NH Week in Review for Jan. 15: Legislature gets to work on hot-button issues

Jan 15, 2017

The New Hampshire Legislature got to work this week on two hot-button political issues -- right to work and concealed carry without a permit -- with better chances than past years they’ll prevail because Republicans control the House, the Senate, and the corner office.

Right to work is the shorthand for a proposed law - with versions in the House (HB 520) and the Senate (SB 11) -- that prohibits workplace unions from collecting dues and fees from non-union employees. See an NHPR primer on the subject here.

Allowing concealed carry without a permit is also called constitutional carry. Current law requires that an individual who is already allowed to own a gun -- in this case usually a handgun -- undergo an extra level of permitting to then be allowed to carry that firearm in a concealed manner (holstered under a coat, for example). SB 12 seeks to repeal that licensing requirement.

Both issues normally fall under the purview of a Republican legislative agenda and are often opposed by Democrats. That has been the case in the past in New Hampshire with Republicans passing the measures in the House and Senate but a Democratic governor -- Maggie Hassan, most recently -- vetoing them and the vetoes failing to get the two-thirds votes needed to override.

This year is different. As a result of the 2016 election, the GOP held onto its majorities in the House and Senate but added a Republican -- Christopher Sununu -- to the governor’s office.

A Senate committee recommended passage of SB 12 this week after a hearing, and advocates see a clear path to the governor’s desk. See a Concord Monitor story here.

Proponents say an individual who is already allowed to own a firearm should not have to face the additional scrutiny to get a permit to carry it in a concealed manner. Opponents say the law has been on the books for many years without a problem and that law enforcement feels the public is better protected with another layer of permitting.

The issue of concealed weapons received additional attention this week when a loaded revolver belonging to state Rep. Carolyn Halstead, R-Milford, clattered to the floor at a House Education Committee hearing on full-day kindergarten. She has a concealed carry permit and the gun dislodged from her waistband as she removed her backpack to take her seat. See a Union Leader story here.

The right to work issue also got a public airing this week in a hearing that packed Representatives Hall in the Statehouse. The Senate Commerce Committee took less than hour to endorse the bill in a 3-2 vote along party lines. See a Concord Monitor story here.

Proponents say non-union workers shouldn’t be forced to pay union dues and that right to work is better for business growth, while opponents argue it is an attempt at union busting and will result in lower worker wages.

Also ...

The political dynamic that currently exists in Concord with the Republican trifecta will soon also exist in Washington, D.C., with next week’s inauguration of Republican Donald Trump as president. The GOP, as a result of the election, held onto a majority in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate and a Republican will be in the Oval Office.

With that, the new Congress got to work on push-button issues of its own, including repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Both the House and Senate started to move this week on repeal of what’s come to be known as Obamacare, and New Hampshire’s all-Democrat delegation opposes the efforts.

Hassan, the state’s new U.S. senator, held a roundtable discussion in Concord to discuss the impact of repealing Obamacare, including its effect on the Medicaid expansion option that was a trademark of her administration. See an NH1 story here.

Meanwhile, both Hassan and U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, continued this week to assess Trump’s appointments to his cabinet that require Senate confirmation. Shaheen said in an NHPR story that she supports the confirmation of James Mattis as secretary of defense, but has some doubts about Rex Tillerson for secretary of state.

Elsewhere in NH

The impact of the state’s on-going opioid abuse epidemic was felt this week in two ways. First, visits to the state prison in Concord had to be suspended as officials dealt with three unresponsive inmates in the prison's residential areas. They were administered Narcan and survived. A fourth overdose at a transitional housing unit in Manchester was fatal. See a WMUR story here. Second, lawmakers argued with the use of a federal grant designed to help ease the backlog of opioid-related autopsies that the state medical examiner is trying to deal with. See an NHPR story here.

As the governor and lawmakers prepare to craft the new biennial state budget, there was news this week that the Department of Health and Human Services - the state’s largest agency - is facing a deficit of $65 million. Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, wasn’t pleased. “The reality is we knew we had a problem and we should have started saving as of July. I can assure you, the Legislature is going to, by itself, decide how we solve this $65 million problem, and we certainly have a problem with it,” he was quoted as saying in a Union Leader story.

A federal appeals court upheld a New Hampshire law allowing buffer zones around abortion clinics. The law, which supporters say protects women from harassment, allows buffer zones up to 25 feet and has been on New Hampshire's books since 2014. No clinic has set up a buffer zone and opponents said it violates their free speech right. See a Foster’s Daily Democrat story here.

Join us on our Facebook page for discussions about issues of the day - including a question about whether the state should repeal its current law on hand-held cell phone use while driving.

See you next week.


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