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As Republicans rally to revive 'parental bill of rights,' Sununu says he will veto

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Ali Oshinskie
/
NHPR
The bill has also drawn sharp criticism locally from those who said it would harm LGBTQ+ students.

Echoing concerns raised by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office that the measure could violate anti-discrimination laws, Gov. Chris Sununu said he plans to veto a controversial “parents' bill of rights” backed by other top New Hampshire Republicans.

“This bill as written creates numerous challenges for kids,” Sununu said in a statement issued Thursday. “I share the concerns of the Attorney General and as such, will veto the bill if it reaches my desk.”

The latest version of the bill would expand New Hampshire parents' access to information about clubs, counseling and curriculum in their child’s school. It could also require schools to out LGBTQ+ students to their parents against a student’s wishes, by requiring schools to notify parents if, for example, a student participates in a club for LGBTQ+ students and allies, or begins using different pronouns at school.

Responding to the Attorney General’s concerns, lawmakers negotiating the final terms of the bill added in a “savings provision” that would preserve some parts of the law even if other clauses were “declared invalid or unenforceable.” The bill is expected to go before the House and Senate for a full vote next week.

It comes amidst a nationwide push from Republicans to limit how issues of race, racism, sexuality and gender are discussed in class, as schools make efforts to become more inclusive of marginalized students. It also drew support from local parents who expressed frustration about a breakdown in trust and transparency with their school districts during the pandemic.

Supporters include high-ranking Republicans, including New Hampshire Senate President and U.S. Senate candidate Chuck Morse, and Reopen NH, a conservative group that’s rallied around efforts to limit the power of government institutions, including schools. In recent days, as the bill appeared dead, Reopen NH urged its members to lobby Republican lawmakers to bring it back to life.

But the bill has also drawn sharp criticism locally from those who said it would harm students, particularly those navigating their gender identity. Among those raising the alarm are LGBTQ+ advocates, civil rights groups and teachers unions.

State Sen. Becky Whitley, a Democrat from Hopkinton, was one of several lawmakers removed from the bill's negotiating committee after voicing concerns about its potential impact.

“The exclusion of any children's rights is going to elevate parental rights over that of children and I find that so sad and so problematic,” Whitley said Thursday.

Also removed from the negotiating committee was Rep. Kim Rice, a Republican from Hudson, who moved to kill the bill after the Attorney General raised concerns about its effects on LGBTQ+ students and anti-domestic violence advocates said it could force schools to share confidential information with potential abusers.

Late in the negotiations, House Speaker Sherman Packard replaced Rice with Majority Leader Rep. Jason Osborne, who has aligned himself with the parental rights movement and accused local teachers of indoctrinating kids with “Marxist theories.”

“I think it’s pretty clear that when children need help, their best chance of getting that is when parents know what’s going on,” Osborne said.

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