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Maneuvering By GOP House Leadership Kept Transgender Bill From Moving Forward

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

A bill that would add gender identity to New Hampshire’s anti-discrimination laws was all but killed by the Republican controlled House Thursday without debate.

But it wasn't easy, as the bill’s fate was in doubt for much of the day.

The Republican strategy for defeating the bill was simple: prevent a straight up or down vote by the full House. That meant voting to table the bill, and then keeping it there. But with Democrats united in their support of the transgender rights bill, GOP leaders had to make sure they maintained a majority in the chamber throughout the day to ensure the bill was not removed from the table.

“I ordered a bunch of seatbelts for Republicans," Majority Leader Dick Hinch said with a laugh.

Hinch was the man tasked with keeping GOP lawmakers in the House chamber throughout the nearly eight hour-long session.

Although lawmakers were expecting Thursday to be a late night, Republican leadership worked to speed things up.

First they passed a motion to limit debate on each bill.

Credit Paige Sutherland/NHPR
Sarah Huckman, 16, of Wolfeboro says she's been discriminated against for being transgender. Huckman said she was disappointed by Thursday's outcome but says she'll continue to fight for equal rights.

Then they requested a vote to end the session early – despite a handful of bills still left unheard. Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff questioned Speaker Shawn Jasper on how this would work. 

“Did I understand the Speaker correctly say that the bills with recommendations ought to pass will now die,” Shurtleff said. “They will now die but without prejudice,” Japser said.

Although that motion failed, Democrat Marjorie Smith, who’s spent two decades in the House, said the effort showed little respect for legislative tradition.

“Unconscionable to do something like to say that what the committees done matters none at all – that we are not a deliberative body,” Smith said sternly.

Democrats did  attempt to revive debate on the transgender bill, which would have added gender identity to the state’s anti-discrimination statutes but that effort fell flat - 168 to 180.

Representative Renny Cushing, who co-sponsored the bill, called Republican’s maneuvering on the bill a “act of moral cowardice”.

"Unfortunately the majority did not have the benefit of a five hour public hearing where they could listen to stories of real human beings whose lives are really affected by this," said Rep. Renny Cushing, who's a co-sponsor of the bill.

“Unfortunately the majority did not have the benefit of a five hour public hearing where they could listen to stories of real human beings whose lives are really affected by this," Cushing said referring to the public hearing in the House Health and Human Services Committee who supported the bill 15-2.

Opponents; however, said the bill would have made it easier for male predators to assault women, offering anecdotes involving public restrooms. Jasper, who lead the effort to oppose the bill, declined to speak to NHPR Thursday

But Linds Jakows of Freedom New Hampshire, a nonpartisan coalition on transgender rights, says there’s just no evidence to support those claims.

“All of the fears and lies that our opposition have put forth are incredibly unfounded," Jakows said. "This is real people, it’s not a hypothetical concept and they should be able to look these families in the face and give an up or down vote.”

Democrats can still try to bring the bill off the table this session but this time they’ll need a 2/3rd’s majority vote, which seems  unlikely after Thursday’s events.

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