N.H. House Votes To Expand Gun Laws and Passes Republican-Backed Education Bills | New Hampshire Public Radio

N.H. House Votes To Expand Gun Laws and Passes Republican-Backed Education Bills

Feb 25, 2021

The N.H. House met Feb. 24-25 at the NH Sportsplex in Bedford.
Credit Dan Tuohy / NHPR / NHPR

The New Hampshire House met again on Thursday at an indoor sports facility in Bedford.

At the start of the session, Speaker Sherman Packard addressed partisan tension from the day before, when most Democrats walked out in protest over an anti-abortion bill, and at least one lawmaker was locked out of a vote.

"Mistakes were made, if they were mistakes, [they] must never happen again,” Packard said. “For many years, the friction between the two parties is becoming deeper and deeper. The partisanship is getting worse."

The partisan tensions continued into Thursday’s session as some Democrats accused the Republican House speaker of ignoring their requests to speak.

The House voted on bills addressing a variety of issues, including criminal justice, housing and education reform.

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Members passed HB 197, a bill that would expand that state's "stand your ground" law. Under the current law, in certain situations, New Hampshire citizens have the right to use deadly force against another person outside their own home. This bill would now extend that right to their vehicles.

Rep. Daryl Abbas, a Republican of Salem, is the chairman for the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. He spoke in support of the bill.

"If article 2A of the New Hampshire constitution allows a person the right to bear arms to protect yourself, your family, your property and your state, it's only natural that our written laws would allow you to protect yourself and your family to the same degree inside your vehicle as if you were inside your home,” Abbas said.

Democrats who opposed the bill raised concerns over a potential increase in violent road rage incidents.

The House voted against a bill that would have limited the use of rubber bullets and tear gas by police.

HB 564 was filed in direct response to demands from local Black Lives Matter chapters for police reform in New Hampshire, and members of those local chapters helped write the legislation.

Democratic Rep. Linda Harriott-Gathright of Nashua made a motion to table the bill for further consideration, but the Republican majority in the House voted to kill the bill.

The House also voted 175 to 172 to table a bi-partisan bill that would have offered municipalities incentives to build more affordable housing. 

The legislation, HB 586, which had support from Governor Chris Sununu, would have allowed municipalities to establish revitalization districts to build housing. It also would have modified the processes for appealing zoning decisions and fees for posting bonds, and it would have provided free, voluntary training to planning and zoning board members.

Goffstown Republican Representative Barbara Griffin, who moved to table the bill on Thursday, said it would shift costs to local boards, and override the planning and zoning process that communities already have.

“This bill needs work,” she said. 

Joe Alexander, another Republican Representative from Goffstown, was the bill’s prime sponsor. He urged members to vote against the motion to table,“so we can have a real conversation about planning responsibly for New Hampshire’s future.” 

Alexander said that the bill did not include any mandates for local boards.

“I’ve had many people reach out and express regrets that this has been tabled. There are businesses that can’t be here [in New Hampshire] due to lack of housing for their workforce,” he said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon.

Similar housing legislation stalled during the 2020 legislative session because of COVID delays. 

The state’s vacancy rate is less than 2 percent, according to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority. Advocates say that's a big reason why the state needs more affordable housing policies.

Lawmakers also approved several Republican-backed education bills. One of them, HB 242, modifies the definition of an "adequate education" for K-12 students. The bill adds logic, geography, personal financial literacy and several other subjects to the list of what schools must teach. According to state law, the cost of this adequate education must be covered by the state. 

The bill's primary sponsor, Republican Rick Ladd, said a clearer definition of adequate would keep the state from being asked to cover schools' ancillary and non-essential costs.

"We cannot default that to local school districts and let them decide on what adequate is. We will certainly have unsustainable budgets in the future if we do,” he said.

The bill also requires schools that aren't meeting state performance standards to note this on their website and to alert parents, and it requires high schools to offer graduation credit for students who have completed state-approved alternative programs.

“Your local school board will have no ability to say ‘Stop! Hey, that’s junk. We’re not going to go do that,’” said Democrat Rep. Dave Luneau. 

Luneau and other Democratic opponents of the bill say it doesn't properly address the financial woes of poor school districts with low student achievement.