Concord update: Legislative activity picks up as ‘crossover’ nears
Since my last update to you, I have had COVID “on and off and on and off again.” After testing positive on March 3, I tested negative and was able to attend the House session on March 9. Unfortunately, I again tested positive on March 11 which caused me to miss the House session on March 16. As I write this on March 19, I am negative and keeping my fingers crossed that I will be able to “do my job” to represent you - my constituents from Hampton - in Concord when the full House next meets on March 22 and 23.
Except for the House Committee on Finance and Ways and Means Committee most of the committees of the House (including the House Committee on Science, Technology and Energy, on which I serve) have wrapped up hearing and acting on bills referred to them. It is now up to the full House to act on those bills.
All bills that were introduced in the House of Representatives must be acted on by the House by no later than April 6. That is “crossover,” the date on which all bills passed by the House go to the Senate and all bills passed by the Senate to the House. The last two – and most important - bills the House will be dealing with are HB 1 and HB 2, which together reflect the “budget.” That work is continuing and a “tip of the hat” to Hampton state Rep. Tracy Emerick who serves on the Finance Committee.
In the meantime, the House is continuing to “clear the docket” by acting on a variety of other bills.
Gun violence prevention bills
Despite the overwhelming support for stronger gun violence prevention measures from voters throughout our state, the vast majority of my Republican colleagues in the New Hampshire House of Representatives continue to oppose all efforts to do so. This past month, for example, we voted on the following sensible and moderate measures:
HB 32-FN would have created a state law making it a criminal offense to possess or discharge a firearm in a safe school zone. This bill was co-sponsored by Hampton state Rep. Mike Edgar. Defeated 199 no (voting no were Hampton state Reps. Tracy Emerick and Jason Janvrin) to 174 yes (voting yes were Hampton state Reps. Mike Edgar, Chris Muns and Candice O’Neil).
HB 59-FN would have required a background check prior to any commercial firearm sale. Defeated 197 no (Emerick, Janvrin) to 175 yes (Edgar, Muns, O’Neil).
HB 76 would have established a waiting period of 3 days between the purchase and delivery of a firearm. Defeated 193 no (Emerick, Janvrin) to 168 yes (Edgar, O’Neil). I was excused from this vote because of my positive COVID test, but I would have voted yes had I been able to attend.
HB 78 would have repealed the law enacted last year prohibiting law enforcement in the state from enforcing any federal statute, regulation or order that restricts or regulates the right of the people to keep or bear arms. Defeated 200 no (Emerick, Janvrin) to 173 yes (Edgar, Muns, O’Neil).
HN 106-FN would have enabled protection orders to be established to stop people who might be an extreme risk to themselves or others from buying a gun. Defeated 198 no (Emerick, Janvrin) to 172 yes (Edgar, Muns, O’Neil).
HB 444-FN would have prohibited possession of a firearm at a polling place. Defeated 202 no (Emerick, Janvrin) to 167 yes (Edgar, O’Neil). I would have voted in favor of this bill as well.
Republicans in Concord, led by Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut, have been relentless in their efforts to divert already scarce state funds from public education to the so-called Education Freedom Account (EFA) school voucher program. According to the NH Department of Education, of the 3,200 students who are currently enrolled in this voucher program, 3,100 were enrolled in a private or religious school when they applied for the vouchers, which is clear evidence that public money is being used to subsidize private and religious education. Yet on February 15, we heard from Governor Sununu that he is including $60 million of additional funding for the EFA school voucher program in his budget. This past month, the House of Representatives voted along party lines to also pass the following two bills:
HB 367 calls to increase the household income level for the eligibility of students to participate in the education freedom account program to 350 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, which is equivalent to $92,750 for a family of 4. The EFA voucher program was originally promoted to help lower-income families. Clearly that is no longer the case. Passed 187 yes (Emerick, Janvrin) to 184 no (Edgar, Muns, O’Neil).
HB 440 allows funds in the state’s education trust fund to be diverted from local school districts such as Hampton and Winnacunnet to the Education Freedom Account program, leaving local property taxpayers to have to make up the difference. Passed 191 yes (Emerick, Janvrin) to 185 no (Edgar, Muns, O’Neil).
