Report from Concord by Rep. Marjorie Porter of Hillsborough — February 23, 2017

There was great jubilation at the State House on Wednesday as Governor Sununu signed his first bill into law. This bill was very very important—so important that it had to be fast tracked through our ordinarily rather slow process. It was a Senate bill, and usually the House does not take up Senate bills until after crossover day in late March, but this bill found its way to the governor’s desk in less than five weeks!


You might remember last term, when then Governor Hassan called us back into special session so we could take steps to combat the ever-worsening opioid crisis the state was facing.  There was emergency legislation proposed then, but the Republican leadership did not see the need to fast-track them. It took months to get some of those very important bills through to the governor’s desk.


But not this time. No sir-ee. This bill was much too important. We need it right now!


So, will this new law help reduce the number of overdose deaths? Increase school funding? Reduce your property taxes? Bring new businesses to the state? Establish more beds at the state hospital so those in mental health crises aren’t stuck in emergency rooms for days waiting for a bed to open up? Reduce our electric energy costs? Fix those red-listed bridges?


Well, no. Not exactly.


This new, very very important law repeals the need to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon.


Was the public clamoring for this law? Well, again, not exactly. In fact, 73% of likely NH voters, when polled, support keeping the old law permit law in place. And 51% of likely voters said they were less likely to vote for a candidate who supported its repeal.


There was quite a party atmosphere in the governor’s office for the signing of this bill. Photos show Rep Burt (R, Goffstown) standing next to the governor with a huge grin on his face. He has worked hard for years to get this bill passed, and he is very proud of himself. So proud, in fact, that he announced after the signing he is seriously considering a run for congress against next year.


He might not have seen those poll numbers I quoted above.


Now that the law says anyone who can legally possess a firearm can carry it concealed without needing a permit, you might be a little bit concerned about the fate of HB 201. This bill closed what’s known as the “gun show loophole” for background checks when buying a gun. Currently, background checks are required when purchasing a firearm from a licensed dealer, but they are not required for online purchases or when purchasing from a private seller. This is one of the ways people who we all agree should not own a weapon—the criminally violent, the severely mentally ill, domestic abusers—are able to get them. That pesky poll of likely NH voters shows 80% support requiring background checks for all gun purchases.


But the House voted 221-151 to kill it. According to those who spoke against the bill on the floor, the world as we know it would come to an end if it passed.


The way I read things now, if you can’t pass a background check to purchase a gun from a dealer, you can still legally buy one online or from a private seller.  And if you legally own it in, you can legally carry it concealed. But we shouldn’t be worried, because all those good guys with guns will protect us from all those bad guys with guns. If you can tell them apart.


I don’t begrudge the Governor his little celebration.  He took a big hit on one of his other top priority bills last week when the House defeated the so-called right to work bill, 200-177. This bill has come before the NH legislature 30 times in 38 years, and it’s always seen defeat. It’s pretty clear it is unpopular, so I was surprised to see him make it a top priority. However, so-called right to work IS one of the priorities of Americans for Prosperity, the out-of-state super PAC, and many of my Republican colleagues have pledged to do as AFP tells them.


Thirty-two Republicans voted with the rest of us to defeat this bill. In fact, only Republicans spoke against the bill on the floor before the vote. As a result, both AFP and the NHGOP are angry, and are vowing to actively work against the re-election of any Republican who voted the “wrong way.”


I feel a little bad for my colleagues from across the aisle. It seems their party keeps them on a very tight leash. In her first term, Governor Hassan also took a risk by making the passage of a casino bill a top priority, even though it had failed to pass the House many times. She lobbied hard to convince us to pass it, but it failed again. I voted against it, which I am sure did not make her happy. But my own party did not threaten to defeat me in the next election because of my vote.


When difficult or controversial bills come before us in the House, Democratic leadership steps back from taking a stand, and we are told to vote our conscience and our district. Casino bills, gun bills, and abortion bills often fall into this category.


To those thirty-two Republicans, their vote was not the “wrong way.” They voted their conscience. They voted what they thought was right.


I think they must be very brave.


Marjorie Porter
Representative, Hillsborough District 1
64 School Street, Hillsborough, NH 03244