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In Final Day Of Session Shaped By Pandemic, N.H. Lawmakers Pass Raft Of Last-Minute Bills

Dan Tuohy / NHPR
Members of the New Hampshire House, meeting at the UNH Whittemore Center to allow for social distancing, take the Pledge of Allegiance before Tuesday's session.

The New Hampshire Legislature wrapped up business for the 2020 session Tuesday, marking the end of perhaps the most unusual legislative session in history, with the State House essentially closed since March and lawmakers conducting much of their work remotely.

In its final meeting of the year, the New Hampshire House’s agenda ran the gamut. It included sweeping bills dealing with victims’ rights, telehealth, election law, environmental pollution, and the ten-year highway plan, among others.

Some issues were voted on as standalone bills, many were packaged as omnibus measures. Due to missed deadlines and partisan fights over rules, Democratic leadership in the House were limited to voting on Senate-backed proposals as is. Some votes were bipartisan, but many others fell along party lines.

The House backed a sweeping criminal justice bill that would, among other things, ban police from using chokeholds. The bill would also bar the state from placing prisoners in for-profit prisons, require all police recruits to undergo psychological evaluations, and modify the state’s bail policies. 

Hampton Democrat Rep. Renny Cushing told colleagues that, especially given the current attention to police behavior, New Hampshire needs to act.

“At this particular moment in time, when we are conscious of what the powers and duties are and what the responsibilities of law enforcement are, it’s an important message that New Hampshire makes, when we prohibit the use of chokeholds,” Cushing said.

Gov. Chris Sununu has said he favors banning chokeholds, and he urged lawmakers to send him a bill that would do so.

But Sununu is expected to veto many other bills passed in the waning days of this year’s session, including ones to raise the minimum wage and create an independent redistricting commission.

The New Hampshire House also voted Tuesday to send Sununu several bills to enhance the rights of victims of sexual assault. Among the proposals is one that would outlaw sexual contact between teachers and students, regardless of a student's age. It was inspired by the case of former Concord High School teacher Howie Leung, who is charged with sexually assaulting a student in Massachusetts.

The bill also creates a special marriage officiant licenses. Proceeds from the licenses would flow into the state’s domestic violence fund.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
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