ballot of one’s choosing at the polls and then returning to independent status before leaving the polling place.
One bill also addresses false statements in political advertising.
In many cases it will be in the words of the New York Yankee sage Yogi Berra “deja vu all over again.”
The anti-union Right-to-Work proposal will be revisited, as will increasing the minimum wage and mandatory auto insurance.
Also revisited will be legalizing pot and home grown stashes, raising the marriage age to 18 years old, and establishing a greenhouse gas reduction goal for the state. New Hampshire is the only New England state without such a target.
From abortions to drinking water standards, there is something for everyone to vote for or against.
But whatever you do, vote because our democracy depends on it.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. 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.