CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE – Today, House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff proposed two amendments to House Rules during the House session. The amendments, which sought to address two separate issues that have arisen in the first few weeks of the 2017 legislative session, were both laid on the table before allowing for a full debate.
One amendment sought to protect the rights of the public and House members by requiring unanimous support among committee members before legislation can be voted on the same day as a public hearing.
“Members of the public take time out of their day to testify in front of the legislature. If we fail to even allow ourselves to consider the information they submit to us, we are failing to do our job as representatives,” said Representative Shurtleff. “This amendment would simply assure that committee members have the time to review the information presented to them before casting a vote. We have already had instances this term when committee leadership entered executive session immediately following a public hearing during which significant new information was presented. Despite the majority party’s refusal to even fully debate this proposal, House Democrats will continue to stand up for our constituents and their right to be heard by their representatives.”
The second amendment sought to enhance public safety by requiring House members to complete an approved gun safety course before carrying a concealed firearm in the House chamber.
“Since the restriction on carrying firearms in the House was removed in 2011, there have been at least five reported incidents of House members mishandling loaded guns in the State House complex. As these repeated incidents have shown, allowing members to carry loaded firearms in the House without proper training is a tragedy waiting to happen,” said Representative Shurtleff. “This amendment would simply require those who wish to carry in the People’s House to verify that they are properly trained to do so. I am disappointed that House Republican leadership would not even allow a full debate and opposed this sensible policy.”
CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE – The House Transportation Committee today held a public hearing on HB 214, repealing prohibitions on electronic device usage while driving. This bill would completely repeal the 2014 “hands-free” law regarding cellular phone use while driving, as well as the 2009 prohibition on typing text messages while driving.
Representative George Sykes (D-Lebanon), Ranking Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, released the following statement after the hearing:
“As public safety experts have reiterated, our current laws have helped to change driver behavior in a good way. Our recent statutes restricting cell phone use while driving have been significant public safety, public health improvements for our state,” said Representative Sykes. “Everyone has observed drivers distracted by their cell phones, and understand the risk they create to others on the roadway. The last thing we should do is eliminate common-sense restrictions that encourage dangerous behavior, as this bill would.”
CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE – Today, Representative Doug Ley (D-Jaffrey) introduced legislation, HB 115, to bring back the minimum wage in New Hampshire. The minimum wage in New Hampshire has been determined by federal law since 2011, when New Hampshire’s minimum wage law was repealed over the veto of Governor John Lynch.
“With all of our surrounding states moving forward on policies to increase the minimum wage, New Hampshire has the lowest rate in New England. Our low-wage earners, most of whom are family-supporting adults, are being left behind,” said Representative Ley. “Public support for increasing the minimum wage is overwhelming, as are the economic benefits for working families. It is past time for the House to step up and pass legislation that will improve the lives and working conditions of our constituents.”
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CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE – Today, the House Education Committee held public hearings on HB 155, relative to funding for kindergarten programs, and HB 129, repealing the education tax credit.
Representative Mary Stuart Gile, a former Chair and Ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee released the following statements subsequent to the public hearings on HB 155 and HB 129. Representative Gile, who holds her Doctorate in Education from Vanderbilt University and her Master’s in Education from UNH, began her teaching career as a kindergarten teacher at the Whitefield School in Jefferson, NH. She is a renowned expert in the area of child development and, among other accomplishments, established the Child Development Center and Laboratory School at NHTI.
“The skills attained by children during their early, impressionable years of life are critical to their development throughout adolescence and into adulthood. Overwhelming research shows the value of kindergarten programs to social and academic development,” said Representative Gile. “It was not until 2009 that New Hampshire caught-up to the rest of the nation by offering public kindergarten in every school district. However we remain one of the few states that do not provide funding for full-day kindergarten programs. Our failure to reimburse cities and towns for full-day kindergarten acts as a deterrent to communities that wish to enact these critical programs.”
HB 129 would repeal the education voucher tax credit law which was first passed in 2012 over the veto of Gov. John Lynch. That law was subsequently ruled unconstitutional in 2013 by NH Superior Court Judge John Lewis because it violated NH’s separation of church and state (NH Constitution Part II, Article 83). On appeal, the NH Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit due to lack of standing by the plaintiff and did not rule on the constitutionality of the education voucher law.
“With the difficulties that we have securing needed funding for our public schools, it makes no sense to siphon money away from the tax base that provides that funding. Further, the New Hampshire Constitution expressly prohibits the financing of religious schools that the education voucher tax credit authorizes,” said Representative Gile. “Repealing this unconstitutional voucher law will return some sorely needed funds to our public education system.”
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CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE – Last night, House Democratic leadership was informed that Speaker Shawn Jasper has chosen to assign the Democratic members who spoke in favor of retaining the Children and Family Law Committee during the January 4, 2017 House Session to serve on that committee. These appointments, which include moving a member who had already been appointed to a leadership position in her previously-assigned committee, were made with no consent of Democratic leadership as is longstanding House tradition. After being informed of the Speaker’s decision, House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff (D-Penacook) released the following statement:
“This decision by Speaker Jasper is reminiscent of the vindictive, retaliatory manner in which Bill O’Brien ran the House during his term as Speaker. Each of the 400 House members has an equal right to participate in House debate, and no member should ever feel that they will be retaliated against for exercising that right.”