Energy prices and climate action bills
One of the things Republicans and Democrats agree on is that the cost of electricity in New Hampshire is too high. Where we differ is how to address that challenge.
My Republican colleagues have offered no comprehensive plan on how to address this challenge in the long term. They have focused their legislative efforts on weakening our efforts to encourage energy efficiency and the development of alternative renewal energy sources while they hope that natural gas prices will decline. They have had nothing to offer on how we reduce our long-term reliance on natural gas.
Democrats have offered up several different alternative approaches, all of which have been defeated in straight party-line votes.
One bill HB 523 would have increased the amount of power that individuals and businesses could generate (from solar panels for example) and sell. This was Defeated 189 no (Emerick, Janvrin) to 182 yes (Edgar, O’Neil). I voted in favor of this bill in my committee and would have also voted for it on the floor of the House had I not been excused on March 16.
Two of the more glaring examples of the desire by many of my colleagues to have us stick “our head in the sand” and not prepare for the future are:
HB 208 would have established greenhouse gas emission reduction goals for the state and a Climate Action Plan to guide our efforts. Anyone who sets out on a journey knows that it is essential to have a map – or GPS – to guide you. New Hampshire currently has no “map” to guide our response to climate change. Defeated 187 no (Emerick, Janvrin) to 183 yes (Edgar, O’Neil). I also supported this bill.
HB 372 would have established a commission to study the short and long-term impacts of pending national and regional carbon pricing mechanisms on New Hampshire's citizens, businesses, institutions, and environment. Change is happening all around us; we are in many ways an “island of inaction” and we should at a minimum understand what impact the actions of others will have on us. Defeated 188 no (Emerick, Janvrin) to 163 yes (Edgar, Muns, O’Neil).
While I was not in attendance when the vote took place, I am proud that on March 16 the House of Representatives voted in favor of HB 596 which prohibits the use of racial profiling in law enforcement activities and in sentencing. The final vote passed with a vote of 186 in favor (Edgar, O’Neil) to 185 opposed (Emerick. Janvrin). Had I been able to attend I would have certainly voted in favor of this bill. It is important that justice is blind and that we treat everyone equally before the law.
In his budget proposal, Governor Sununu included the elimination of 692 statutory provisions covering professional licensures and certification, 14 regulatory boards, and 34 license types. This has created a great deal of confusion not only among the professions affected but state representatives as well. We are hoping that we will be able to reach an agreement that will enable us to take the necessary time to review the governor’s recommendations carefully before any of them are implemented. Many of you have already reached out to me and I would encourage those of you who have not but have concerns to do so as well. I will do my best to share and address your concerns.
Bill to exonerate Goody Cole
Because I was absent on March 16, I also missed an opportunity to vote in favor of a bill originally proposed by our late (and great) Hampton state Rep. Renny Cushing. It is no secret that Renny loved Hampton and cherished its history. Several years ago, he began a campaign to clear the name of Hampton native Eunice “Goody” Cole who is the only person ever convicted of witchcraft in New Hampshire. During the early colonial era, Cole was convicted, flogged, and imprisoned for allegedly casting spells and for “familiarity with the devil.” HB 89, which the House of Representatives passed by a vote of 317 in favor and 45 opposed, finds that “the arrest, conviction, floggings and imprisonment of Goody Cole was a manifest injustice” and corrects that historical error and exonerates Ms. Cole. I hope the Senate will join in supporting this legislation and that Governor Sununu will sign it into law. May Goody Cole – and Renny – rest in peace!
If you have any questions or would just like to spend a few minutes chatting, I will next be having open “office hours” on Saturday, March 25 between Noon and 2 p.m. at the Lane Memorial Library in Hampton. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you and I hope to see you on March 25.
Chris Muns is one of Hampton’s five N.H. state representatives. He currently serving his second term, having previously served between 2012 and 2014.
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Concord update: Legislative activity picks up as ‘crossover’ nears