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N.H. House and Senate GOP are still negotiating a proposed 'parental bill of rights'

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Jimmy Gutierrez
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NHPR
LGBTQ+ rights groups, civil rights advocates, teachers unions and Democrats have raised alarm over the Senate's version of the bill, saying it would effectively require schools to “out” a student’s gender identity to their parents.

House and Senate Republicans are continuing to negotiate a proposed “parental bill of rights,” but the two chambers face broad differences over the controversial legislation.

The original version, from the House, would establish a host of rights for parents, including the right to direct their child’s education in public school, review curricula, access all school records regarding their child, and be notified if an employee suspects a crime has been committed against the child.

The Senate-passed version would take that further, requiring the school to notify parents every time their child joined a class, club, or sports team, or sought medical attention or counseling, as well as every time a school employee had “taken action” involving school policies related to a student’s “gender expression and identity.”

That latter version, which passed the Senate along party lines earlier this month and has been opposed by LGBTQ+ rights groups and Democrats, will be the subject of debate in the coming weeks. Critics have said the measure effectively would require schools to “out” a student’s gender identity to their parents.

In a vote earlier this month, the House declined to concur with a Senate version of the bill, House Bill 1431, sending the matter to a “committee of conference” to find a compromise.

Now, three members of the Senate — Sen. Sharon Carson, a Londonderry Republican, Sen. Bill Gannon, a Sandown Republican, and Sen. Becky Whitley, a Hopkinton Democrat — are tasked with working with four House members — Rep. Kimberly Rice, a Hudson Republican, Rep. Debra DeSimone, an Atkinson Republican, Rep. Jodi Nelson, a Derry Republican, and Rep. Denise Smith, a Pelham Republican — to get to that compromise.

The parental bill of rights committee of conference will meet Tuesday at 2 p.m. Members of the committee must reach a conclusion by 4 p.m. on Thursday, at which time the committee must either propose a compromise or report that no agreement could be reached. The full House and Senate would then have a chance to vote on any compromise proposed.

At least one Republican House member on the committee has voiced concerns about the Senate’s changes — particularly the requirement that schools tell parents about their children’s decisions to seek counseling or explore their gender identity.

“The main issue for me is that … it says in the bill that the counselors or teachers or whomever are to tell or report to the parents any and all discussions with that student,” DeSimone said in an interview Friday. “Well, that’s great in a perfect world. We don’t have a perfect world. We have parents who are abusive. We have parents who are neglectful. We cannot take the chance on having a child go to a counselor, talk about the fact that they are feeling suicidal because of parental abuse, because they have no place to go, things like that.”

Whether that opposition will be shared by DeSimone’s fellow House Republican members on the committee is not clear. The committee’s chairwoman, Rice, was not immediately available to comment Friday.

The Senate introduced the amendment requiring schools to inform parents of a student’s chosen gender identity in the classroom relatively late in the process, and the language has not received a public hearing. Senate Republicans say the measure would allow parents to be kept in the loop on their child’s struggles with or interest in their gender identity, and argued it could allow parents to grow closer to their children.

The amendment has been widely opposed by LGBTQ+ rights groups, civil rights advocates, teachers unions, and Democrats, who say it will interfere with a child’s ability to explore questions around their gender identity without fearing that their parents find out.

DeSimone echoed that concern.

“If the parent is not going to be receptive, it’s only going to cause further issues with the child,” DeSimone said. “So I think that that aspect of it needs to be addressed – seriously addressed.”

Speaking Friday, Whitley, the lone Democrat on the committee of conference, said she would oppose both the House and the Senate versions of the parental bill of rights, arguing that both could interfere with children’s rights.

Whitley pointed to opposition the House version had drawn from Division for Children, Youth, and Families Director Joe Ribsam, who had told House lawmakers in a letter that the bill could impede the ability of schools to carry out child protection investigations. Former state child advocate Moira O’Neill also spoke in opposition to the bill, days before she retired.

Whitley argues that the earlier version could give “free license to abusive parents” and said the House version “still has big problems.”

Carson has attempted to amend the bill by adding in language stating that the new law does not “restrict the authority of the Department of Health and Human Services, Division for Children, Youth, and Families” and does not allow parents to abuse their children. House lawmakers rejected that amendment and all other Senate amendments when they voted to non-concur with the Senate’s changes, but it could survive through the committee of conference process.

Whitley’s opposition could mean she will be replaced on the committee; the House speaker and Senate Republicans are allowed to swap out appointed members of their own chambers in order to bring the committee of conference to a desired agreement.

New Hampshire Bulletin is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: info@newhampshirebulletin.com. Follow New Hampshire Bulletin on Facebook and Twitter.

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