“The debate on eliminating the Children and Family Law Committee, which was nonpartisan and based completely on how children’s issues would be affected, is the type of debate that should be celebrated in the House. For the Speaker to respond to the outcome of that debate by breaking House tradition and taking vindictive actions against the minority party casts a dark cloud over the House as we set out to begin our work this term.”
“Over the last two years, I have had a good working relationship with Speaker Jasper. His decision to dictate the committee assignments of minority members in retaliation for comments in a floor debate is completely unprecedented, and threatens the House’s ability to work in the bipartisan way that Granite Staters expect.”
“House Democrats make no apology for representing our constituents and protecting the children of our state, and we will not be intimidated into backing down. For Speaker Jasper to make this decision within hours of Governor Sununu calling for bipartisanship in his Inaugural address is a sad rebuke of the Governor’s call.”
“The Democratic members appointed to Children and Family Law are extremely qualified and will do an excellent job representing children’s issues on that committee. However, the decision to remove only senior Democratic members from their previously-assigned committees while primarily appointing first-term Republicans indicates that the committee assignments were a deliberate attempt to scapegoat Democratic members who exercised their right to speak.”
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CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE – Today, House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff (D-Penacook) released the following statement after Chris Sununu was sworn in for his first term as Governor.
“I congratulate Governor Sununu for his success in the November election and his inauguration as Governor of our state.”
“I look forward to working with Governor Sununu and our Republican colleagues on bipartisan initiatives. The House Democratic Caucus stands ready to find common ground on any policies that benefit the working families of New Hampshire.”
“I was encouraged by the Governor’s statements during the campaign in which he expressed support for full-day kindergarten, paid family and medical leave and other initiatives that align with the priorities of Granite Staters. It was disappointing that those issues, on which the Governor campaigned, were not mentioned today in his Inaugural speech which provides a roadmap for the Governor’s policy agenda for the next two years.”
“Equally disappointing was that soon after speaking of not being divisive, Governor Sununu indicated a top priority would be the enactment of “Right to Work,” which is among the most politically divisive issues among both Democrats and Republicans the legislature.”
“It is my hope that when Governor Sununu provides more detail on the policies he wishes to advance, that those policies are aligned with Granite State families and the values of our great state.”
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CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE – Today, the House of Representatives voted 196-172 to retain the Children and Family Law Committee, which addresses the rights, obligations and application of criminal laws to minors, divorce, child custody and support, the Child Protection Act and the Children In Need Of Services program. House leadership had proposed eliminating the committee and House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff released the following statement after the vote.
“House Democrats today showed their capacity to influence the body on changes to House Rules. I am most proud of our caucus for their outspoken dedication to the protection of children. The concise, passionate presentations on the House floor in favor of retaining the Children and Family Law Committee led to 35 Republican members joining House Democrats in the vote to keep the committee in place.”
“Moving the complex and important duties of the Children and Family Law Committee to three other overburdened committees would have shortchanged the vulnerable children of our state. I am very happy that the majority of House members opposed the proposal.”
“I am in full support of Speaker Jasper’s announcement that he will be naming a special committee to address the independent review of the Quality Assurance of the Division of Children, Youth and Families. Due to the urgency of the concerns outlined in the independent review, it is my hope that this committee is named quickly with qualified members appointed to fix these important concerns.”
In another motion, House Democrats provided the majority vote against a proposal to add a vaguely-worded dress code to the House Rules.
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CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE – In a caucus meeting today, New Hampshire House Democrats elected Representative Steve Shurtleff (D-Penacook) to lead the House Democratic Caucus for a second term. Representative Shurtleff will be the Democratic candidate for Speaker of the House on Organization Day, December 7th. After the caucus meeting, Representative Shurtleff released the following statement:
“I am deeply honored to have been selected once again to lead the House Democratic Caucus. As we did in the last session, House Democrats will continue working with the Republican majority to build consensus on the issues most important to the people of New Hampshire.”
“House Democrats gained 15 seats in the election last Tuesday because of our ongoing commitment to put the people of this state over politics. We will continue to fight for our values of economic and social justice, and look forward to finding common ground with our Republican colleagues on initiatives that keep New Hampshire moving forward.”
Concord, N.H. – Representative Mary Jane Wallner (D-Concord) issued the following statement regarding the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee’s delay in funding the Gateway to Work initiative:
“I am extremely disappointed that Republicans continue to obstruct the implementation of the Gateway to Work initiative. It is a common sense program critical to New Hampshire’s future and should be approved as quickly as possible.
The Gateway to Work initiative would help workers, businesses, and the economy as a whole by investing in job training, apprenticeship opportunities and other supports for hard-working Granite Staters. There is no reason to delay an initiative that benefits everyone: Gateway to Work would help workers to get good-paying jobs, help businesses utilize a skilled workforce, and reduce government spending by moving people off public assistance and into stable careers. Republicans need to stop playing politics with our state’s future and approve Gateway to Work.”