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N.H. House Asserts Independence From Feds On Gun & Election Laws; Right-To-Work Bill Fails

N.H. General Court


Updated 10:00 p.m: The New Hampshire House is in session Thursday, while the Senate votes on the state budget. We’ll update this story with the leading developments on gun legislation, a minimum wage bill and more.

The New Hampshire House of Representatives has voted to block state and local law enforcement from enforcing federal limits on guns.

The bill passed 199-177 in the House Thursday and has already passed the Senate in a different form. Republicans say the bill is needed because of President Biden’s indication earlier this year that he may take executive action to tighten gun laws.

Though Biden hasn’t yet pushed sweeping federal gun restrictions, the bill’s proponents, like Goffstown Republican John Burt, said New Hampshire needs to protect itself now.

“Senate Bill 154 inhibits any agency of the state from having to enforce any executive order, federal regulation, or law that has the effect of restricting or regulating the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” Burt said.

Democrats fought the bill by arguing it could make New Hampshire more attractive to interstate gun traffickers and more dangerous for everybody else.

“Our laws should be about tying the hands of criminals, not tying the hands of law enforcement,” Portsmouth Democrat Rep. David Meuse said.

Rep. Manny Espitia of Nashua was also among the  Democrats questioning the bill’s constitutionality. Espitia warned this bill would make it harder for local police to combat hate crimes. He recently faced online threats from a white supremacist  group after he called out  racist graffiti in Nashua. 

“New Hampshire law enforcement may not be able to cooperate with Department of Justice officials with white nationalist groups or armed militias in this state where firearms are involved, creating further harm for Granite Staters of color,” Espitia said.

The House’s Republican-majority also voted through SB141 to end the state’s gun check line for handgun purchases. If the bill becomes law, New Hampshire would join many other states in relying entirely on the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS.

This bill had divided gun rights activists. The House Criminal Justice committee recommended the House reject the bill in a bipartisan vote.

But some of the House’s most staunch Second Amendment activists pushed the bill on the floor Thursday. They overcame a Republican motion to table the proposal and additional efforts by Democrats to derail the measure.

Asserting full state control of elections

The New Hampshire House also voted Thursday along party lines for a proposal that Republicans --  and top state election officials -- hope will blunt a sweeping federal election bill now pending in the U.S. Senate.

The GOP-backed bill asserts New Hampshire will retain "full force and effect" over elections for state offices even if the federal bill, known as the ‘For the People Act,’ becomes law.

Manchester Rep. Ross Berry told colleagues the move is needed to ensure state elections adhere to the state constitution.

"The so-called ‘For the People Act’ is a massive power grab by DC.” Berry said. “So we brought forth this amendment, which is supported by the Secretary of State's office.”

Democrats, like Rep. Paul Bergeron of Nashua, meanwhile, argued that efforts to block the federal law, which has passed the U.S. House but faces an uncertain future in the Senate, will only cause problems.

“Passage of this amendment will cost the state thousands of dollars in unnecessary litigation, violate the supremacy clause of U.S. Constitution, double the work of election officials, increase costs to taxpayers, and create vast unnecessary confusion for voters across this state,” Bergeron said.

Among other things, the federal election bill would require mandatory early voting and automatic voter registration, which aren't allowed under New Hampshire law.

Members of New Hampshire's all-Democratic congressional delegation back the bill and say it will expand voting rights by, among other things, outlawing photo ID requirements for voting and limiting partisan gerrymandering.

'Right to Work' Bill Falls Short

A bill to bar unions from forcing non-members to pay the costs of representation failed Thursday in the Republican-led New Hampshire House. Lawmakers then moved to push of any future debate of the issue until 2023.

So-called “Right to Work” bills have tended to have a tough go in the House over the years, but this time was supposed to be different. But the fact that it wasn’t different was apparent from the top of the debate, when the head of the House Labor Committee announced there was a need to make late changes to the bill: to remove a prohibition on picketing, and to strip out of criminal penalties, which Representative Will infantine acknowledged were ill-considered.

“Let’s be honest, when it comes to labor laws, they are all civil, we don’t people in jail,” Infantine.

A series of votes then showed the bill lacked the support in needed. At one point, Majority Leader Jason Osborne asked the House to end debate before the bill could be voted down.

“Would I at least refrain from rubbing salt in that wound by laying the bill on the table?” Osborne said.

Ultimately, the House took the relatively rare step of indefinitely postponing debate of the bill, which means the House can’t take another crack at passing it until 2023.

Senate Passes GOP-Crafted Budget Plan

The Republican-led New Hampshire Senate approved a $13.5 billion two-year state budget late Thursday evening, after rejecting attempts by Democrats to remove proposed business tax cuts, abortion restrictions and a thorny provision about race and education.

The Senate, where Republicans hold a 14-10 majority, voted along party lines on both the spending plan and the accompanying policy bill during a session that lasted more than 11 hours.

The bills now must be reconciled with the versions passed by the House last month. The Senate budget includes a ban on abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

(Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.)

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
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