Every year the New Hampshire House of Representatives reconvenes the first full week of January. In non-election years, their first order of business is voting on bills kept in committee for more work over the summer and fall. This year is notable because there are several major policy changes coming out of committee. Representatives have scheduled a three-day voting marathon for these bills January 5, 6, and 7.
Blocking the federal vaccine mandate
One of the most significant policy proposals coming out of committee is a complete rewrite of HB 255. That bill was originally intended to limit liability related to COVID-19. The majority of a House committee is recommending a rewrite that instead blocks any business or organization from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine. This new version of HB 255 is aimed at President Biden’s federal vaccine mandate.
Writing on behalf of the committee, Rep. Rick Ladd said, “This unnecessary mandate is trampling state powers and imposing new burdens on employers when they can least afford it, an infringement on personal rights, and making life harder for the unvaccinated who want to work in an economy with already too few workers.”
If HB 255 becomes law, however, businesses and organizations will have to choose between following state or federal law, then face the consequences for violating one or the other. In the case of federal contractors and health care providers, defying the federal vaccine mandate would result in a loss of federal funds.
Gov. Chris Sununu also supports the right of employers to mandate vaccines if they so choose. Some health care providers in New Hampshire chose to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for staff before any federal mandate.
There are a few lawsuits related to Biden’s vaccine orders making their way through the court system.
Whether or not HB 255 passes in January, there are many new 2022 bills related to the COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine mandates. Explore these bills on our Public Health and Safety topic page (https://www.citizenscount.org/topic/public-health-and-safety).
Repealing the ultrasound mandate before abortion
HB 2, part of 2021 state budget legislation, included a ban on abortion after 24 weeks with very limited exceptions. The bill also included a requirement for an obstetric ultrasound before any abortion. Now a majority of the House Judiciary committee has rewritten a bill, HB 622, to repeal the ultrasound requirement.
Pro-choice advocates condemn the ultrasound requirement as an unnecessary medical intrusion and financial burden.
Rep. Joe Alexander, the lone Republican on the Judiciary committee who voted to repeal the ultrasound requirement, said, “I’m in favor of removing the ultrasound requirement because it is a medical procedure that already happens. By removing that, we are able to keep the (24 week) ban in place while also addressing some concerns that were in HB 2.”
On behalf of the other Republicans on the Judiciary committee, Rep. Kurt Wuelper wrote, “removing the ultrasound requirement prior to an abortion of a baby even close to the 24-week threshold of the law creates an immediate and substantial risk to the mother’s health.”
Repealing the ultrasound requirement would not prevent doctors from choosing to use ultrasound imaging.
Abortion is likely to be a hot topic in the 2022 election season, and there are several new 2022 bills related to abortion. Explore the issue on our Abortion and Contraception topic page. (https://www.citizenscount.org/topic/abortion-and-contraception)
Local “Education Freedom Account” program
Last year the Legislature passed a new Education Freedom Account program, somewhat similar to a school voucher program. The Education Freedom Account program lets students apply to spend their per-pupil share of state education funding on private or home school expenses. HB 607 would create a similar, parallel program that allows students to apply for some of their share of local education funding. That local funding varies from district to district but can total over $10,000 per year. 60% of a school district would have to vote in favor of participating in the program.
Supporters of HB 607 argue these local Education Freedom Account scholarships would empower students to seek out the education best suited to their needs. They also point out that this program would only operate in districts with very strong support, a 60% supermajority.
Opponents argue that HB 607 could have a dramatic, negative impact on public school funding and local property taxes. They also criticized committee members for approving a rewrite of the bill with very little public notice. The bill amendment did not come with a fiscal note explaining its overall financial impact.
There is another aspect of HB 607 that is either a “pro” or a “con,” depending on who you talk to: there is no family income cap for students to participate.
Every ten years New Hampshire must redraw its electoral districts, based on U.S. Census population data, so that each elected official represents roughly the same number of people. After committee work over the summer and fall, in January the state House of Representatives will vote on major changes to their own districts as well as the two U.S. House districts.
Republicans are supporting a redrawn congressional map that places a majority of right-leaning voters in the first district and a majority of left-leaning voters in the second district. Several seacoast towns and cities would move from the first district to the second district, which has historically covered western and northern New Hampshire.
When presenting the redrawn congressional map, Republican legislators said it was an attempt to bring more towns and cities along the Massachusetts border together under the first district. The redrawn map’s districts are also almost identical in population size.
Other Republicans, such as Rep. Bob Lynn, admitted that “political considerations,” namely consolidating Republican voters, were a factor in their decision.
Democrats, and even some Republicans, have labeled the congressional proposal “gerrymandering.” Former Republican congressional candidate Matt Mayberry wrote, “To suddenly move Dover, Rochester and Somersworth in with the community of Nashua and Littleton is far-fetched and blatantly political. To create a ‘red district’ and a ‘blue district’ reflects the designers of this map’s innate distrust of the people of New Hampshire.” (https://www.wmur.com/article/former-nhgop-vice-chair-mayberry-opposes-republican-congressional-map/38257473)
The redrawn state representative districts have garnered less attention but will likely generate just as much floor debate. New Hampshire has a constitutional requirement that every town or ward with sufficient population be provided its own representative district. However, every legislator must represent roughly the same number of people, so it’s not as simple as giving each of New Hampshire’s 234 cities and towns their own representative. Some towns and wards are pulled together under the same district, and some districts may include more voters than others.
This year, Democrats argue that in several cases the Republicans could give more towns their own, unique representatives. Republicans argue that would result in too much variation in district size. There is also debate over whether Manchester is entitled to 32 or 33 representatives.
Any redrawn maps that pass the House must go through the Senate and face Gov. Sununu for a signature or veto. Redistricting bills also often result in lawsuits. Click here to learn about New Hampshire’s last round of redistricting, which ended up in the Supreme Court. (https://www.citizenscount.org/issues/redistricting)
And many, many other bills…
The bills highlighted above will be some of the biggest debates the first week of January, but there are many other bills worth paying attention to.
For example, HB 238 would ban the so-called “gay panic” or “LGBTQ panic” defense in court. A bipartisan majority of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee supports passing the bill.
HB 275 would further limit the governor’s emergency powers. In particular, the governor would only be allowed to renew a 21-day state of emergency three times.
SB 68 and SB 69 are a pair of bills that would require employers to accommodate pregnant and nursing employees. While both bills passed the Senate last year, the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs committee recommends passing just one of the bills with an amendment that pairs it back to only cover government employees.
We will update the Citizens Count website with all of the January bill votes. You can also browse the 2022 bills coming up for debate. Visit https://www.citizenscount.org/bills to learn more.
Citizens Count is a nonprofit serving the New Hampshire community by providing objective information about issues, elected officials, bills, elections, and candidates. These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.