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In narrow vote, N.H. House kills controversial parental rights bill opposed by Sununu

The New Hampshire Senate approved the parental rights bill in a party-line vote, but it died in the House after some Republicans joined Democrats to block it.
Sarah Gibson
The New Hampshire Senate approved the parental rights bill in a party-line vote, but the measure died in the House after some Republicans joined Democrats to block it.

Republicans failed to muster enough support at the State House Thursday to pass a controversial parental rights bill that Gov. Chris Sununu was already vowing to veto. While the bill passed the Senate on party lines, it narrowly died in the House, after some Republican lawmakers joined with Democrats in opposition.

House Bill 1431 would have expanded parents' oversight over their kids' curriculum and activities at public schools. And it would have expanded parents’ ability to sue schools and teachers over grievances.

Championed by conservative activists and lawmakers, the measure garnered support from some local parents who lamented a lack of communication from their local school districts during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also arrived in New Hampshire as legislation is being introduced by Republican lawmakers across the country to regulate how issues of race, racism, sexuality and gender are discussed in classrooms.

Ed Groves Jr.  of Hooksett
Dan Tuohy
Ed Groves Jr., of Hooksett, joined a rally at the State House in support of the parental rights bill on Thursday.

Critics, including civil rights organizations and mental health advocates, warned that it prioritized parental authority over the rights of children and would require schools to effectively “out” LGBTQ+ students to their parents without their consent. The Attorney General’s office also warned that the bill could violate state anti-discrimination laws, prompting Sununu to announce that he would veto the legislation if it reached his desk.

Despite the governor’s opposition, Republicans in the New Hampshire senate unanimously rallied behind it.

“The point of all of this is that parents love their kids,” Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley said during final floor debates on Thursday. “And keeping secrets by the government or an arm of the government is flat out wrong.“

But Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, a Democrat who spent decades as a teacher and coach, said this was a mischaracterization of the relationship between educators and their students.

“I've never considered myself an ‘arm’ of government,” he said. “I'm a product of the government; I'm a civil servant.”

Sen. Lou D'Allesandro (D) speaks against the parental rights bill.
Dan Touhy
Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, a Democrat from Manchester, speaks against the parental rights bill.

In the week prior to the vote, lawmakers received a flurry of emails and calls from national and local advocacy groups on both sides of the issue. The organization RebuildNH, which formed during the pandemic to protest public health restrictions, paid for billboards across southern New Hampshire urging people to ask lawmakers to support the bill.

After the house vote, RebuildNH listed the Republicans who voted against the parental rights bill and urged people to run for office to replace them.

“We need more elected officials who understand that defending the rights of parents must be the top priority for New Hampshire right now, particularly following two years of unprecedented state power,” wrote Rep. Melissa Blasek, a Republican representative from Merrimack who serves as RebuildNH's executive director.

But some of the state’s most prominent child advocacy groups, including Waypoint (formerly Child and Family Services) and New Futures, issued a sigh of relief after the bill failed. Other education advocacy groups also welcomed the news.

“Children need to feel safe and welcomed in order to reach their highest academic achievement,” wrote Jenn Bisson, founder of the school funding advocacy group Support Our Schools New Hampshire. “We are so thankful to all the legislators that voted to reject this extreme legislation.”

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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