A class field trip to the state legislature to see how a bill becomes a law turned into a different kind of lesson for a group of New Hampshire fourth graders.
The students from Lincoln Akerman School in Hampton Falls, N.H., appeared before the state’s Environment and Agriculture Committee to propose a bill — H.B. 373 — that would have designated the red-tailed hawk as the New Hampshire state raptor. But somehow the debate turned to abortion and Planned Parenthood.
The bill came out of committee with a 10-8 “ought to pass” recommendation and headed to the House floor, where several legislators mocked it as a waste of time.
“We have little time to invest in this topic,” Rep. Christy Bartlett (D-Concord) said during her remarks opposing the bill. “The red-tailed hawk is a beautiful bird, but it’s ubiquitous. I’m not trying to be mean … but this is a prime example of being swayed against our better judgment. … We need your help to stay focused on issues of more importance this year.”
Rep. Warren Groen (R-Rochester) also opposed the bill by making a bizarre reference to abortion.
“As I was doing the research on this bill, I watched a couple of videos,” Groen said. “Its known for its extremely strong and sharp talons, with which it grasps its prey. It uses its razor-sharp beak to rip its victim to shreds, tearing it apart limb by limb. I guess the shame about making this a state bird is that it would serve as a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood.”
The bill ultimately failed to receive approval by a 160-133 vote. But it was comments like Groen’s that left some fellow legislators, including Bartlett, demanding he apologize.
“Drawing a comparison between the red-tailed hawk and abortion was offensive on may levels,” House Speaker Shawn Jasper said in a statement, “and I believe Rep. Groen owes an apology to not only the children of the Lincoln Akerman School in Hampton Falls but to constituents and to his colleagues in the House.”
“I think he certainly owes the kids an apology,” Bartlett told CBS Boston.
James Cutting, the teacher who brought the students to the legislature, told NH1.com he felt the comments were “minimizing or demeaning in regards to the effort that the children were making.”
“This is disdainful,” Lincoln Akerman Principal Mark DeBlois added. “This is mocking what these kids’ efforts have been.”
DeBlois also blasted Groen.
“None of the kids got those [abortion] references,” Deblois added. “Fortunately they didn’t, because it’s such a disgusting reference. But certainly that led to questions about what did that mean.”
Groen, though, defended his comments.
“The gallery is open to the public, and there are children in the gallery every day,” Groen told the Associated Press. “I don’t know if we should limit free speech or limit the attendance in the gallery. It seems either one would be bad for transparency in government.”