In March, the Governor issued a State of Emergency Declaration and stay-at-home orders due to the corona virus. As a result, the NH House and Senate suspended sessions and have done limited committee work through online meetings. The House is scheduled to reconvene on June 11 at the Whittemore Center on the campus of the University of NH in Durham. The first order of business will be to reset House deadlines for House and Senate bills that still need to be acted on. Before the statehouse was shut down, House Republicans agreed (on March 12th) to move those deadlines. That last session, however, was not without turbulence; the session went until almost 4:00 in the morning as Republicans slowed proceedings with excessive parliamentary inquiries, challenges to the chair, unnecessary and repetitive arguments, and through the use of other dilatory tactics.
Yesterday (June 3, 2020) at the House Rules Committee meeting, House Republicans refused to agree to a change in rules that would allow the NH House of Representatives to finish its work this year. Previously – on May 26th – the House Republican caucus voted not to change the upcoming House deadlines, thereby stopping the House from finishing its work.
There are 225 bills already affected by this threatened action, including a number of issues relative to COVID-19.
This obstructive behavior has been occurring at the committee level as well. I serve on the House Election Law Committee. On March 4th, we met in executive session to make recommendations on 13 bills. Four Republican members of the committee were not present. In accordance with House rules, Republican leadership designated four members of the House to sit with the committee and vote in place of the absent members. With the exception of one bill which was to be reported out as Inexpedient to Legislate and one bill going to interim study, these four replacements followed leadership’s instructions and voted against every other bill taken up during that executive session – including bills that were sponsored by Republicans. As a result, bills that could have been placed on the consent calendar and acted upon expeditiously, had to appear on the regular calendar for debate.
House Speaker Stephen Shurtleff released the following statement regarding the Republican position on not amending House deadlines: “We were elected by the people of New Hampshire to do the people’s business but today House Republicans voted to instead limit the work of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Their actions today could prevent the legislature from enacting department requests to ensure continuity of government in these unprecedented times. The action today also prevents the House from acting on bills that address the COVID pandemic, naming a highway after a police officer killed in the line of duty and from finishing the rest of the work Granite Staters elected us to complete. As Speaker, not a week has gone by where I have not been in touch with a member of the Minority Leadership team and for them to suggest otherwise is preposterous and an outright lie. To me it is outrageous when our state is facing a pandemic for us to abandon our important work. We will still show up on June 11th in an effort to do the people’s work despite their unprecedented action. If House Republican leadership chooses to sit back and prevent the legislative process from moving forward they can do it in public for everyone to see.”
The House Minority Leader’s obstructive behavior should not come as a surprise given comments he made to the House in November 2018 when he was seeking election as Speaker. Gary Rayno’s “Distant Dome” column in the December 9, 2018 edition of InkLink, reported that House Minority Leader Dick Hinch’s message to Republican House members was “…to take every opportunity you can to disrupt Democrats’ momentum” – that “it was going to be war for the next two years because the real prize is the 2020 election and control of the legislature.” In his speech seeking the votes of House members to be the next speaker, Hinch said,” 2020 must always be on our minds, and everything we do must be to achieve absolute success in 2020. Never lose sight of the fact that 2020 establishes redistricting, and the majority that controls redistricting will likely control the next ten years thereafter.”
So this obstructionism is not about doing what is best for the state and its people. It’s a bizarre and misguided attempt to try to position House Republicans for success at the polls this November.
But make no mistake. If the Republican minority refuses to support a change in House legislative deadlines and the work at the statehouse comes to an abrupt halt, the reason that the House and Senate were not able to finish their work on legislation of importance to businesses and the citizens of New Hampshire will lie with Rep. Hinch and House Republicans – not House Democrats.
Here is a very small sampling of the bills that will die in committee or on the table if Republicans block the House from continuing its work.
- HB1102, requiring food service establishments to establish food allergy awareness procedures
- HB1679, relative to Meals on Wheels
- HB1691, relative to kindergarten adequate education grants
- HB2020, relative to the 10-year transportation improvement plan
- SB410, relative to the state minimum hourly rate
- SB556, relative to violence in schools
- SB646, relative to Medicare supplemental insurance
- SB720, relative to adult protective services
- SB726, relative to programs to aid veteran’s access to employment, housing, health care, and college degrees
- SB759, relative to employers provision of reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees
Photo credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa, published in Concord Monitor, 11/29, 2018