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House Committee Debates Decorum After Complaints About Pearls

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Allegra Boverman for NHPR
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Are pearls proper? Are hats harmful? Both questions came up Tuesday as New Hampshire lawmakers discussed the delicate issue of decorum as they do their jobs.

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee drew attention recently when some members who opposed a gun control bill wore strands of fake pearls to a public hearing. They said they were showing support for the Women's Defense League of New Hampshire, but members of the Moms Demand Action advocacy group said they felt mocked.

At another recent hearing, the pearls were back and a lawmaker displayed a hat with President Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan. The sponsor of a gun control bill testified wearing red, to match the Moms Demand Action colors. A lawmaker called a colleague a "snowflake."

Noting that "tensions have arisen," Chairman Renny Cushing on Tuesday opened a discussion of decorum, saying he won't tell members what to wear but asking them to consider how they appear to members of the public, particularly crime victims.

"People are coming here and talking about the worst thing that ever happened to them," said Cushing, D-Hampton. "If we can't set the example of making the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee a safe space for victims of crime, who is going to?"

 

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Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, held up the pearls he has worn to past meetings and insisted he wasn't trying to mock anyone. He said Democrats also have worn stickers, pins and certain colors to show their support for various causes and said while he agrees people need to be treated with respect, he won't be "shut down" when it comes to asking tough questions during hearings.

"When someone sits there and says, A, B, C, I want to be able to call them out. Now, when children get up there or somebody that's testifying for the first time, I think all of us agree, we don't go after them," he said.  "A lobbyist sits there, or somebody else like that, or an anti-gunner? I'm gonna beat the tar out of them, because that's what they need."

Rep. Ray Newman, D-Nashua, said he had worn a sticker in the past to show his support for a bill to repeal the state's death penalty but will no longer do anything like that.

"When the public is testifying I don't want anything to indicate that I'm not listening to both sides," he said.

 

-- Holly Ramer, Associated Press

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