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N.H.’s legislative session is dominated by vaccines, environment, energy and abortion

N.H.’s legislative session is dominated by vaccines, environment, energy and abortion

While lawmakers won’t have a budget to debate, write, or negotiate this session of the legislature, it will be another busy one with at least 9000 bills still awaiting their return on January 5. We already mentioned some of the under-the-radar bills last month. We are back with a preview, starting with the COVID-19 vaccine, limits on abortion, education funding and voting rights.

Vaccine

Last session’s most important COVID-19 vaccination legislation prohibits local and state governments from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for employees. (Though Gov. Chris Sununu, who signed immunization freedom legislation, SeptemberHe said that he believes that public schools could still require the vaccine for staff, despite the legislation.

Expect the COVID-19 debate to return with over 30 bills that cover everything from vaccine limits and mandates, to a vaccine wellness incentive.

House Bill 1481Would repeal the immunization liberty bill, House Bill 1332This would allow the mandate prohibition to be maintained, but exempt the state university system and community colleges systems.

Nine lawmakers, including Jason Osborne, an Auburn Republican House Majority Leader, are pushing for private employers and postsecondary schools to automatically accept vaccine exemption requests that cite religious, medical, or conscientious objectionor reasons.

This legislation House Bill 1210Employers claim that this would eliminate the discretion employers currently have to assess the merits of exemption requests. Employers claim Requests for religious exemptionsThey are outnumbering medical reasons, which is a significant change since COVID-19. Many are already granting the requests and focusing instead on what accommodations can be offered, such as requiring employees to cover up at work or testing regularly for the virus.

Expect heated discussions over House Bill 1606The state’s new vaccine registry would be changed from opt-out into opt-in. Critics say this will result in fewer participants and a less reliable public-health database.

House Bill 1633It would make compulsory that students receive the COVID-19 vaccination in order to be able to attend school, colleges, or universities. Sherman Packard (House Speaker), a Londonderry Republican is the prime sponsor. House Bill 1455The law would prohibit the state’s enforcement of federal vaccine mandates on large employers, federal contract workers, and health care workers.

Senator Cindy Rosenwald, a Nashua Democrat is taking a new approach to workplace COVID-19 vaccinations Senate Bill 319It would be a requirement for health insurance companies that offer a wellness financial incentive to employees who choose to get fully vaccinated.

Energy

House Bill 549,Rep. Michael Vose (an Epping Republican) would sponsor the state’s energy efficiency programs with incremental increases in the system benefits charge the portion your electric bill that pays for the energy efficiency programs through NHSaves.

This plan would reverse a recent decisionThe Public Utilities Commission has decided to reduce funding for NHSaves. This ruling has been opposed by environmental groups, advocates of clean energies, and the consumer advocate and led to a Lawsuit.

The plan would increase programs budget by between $5 million and $10 million per year, according to a minority report of a committee written by Rep. Douglas Thomas, who is a Londonderry Republican. However, others have put the estimate lower.

Dover Democrat Sen. David Watters is proposing a similar plan through Senate Bill 270The bill includes four Republican cosponsors.

The Senate will vote on Offshore windWith Senate Bill 151This would allow New Hampshire to purchase this type of power. Watters has presented two proposals. One aims to get New Hampshire a place at the table when it is time to plan offshore wind development. The other adds criteria for power purchase agreements within the Gulf of Maine to New Hampshire law.

Education

One of the education bills currently before legislators this week will likely take up most of the room’s oxygen: House Bill 607. The bill would establish a localized version education savings accounts, which is similar to the voucher-like program that was passed into law this year.

The legislation allows school district voters to decide whether to open savings accounts that allow parents to divert local education funding to private schooling or homeschooling.

The current program allows parents in all school districts to use the state share of public education funds. This is typically around $4,600 per pupil per year. This can be used for private school tuition and textbooks, tutors or laptops, learning materials, transportation, and standard test entries.

The new program would allow parents to access the school funding that local taxpayers have raised for their children. It would be available to them in participating school districts. The amount will vary from $5,000 to $20,000 per student.

Republicans have hailed this legislation as a continuation and reimagining for public education. The legislation focuses on passing money directly to parents, not public schools.

Democrats fear the program will pose a threat in public schools and could increase property taxes. It could also exacerbate inequities among towns.

Expect heated debates when the bill hits its floor.

