Last week New Hampshire representatives filed their bill requests for the 2022 legislative session. While the bill details are not yet public, the one-line bill titles are listed on the Legislature’s website. Based on those titles, here’s a preview of some of the big upcoming legislative debates.
Vaccines, vaccines, vaccines
There are probably more 2022 bill requests related to vaccines than related to any other single topic, with about four dozen bills total. Most of the bill requests look to limit vaccine requirements. For example, House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, requested a bill to prohibit state or local enforcement of federal vaccine mandates.
There are a handful of bills that look to roll back some of the vaccine limitations passed as part of last year’s budget, however. For example, Rep. Joe Schapiro, D-Keene, has requested a bill that would allow UNH and community colleges to require vaccination.
The debates over election audits, absentee voting, and voter registration requirements are far from over nationally or in New Hampshire. There are about three dozen House bill requests related to election and voting laws for 2022. For example, Rep. Tim Baxter, R-Seabrook, — who is running for U.S. Representative — has requested an audit of the entire 2020 election. The costs and logistics of a statewide audit would be huge. Secretary of State Bill Gardner has indicated he would be open to more limited post-election audits. Gov. Sununu often defers to Secretary Gardner when asked whether or not he will support election law changes. In general, Gov. Sununu asserts that New Hampshire’s elections are secure, with no evidence of widespread voter fraud. However, he also signed SB 3 in 2017, a bill that added strict voter registration requirements. The New Hampshire Supreme Court ultimately ruled that SB 3 was unconstitutional.
There are also a handful of 2022 bill requests that would allow recall elections in New Hampshire or ranked choice voting.
Public school curriculum
In June Gov. Sununu signed a state budget that included an attempt to ban the teaching of critical race theory in any K-12 school. Opponents argue the intent of the law is to discourage discussions about race and racism, while supporters argue “divisive concepts” such as white privilege do not belong in classrooms. This debate over curriculum will continue in 2022, with representatives requesting bills related to the teaching of civil rights, the Holocaust and genocide, philosophy, discrimination, civics, labor history, and more.
In June, Gov. Sununu signed a ban on abortion after 24 weeks gestation as part of the state budget. This is the first abortion restriction passed in many years in New Hampshire. It looks like some representatives want to build on this law. For example, Rep. Dave Testerman, R-Franklin, has requested a bill banning abortion after a heartbeat is detected (generally just a few weeks after conception). Rep. Jeffrey Greeson, R-Wentworth, requested a 2022 bill “allowing the biological father of an unborn child to petition the court for an injunction prohibiting the biological mother from having an abortion.”
On the other side, Rep. Amanda Toll, D-Keene, has requested a constitutional amendment protecting “the right of reproductive medical decisions.” Rep. Alexis Simpson, D-Exeter, has also requested a bill “relative to reproductive rights,” which is most likely a pro-choice bill. These bills face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
There appears to be a new strategy to legalize marijuana in NH: a constitutional amendment. In recent years any attempt to legalize marijuana has wilted under the threat of Gov. Sununu’s veto. Constitutional amendments require a 60 percent majority to pass the House and Senate, but after that go straight to voters, bypassing the governor. 67 percent of voters must then approve the amendment. There are three requested constitutional amendments to legalize marijuana in NH in 2022: one from Andrew Prout, R-Hudson, one from Joshua Adjutant, D-Ashland, and one from Renny Cushing, D-Hampton.
There are a few other regular bills to legalize marijuana, as well as bills to decriminalize or reduce the penalties for possessing other drugs, such as psilocybin mushrooms.
Last year the House of Representatives voted to table a large affordable housing package that had Gov. Sununu’s support, HB 586. Opponents were concerned about a loss of local control to reject housing development. With New Hampshire’s housing shortage in the news every week, legislators may feel more pressure to act on the housing supply this year. There are about a dozen 2022 bill requests related to housing. While the details are not yet public, it looks like a few bills would open up zoning laws to allow more housing development. There are also some bills that would add protections for renters. For example, Rep. Cam Kenney, D-Durham, has requested a bill prohibiting discrimination against tenants with housing vouchers.
About two dozen bill requests relate to the new “education freedom accounts” authorized in the most recent state budget. This program allows parents to apply for the state’s share of per-pupil funding and spend it on private school tuition, homeschooling materials, or other approved education expenses. There are bill requests to revise who is eligible, where the funds can be spent, who administers the program (currently a contractor with the state), how to address fraud or misuse, data collection, and more. For example, Rep. David Luneau, D-Hopkinton, has requested a bill limiting the program to “budgeted amounts”; there was recent controversy when Department of Education Commissioner said the program could fund many more students than originally estimated. The ultimate size and impact of this program is unknown.
While this article highlights some of the major trends in 2022 bill requests, there are hundreds of other bills related to everything from landfill applications to lie detectors. There are also (as always) some unique requests. For example, Rep. Douglas Trottier, R-Belmont, has requested a bill to require cat registration. Rep. Max Abramson, R-Seabrook, has requested a bill “reducing the penalty for sex work within one’s own home.” Rep. Tony Labranche, D-Amherst, has requested a bill to allow 16-year-olds to vote in local elections.
Citizens Count will continue to track these bill requests and add 2022 bills to our website as the texts are made public.
The New Hampshire Senate will have their turn to request 2022 bills in October.
Citizens Count is a nonprofit serving the New Hampshire community by providing objective information about issues, elected officials, bills, elections, and candidates. This article is being shared by a partner in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.