New Hampshire Legislature Moves Into Second Half of Session
Recently, the New Hampshire Legislature marked what is known as “Crossover” – the deadline by which the House and Senate must complete all hearings and votes. Bills that have passed the House now have been sent to the Senate, and bills that have passed the Senate have been sent to the House.
Now that we have moved into the second half of the session, it is a good time to provide you with a summary of the legislation we have been following as well as notes on how you can take action on the bills that remain. Click on the subjects below to read about the bills we have been tracking under each of these topics.
Wishing you an Easter season of renewed faith, hope, and love,
Meredith P. Cook, Esq.
Director, Office of Public Policy
Buffer Zone: HB 589 was filed to repeal the New Hampshire abortion clinic buffer zone law. Many of you will recall that in 2014, the Legislature passed a bill creating a buffer zone around abortion clinics. The bill was signed into law, and this buffer zone allows only certain individuals to be present within a designated area around abortion clinics. While an employee of an abortion clinic is allowed to be present for the purpose of escorting individuals, an individual who wishes to speak with a woman to offer an alternative to abortion is silenced. The House Judiciary Committee heard compelling testimony on HB 589 from a number of people who seek to offer women an alternative to abortion in a peaceful and nonconfrontational manner, including from many of you. Unfortunately, the full House failed to pass HB 589 by a vote of 191-165.
Abortion Statistics: Currently, New Hampshire is one of only two states in the country that does not collect statistics about abortions. HB 471 was introduced to require the Department of Health and Human Services to publish an annual report based on an aggregate summary of the information obtained about abortions performed in New Hampshire. The bill specifically includes safeguards to maintain the privacy of individual information. Last session, a bipartisan group worked to agree on language that would collect this data and protect individual information, but it was defeated in the Senate. Even though the bill proposed this year includes that privacy protection language, the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee retained the bill in committee. We will be monitoring this bill in committee for any further opportunities to pass this important measure.
Banning Abortions After Viability: HB 578 seeks to prohibit abortion of a viable unborn child, except in cases of a medical emergency. This bill does not ban all abortions but instead seeks to address those taking place later in pregnancy when an unborn child is viable. Public opinion polls consistently reveal that Americans support restrictions on late-term abortions. The House Judiciary Committee heard from many New Hampshire citizens interested in prohibiting abortions once an unborn child is viable, and again, many of you were there to speak out. And for those of you who attended Catholic Day at the State House and saw the vote on this bill on the House floor as well as others who watched this bill closely, you know that some legislators became concerned with the language of this bill, including the determination of “viability.” In the end, some legislators who typically are committed to voting consistent with a pro-life ethic, voted against HB 578 because of its language. So if you are reviewing the roll call for this bill and concerned about how your legislators voted, the best method to analyze a vote on this particular bill will be to contact your legislators and ask for the reason behind their vote.
A bill was introduced seeking to make anyone who knowingly causes the death of a child guilty of capital murder. The death of a child is a tragic event that no parent, no family, and no society should ever have to experience. But Catholic teaching is grounded on the dignity of the human person, a principle that applies to every human person, even those who do great harm. Sentences such as life in prison without parole provide the means necessary to protect our homes and neighborhoods without compromising our most basic belief that we uphold the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. The House voted 305-46 to defeat this bill.
The House Education Committee currently is considering SB 193, a bill to create education freedom savings accounts. A student currently attending a public school, kindergarten students, and students receiving home education would be eligible for this program. A student’s account would be funded by a portion of the state per pupil adequate education grant. The funds in the account may be used for certain eligible expenses, including tuition for a nonpublic school, textbooks, fees for transportation, and educational services or therapies from a licensed or certified practitioner or provider. Parents are the first and primary educators of their children, and SB 193 is a tool that will empower parents to choose the most suitable educational setting for each child in the family. SB 193 passed the Senate, and the House Education Committee will vote Tuesday on this important bill. Contact the members of the Committee and your representatives and urge them to support SB 193.
New Hampshire created an education tax credit program in 2012 that allows businesses to make a money donation to an approved scholarship organization, and in return, the business receives a tax credit against the Business Profits Tax and/or Business Enterprise Tax for 85% of the donation. The donations are used by approved scholarship organizations to grant scholarships to children to attend nonpublic school among other eligible purposes. According to a report filed with the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration, in 2016 alone, scholarship organizations provided more than $347,000 in assistance to families through the tax credit program. HB 129 was introduced to repeal this program but fortunately, it was defeated in the House by a vote of 205-154. For more information on the New Hampshire Education Tax Credit Program, including contact information for the approved scholarship organizations, visit the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration.