Democrats will, however, continue to press for House Bill 136This week, the bill requires schools to update their software so students can choose to identify their gender nonbinary. Republicans claim the bill is unnecessary as schools already have the ability to create a nonbinary box. Democrats argue it is necessary to require all school districts to acknowledge their nonbinary students.

The Senate is also considering the matter House Bill 349This would remove the requirement for school nurses to be certified by state boards of education.

Meanwhile, the Senate Education Committee and House Education Committee have a packed agenda for the rest of the 2021 session. This includes discussions about what can and cannot go into classrooms. Months after passing legislation Certain teachings about gender and race should be restrictedIn New Hampshire, Republicans are racing for it to be expanded while Democrats want its repeal.

House Bill 1313The restrictions commonly referred as the divisive concept law would be expanded to the state public universities and colleges.

And House Bill 1255Teachers loyalty would be a new section of the law that would prohibit school teachers promoting any doctrine or theory that favors a negative account of or representation of the history and founding of the United States of America.

Two bills were introduced by Democrats that would abolish existing teaching restrictions. The Democratic legislature has filed a flood of bills to repeal the existing teaching restrictions.

Abortion

The state’s last session saw the adoption ban. It banned abortions after 24 week and mandated an ultrasound. It makes no exceptions for rape or incest and does not include criminal penalties for those who violate it.

House Bill 1609The current law would include rape and incest as exceptions, as well as fetal anomaly. Senate Bill 399The ban would be repealed completely.

Although some abortion-related bills will not be sent to the governors’ desk, they will still generate a lively debate in a state that has all bills heard.

This includes House Bill 1181This would allow a person who claims to be the father or mother of an unborn child to ask for a court to stop an abortion without requiring a DNA test. Only if the mother disagreed with the man’s claims would a test be required. For married people, paternity would automatically be assumed.

House Bill 1477Sununu stated that he supports a 24-week ban on abortions, but not one as restrictive.

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Voting rights

To overturn Sununus’ veto in either chamber, a two thirds majority is required House Bill 98,This requires that the date of the September primary election for the state be moved to Tuesday, August 2.

Proponents claim that an earlier primary would equalize the playing field and allow new candidates to campaign against incumbents. The change would also allow communities to process overseas ballots faster and allow military personnel to vote earlier than federal deadlines. Sununu vetoed the bill because an August date would fall when many Granite Staters were on vacation, thus lowering voter turnout.

House Bill 144We propose to modify the application form for absentee voting in order to make it more clear for voters. It is accompanied by a bipartisan, unanimous committee recommendation that it be passed.

The Newly redrawn voting mapThe House will vote on congressional, House, or county commissioner districts.

Critics have labeled the proposed congressional districts maps from the Special House Committee on Redistricting a gerrymander to make the 1st Congressional District friendly to Republicans and more Democratic. To tweak the maps further, it is possible to introduce floor amendments.

Environment

Drinking water will remain a major topic. The House is scheduled to vote. House Bill 478Saint Gobain Performance Plastics would have to pay to install and maintain filters for Merrimack wells that were contaminated with PFAS, which is a toxic chemical that can cause severe health effects.

The current maintenance agreement between Merrimack & the company will expire at the end 2023. However, treatment is expected to continue for longer periods. The Judiciary Committee will recommend that the bill be voted inexpediently to legislate.

House Bill 611Fluoridation, a public-health measure to prevent tooth decay, is being eliminated from drinking water. It is currently used in 10 public water systems. The Resources, Recreation and Development Committee split 12-9 in favor of recommending that the bill pass. The bill’s proponents argue that using fluoride on the skin is a better way of preventing cavities and gives parents more control. Those opposed argue that fluoridation can be safe, effective and cost-effective to reduce tooth decay by up to 25%.

House Bill 172It would establish state goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and create an action plan. The House Science, Technology and Energy Committee approved, 11-12, that it be voted not expedient to legislate.

The ongoing debate about how the state should manage solid refuse will continue in the next session. This was one of the most heated environmental debates that has ever taken place, centered around a Dalton landfill proposal.

House Bill 1274A study committee is proposed to examine solid waste practices in state agencies. House Bill 1420New Hampshire prohibits the construction of new landfills until the state solid waste plan has been updated.

Also up for discussion is the creation of a bottle law. New Hampshire is the only New England state that does not have such legislation.

New Hampshire Bulletin is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: info@newhampshirebulletin.com. Follow New Hampshire Bulletin Facebook and Twitter.

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