Call to action March 6-10

The House has a slew of bills to vote on this week in their full session. Here is a heads-up about some we’ve mentioned during their hearings. Call your state representatives to urge their votes on the bills you most care about:

HB 351 (death penalty expansion bill) will be debated & voted on the House floor Wednesday, probably late morning or early afternoon. League opposes expansion of the death penalty and hopes that someday it will be abolished in this state. Urge your state representatives to defeat this bill. (The committee recommends Inexpedient to Legislate 17-3, so that’s a good sign. In effect, we are hoping for a Yes vote to put this bill to bed.)

HB640 (reducing penalties for possession of a small amount of marijuana)–League does not have a position on this bill, but it would put NH in line with 19 other states that use a fine, not a misdemeanor criminal charge, to deal with possession of under an ounce of marijuana by adults. The Criminal Justice committee recommends Ought to Pass 14-2.

A bunch of education bills that, unfortunately, League was not prepared to follow. The full list is in the March 3 House Calendar accessible from the general court website, in case you wish to check them out and express your views.

Nearly all the Election Law bills being voted on this week had a split recommendation along party lines. League is bothered by this—voting procedures should not be partisan matters. But it appears they are. It is likely the full House will also vote along party lines. Here are the bills the League would especially like to see defeated:

HB552, which shifts to the Secretary of State investigative powers regarding voters without IDs who don’t return those post-election letters he sends. The Attorney General is the investigative and prosecutorial power in NH, not the Sec. Of State who, ideally, should be focused on making voters and election officials better educated regarding voting procedures. Only one other state gives the Secretary of State this kind of investigative responsibility. Bill was recommended Ought to Pass as Amended; League would like to see it defeated.

HB464 would remove the authority of election officials to accept photo IDs other than those from the authorized list. League sides with the committee, who all agreed this bill is not needed—the current system works fine, whereby an election official can accept the identity of an employee at a nearby hospital, for example, who presents his hospital photo ID badge. Apparently this is on the regular calendar only because the sponsor, who has created at least a dozen of these needlessly restrictive election bills this session, will demand it be considered by the full House. League urges a yes vote on Inexpedient to Legislate.

HB372 attempts to tie definitions of “residence” and “inhabitant” as used elsewhere in statutes, to voting, which currently uses “domicile” in NH as the standard to register and vote. Playing with wording in an attempt to prevent college students in NH from voting where they live for 9 months or more a year, often for 4 or 5 years, has occurred nearly every session. The committee voted Ought to Pass along party lines; League urges Inexpedient to Legislate.

We also have a few election law bills we’d like to see passed. They include this one:

HB 622, would allow all voters to vote by absentee ballot. League likes the sarcastic comment of AFSC on the bill’s recommendation: “Making voting easier? We’ll have none of that. The committee recommends ITL by a vote of 11-8.” League would, of course, like to see this pass, as the challenges of weather, transportation, family and job obligations, and the pace of modern life make waiting in lines at the polls a disincentive to many people.

–-Moving on from Election Law, League also testified in support of HB478, prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity. This bill would extend to gender identity the same protections against discrimination that exist for age, sex, race, creed, color, marital status, sexual orientation, familial status, physical or mental disability, or national origin. It comes out of committee with an Ought to Pass vote of 15-2, and was supported by business, law enforcement, and the legal community. Passing this bill is the morally right thing to do!

In the Senate, which will meet in full session on Thursday, March 9:

SB 94, making a capital appropriation for affordable housing. It started out with a $250,000,000 appropriation, but was amended to $5,000,000. It comes out of committee with an Ought to Pass as Amended recommendation of 4- 0, which is better than has been provided in recent history for affordable housing initiatives.

SB 113, would create electronic poll book trial program. League testified in support, urges passage. An electronic poll book is hardware and software that allows election officials to review and maintain voter registration information for an election. It does not count votes. This bill would allow cities and towns to conduct a trial of such devices, provided they comply with all statutes and regulations. Within a month after the election, the cities or towns will submit a report to the Secretary of State’s office on the device, the costs, accuracy of data, etc. The cities and towns are responsible for all of the costs. (The state will gladly accept the data, but not help with the costs.) The Senate election law committee recommends Ought to Pass unanimously; League agrees.

SB 194 This bill would authorize online voter registration. League testified in favor, but the committee recommends Inexpedient to Legislate (along party lines by a vote of 3-2.) Online voter registration would facilitate changing address easily when a voter moves, would be done securely, and would save time for voters and election officials and provide a more accurate registration list. League would like this bill to pass.

––Usually League posts hearings of interest in the House or Senate, but beyond the SB3 hearing on Tuesday, this week has few other than Finance Committees. Our thanks to the members of those committees as they labor to prepare the budget—a huge job and they work diligently, meeting several times a week. Thank you, Representatives assigned to Finance.

–—-Below is optional reading, as these bills are likely to pass or fail without debate, according to the committee recommendations. They are, however, bills that League finds of special interest.

A number of “bad” bills are on the House consent calendar to be defeated. This means that the committees that heard these bills agreed overwhelmingly that they should not become law. Sometimes even sponsors agreed they are Inexpedient to Legislate. No further action by voters should be required—but here are the numbers and a brief description of each that has attracted League attention, just in case you are following them:

HB106, would have required “corroborating evidence in sexual assault prosecutions”–as though there are witnesses to these heinous acts.

HB285, which would have eliminated judicial discretion in sentencing. This goes counter to recent trends in NH and elsewhere to give greater discretion to judges.

HB309, would have required expiration dates on student ID cards when used for voting purposes—silly to implement this now, counter to a 2014 law.

HB642, an election bill that was such a horrendous mish-mash of changes in election law “even the sponsor agreed that this bill is unwieldy” and should be defeated.

HB214, would repeal the ban on texting while driving, which has been in place only a short while. (Like, LOL, I luv having texters on the roads with me.)

HB655, would have allowed localities to institute a sales tax to reduce property taxes. The sponsor agreed that the bill is not “reasonable, workable, or feasible” and it received no support.

Here are some “good bills” also on the House Consent Calendar, very likely to pass without any further debate and then move on to the Senate:

HB215, establishing a commission to study the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana—just think, we will actually study an issue before drafting new laws one way or the other!

HB304, opponents of Common Core as a required standard will like this: this bill clarifies the authority of school boards to implement or not implement CC standards, but if they don’t, they must determine and approve local academic standards that meet or exceed state academic standards. League did not attend these hearings, but the committee vote was 16-2 in favor of passing this bill.

HB412, broadens access to pre-engineering and technology curriculum from grades 6-12 to grades K-12, to awaken students’ interest in STEM subjects earlier—first step in building a 21st century workforce.

HB537, a campaign finance bill we like, to include limits on campaign contributions given to candidates before they officially file (same limits as on pre-primary and general election contributions). One small step toward campaign finance reform. The House election law committee was unanimously in support of this bill!

HB475, on which League testified and then grinned broadly when it was immediately voted Ought to Pass—a bill to honor the first two female legislators in NH with portraits in the State House. No money attached, but that’s an issue for another day. May the force be with us, may the portraits be done and installed in a place of honor in time for the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote and the election of these women to the NH House—2020

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