In 2009, the New Hampshire Supreme Court heard the Lamy case, a criminal case concerning an intoxicated driver who struck a car driven by a woman who was pregnant. The child was delivered prematurely and died two weeks later as a result of the injuries sustained in the collision. The Court overturned the conviction of the driver for causing the death of the child because current New Hampshire law does not support a conviction for the child’s death. In the Lamy decision, Justice James Duggan wrote, “Should the legislature find this result in this case as unfortunate as we do, it should follow the lead of many other states and revisit the homicide statutes as they pertain to the fetus.” HB 156 and SB 66 were introduced to include unborn children in the current homicide laws. The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted to retain HB 156, so we will continue to monitor this bill. SB 66 passed the Senate, and a hearing on this bill was held before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on March 22. The executive session for SB 66 is scheduled for May 9 when the Committee will deliberate and vote and unless the bill is retained, the Committee will make a recommendation to the full House. Contact the members of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and your representatives to urge them to support this long overdue change in the law.
As you may have seen in the news, several bills to decriminalize, legalize, and regulate marijuana were introduced this session. Marijuana represents a significant part of substance abuse in the United States and adversely affects the health of many Americans. The widespread use and abuse of marijuana, particularly by young people under the age of eighteen, is steadily increasing while scientific evidence links its long-term damaging effects on brain development. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense.” (no. 2291).
Although many bills concerning marijuana were introduced, two measures remain after Crossover. HB 640 seeks to decriminalize marijuana, reducing the penalties for possession of the drug. Reducing the penalties for possession of a drug that causes devastating effects on the human body, particularly for our youth, is not a path New Hampshire should take. Our attention should be focused on preventing the use and abuse of drugs. The House passed HB 640, and the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing was held on April 11. The bill is expected to reach the full Senate in the near future, so read our testimony and contact the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and your senator and urge them to oppose HB 640.
On April 11, the Senate Judiciary Committee also heard HB 215, a bill proposing to study the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana. While this bill proposes to study the impact of treating marijuana in a manner similar to the way the State “deals with alcohol,” scientific evidence links marijuana to long-term damaging effects on brain development. The goals of this bill begin to take New Hampshire down a dangerous path that seeks to raise income through the legalization of a drug that represents a significant part of substance abuse in the United States. While some may argue there is no harm in studying the legalization of marijuana, passing this bill would send the message that New Hampshire is interested in pursuing the legalization of marijuana, and this drug has devastating effects we all should be seeking to prevent. HB 215 already has passed the House and is expected to reach the full Senate in the near future, so read our testimony and contact the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and your senator and urge them to oppose HB 215.
SB 7 proposed to limit eligibility for New Hampshire’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP” and also known as food stamps). Unfortunately, there was much confusion about this bill and the current SNAP program, and much of the confusion stemmed from what is known as a non-germane amendment to the bill that created a separate workforce program but did not have anything to do with food stamps. Clarifying a few key areas of this issue may be helpful:
SNAP benefits help New Hampshire families put food on the table, and the benefits only may be used to purchase food – even necessities such as diapers and toilet paper cannot be purchased with food stamps.
SB 7 would eliminate “expanded categorical eligibility” under New Hampshire’s SNAP program. Over 40 states use expanded categorical eligibility, and New Hampshire’s expanded categorical eligibility applies to households with gross income of 185% of the federal poverty guidelines ($37,740 for a household of 3) and have a dependent child with a relative in the household. Eliminating expanded categorical eligibility is estimated to impact over 17,000 households, and all of these households have children.
The people most likely to lose benefits under SB 7 are families with children where at least one adult is trying to work in a low-wage position, often known as the “working poor.” SNAP benefits provide an important resource to put food on the table and prevent food insecurity.
If SB 7 becomes law, the needs of struggling New Hampshire families would not go away. Instead, the demand on charitable organizations such as food pantries, parishes, and the New Hampshire Food Bank, would increase. And our Catholic ministries are not alone. The proposal would increase the demand for food from other charitable organizations as well as city and town welfare offices funded by local property tax revenues.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, Catholic Charities New Hampshire, and the New Hampshire Food Bank opposed the portions of SB 7 seeking to limit eligibility for the SNAP program. The House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee voted to retain the bill and members expressed a particular interested in studying the non-germane portion of the bill proposing to create the Granite Workforce pilot program. Under this program, funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program would be used to provide subsidies to employers in high need areas based upon workforce shortages and to create a network to assistance to remove barriers to work for low-income families. The workforce program is independent of the food stamp program and, contrary to information we have seen shared about SB 7, does not create a work requirement for SNAP benefits. We are very interested to learn more about the Granite Workforce program and welcome further review by the Committee.