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Redistricting and taxes dominate NH Legislature this year | Local News

CONCORD — Mark Twain is supposed to have said: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

If there’s any truth to that, some Granite Staters could breathe a sigh of relief Thursday after the 400-member NH House of Representatives, the largest of any state, and the 24-person Senate began their summer break.

Republicans’ narrow control of both chambers, and divisions within the GOP itself, meant some of the party’s bills didn’t succeed. They included a so-called “parental bill of rights,” which the House rejected by five votes on Thursday.

Critics said the bill called for schools to “out,” under certain circumstances, gay and transgender students. Backers said it would merely keep parents in the loop on important things their kids do at school.

Thirteen Republicans joined with Democrats to scuttle the measure.

The state’s highest elected executive, Gov. Chris Sununu, also differed from his fellow Republicans at times this legislative session.

On May 20, Sununu vetoed a measure that would have blocked schools from mandating facial coverings. In February, I vetoed a bill that would have required students at state colleges to pass the US Citizenship and Immigration Services civics naturalization test.

Then, on Friday, he vetoed a bill that would have repealed a law requiring a 25-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics to shield patients from protesters.

Also Friday, he vetoed a new congressional map backed by GOP lawmakers that would have moved Manchester, where 1st District Democratic US Rep. Chris Pappas lives, into the 2nd District, which is represented by US Rep. Annie Kuster, a Democrat from Hopkinton.

Finally, also on Friday, the NH Supreme Court released a new map that keeps the congressional boundary lines much like those that now exist.

NH Rep. Ross Berry, R-Manchester, said the governor did not act in good faith regarding congressional redistricting.

“Trying to accommodate all the changes and His Excellency’s demands was exhausting,” Berry said in a statement on Thursday.

Meanwhile, GOP-backed redistricting bills for the NH House, Senate and Executive Council were signed into law by Sununu. Democrats criticized these proposals as clear attempts to maximize advantages for Republicans. Lawsuits were filed against all the redistricting proposals.

The GOP holds a 206-181 (11 vacancies and two independents) majority in the House and a 14-10 edge in the Senate.

This year, the party was able to block Democratic bills that would have enshrined abortion rights in state law and would have eliminated a current statute that bans the procedure after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Republicans also beat back Democratic gun safety proposals, while passing measures allowing semi-automatic rifles to be used in hunting, permitting loaded guns to be carried on snowmobiles and off-highway recreational vehicles and prohibiting the state from enforcing any federal statute or presidential executive order restricting or regulating guns.

Sununu signed the hunting bill; the others are awaiting his signature from him.

Some proposals did get bipartisan support this year despite political polarization, such as a bill by Rep. Joe Schapiro, D-Keene, to provide adult dental benefits to more than 100,000 Medicaid recipients.

There was enough backing from both parties to narrowly pass a marijuana legalization and sales measure in the House, but it died in the Senate, with some Democrats joining Republicans in a voice vote against the bill.

Both parties backed a series of bills to provide an additional $120 million to local communities next year in the form of support for road and bridge construction, a one-time payment to cover 7.5 percent of municipal retirement costs and a pollution cleanup fund.

Republican leaders touted these measures as significant for allowing property tax reductions at the local level, but there is no guarantee that communities will use the extra funding to reduce property taxes.

And, with more than 230 municipalities in a state of nearly 1.4 million people, it’s not clear how far $120 million would go toward helping the average citizen.

Senate President Chuck Morse’s office put out a news release Thursday saying property tax relief and support for Main Street businesses were two highlights of the legislative session.

“Back in January, we promised to further protect our freedoms and to strengthen the economy by helping our Main Street businesses and working families,” said Morse, R-Salem, a candidate for US Senate.

“I’m proud to say that with Republican leadership, and sound fiscal management, we accomplished those things and more.”

The Legislature passed Republican-backed legislation to cut the business profits tax from 7.6 percent to 7.5 percent.

Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Keene, said early this month the reduction doesn’t provide much assistance to small businesses or the average property taxpayer.

“My priority is that state revenue policy should be focused on lowering the burden of property taxes and at a time when we’ve got state revenue surpluses, you can do that,” he said.

Democrats supported the bill to cover 7.5 percent of municipal retirement costs for teachers, police and firefighters in the 2023 fiscal year, but many said they would have preferred a separate measure, which did not advance, that would have made this level of funding permanent, rather than just a one-time thing.

As the New Hampshire legislative session wounded to a close this week, the nation was transfixed by another school shooting.

On Tuesday, Sununu ordered the state’s flags to be lowered to half-staff in accordance with President Joe Biden’s proclamation in remembrance of the 19 children and two teachers killed by a gunman at an elementary school in Texas.

Among the gun safety measures that failed to advance this year in the NH Legislature were bills that would have required background checks before any commercial sale of a firearm, prevented people from openly carrying a deadly weapon within 100 feet of a polling place and banned the display of a deadly weapon at certain events such as demonstrations.

Rep. Debra Altschiller, D-Stratham, asked House members on Thursday to reconsider the background-check measure.

“I propose that as the elected leaders of this state, it is imperative that we act and act now to curb the flow of blood running towards us,” Altschiller said.

Altschiller’s request did not get far.

Rep. Terry Roy, R-Deerfield, rose to criticize the proposal.

“We should not ever, ever, use tragedy to push legislation,” he said.

On a partisan 188-163 vote, the House decided against suspending rules to allow discussion on the bill to proceed.

Roy said backers should feel free to bring up the proposal in next year’s legislative session where it could be given due consideration, but noted Sununu vetoed a similar bill that passed when Democrats controlled the Legislature in 2019.

The Legislature will return in the early fall to consider overriding the governor’s vetoes.

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