Bills on guns, transgender rights, end of life: NH lawmakers face big votes

CONCORD — Several major bills are coming to a head later this week as they head to the New Hampshire Senate floor for a vote.

They include a bipartisan gun bill, a few bills that opponents say target transgender people in New Hampshire, and a bill to allow medical aid in dying.

"It's been kind of a head-shaking session," said Rep. David Meuse, D-Portsmouth, the sponsor of a few bills under consideration this week.

The Senate has until May 23 to act on all House bills. The body will be in session both Wednesday and Thursday this week. The bills they are voting on this week have all been passed by the House, meaning that if they pass the Senate too, they’ll be a significant step closer to becoming law.

Lawmakers in New Hampshire face multiple big decisions in the coming days.
Lawmakers in New Hampshire face multiple big decisions in the coming days.

NH's last guns bill standing

Democratic lawmakers in New Hampshire filed numerous gun bills at the beginning of the year, but just one remains: a bipartisan bill that would require serious mental health information to be reported to the FBI’s background check system for firearm purchases.

It is named “Bradley’s Law” in honor of Bradley Haas, a security guard who was shot and killed while working at New Hampshire Hospital in Concord by a man who had previously been a patient at the state psychiatric hospital. HB 1711 is co-sponsored by Rep. Terry Roy, R-Deerfield, and Meuse.

The bill as amended passed the House by a wide, bipartisan margin of 204-149. But last week, the Senate Judiciary committee recommended it be voted down.

Meuse has long pushed for firearm safety bills that staunch Second Amendment supporter Roy has opposed. This bill is an exception.

“Two people on as opposite sides of this issue as myself and Terry Roy are, if we can actually come together to file a bill like this and to push for this bill and to advocate for this bill on a bipartisan basis, I would hope that the Senate would recognize that and recognize the fact that this is just essential legislation that we need to pass regardless of which party we're in,” said Meuse.

In the Senate executive session, Sen. Bill Gannon, R-Sandown, said that the bill would be “bypassing due process” when taking guns away. Meuse said that’s misleading: he said the bill would apply to only a small number of people who have been adjudicated as mentally ill by a court with legal representation. And a confiscation wouldn’t be indefinite; there would be a legal path to regain the right to purchase and own firearms.

On Monday afternoon, Roy sent Senate President Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfboro, and the other senators a letter urging them to pass HB 1711 despite the unfavorable recommendation, addressing some of the concerns raised by the Senate committee.

“HB1711 would take NO ONE'S rights,” Roy wrote. “This bill is pro-Second Amendment. By ensuring that dangerous persons do not acquire firearms, we lower the risk of them being used to harm innocent people and thus calls for further restrictions to our rights.”

Transgender bills make their way to the Senate

This year, legislators introduced more bills regarding transgender identity than ever before, many of them echoing each other. Of three bills originally filed to ban transgender girls from competing on girls school sports teams, HB 1205 remains and is headed to the Senate floor later this week. It was recommended ought to pass by the Senate Education Committee 3-1.

Another bill, HB 1312, will also be voted on later this week and seems likely to pass, recommended to 3-1. HB 1312 would prevent school districts from requiring that teachers withhold certain information about children’s well-being. It would also require advance notice of “any curriculum course material” for education on sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity, and allow parents to opt their children out.

HB 619, a bill to require someone to be 18 before receiving gender reassignment surgery, has also been recommended ought to pass 3-2.

Chris Erchull, an attorney for GLAD, a legal rights organization that focuses on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, said he was concerned about the upcoming votes and disheartened that New Hampshire’s status as a Republican-led state with no anti-transgender laws seems poised to change – although he said his fight would not be over based on the Senate vote.

Trans rights supporters took to the New Hampshire State House on the first day of the 2024 session.
Trans rights supporters took to the New Hampshire State House on the first day of the 2024 session.

Will medical aid in dying’s bipartisan nature help it pass in NH?

Another bipartisan bill, this time to allow people with less than six months to live to access medical aid in dying, was also dealt its first blow in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, which voted 3-2 to send HB 1283 to interim study.

The bill had passed the House by just three votes in March (179-176), with members of both parties voting for and against the bill. But in the Senate, the vote fell along partisan lines, with all three Republicans arguing that the bill was too much of a “slippery slope.” At the Senate hearing, 441 individuals signed on in opposition to the bill, and 215 signed on in support.

Bill co-sponsors Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, and Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Windham, don’t think it’s a partisan issue.

“This really, to me and to my mind, this really is an issue of, basically, individual rights and individual freedom,” Lynn said. “Maybe the debate on the Senate floor will persuade some people.”

More bills to watch

A bill to legalize marijuana is finally coming to the Senate floor after being recommended ought to pass 3-2 with an amendment from Sen. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem, that puts it more in line with New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s legalization vision. If the contentious bill passes the Senate this week, it will go to the Senate Finance Committee.

Several bills involving artificial intelligence are also coming under the Senate’s eyes this week, like a bill (HB 1596) to require a disclosure of AI used in political advertising that could be used to prevent another scenario like the deepfake Biden robocall that New Hampshire residents received days before the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

Others include one to prohibit the nonconsensual distribution of synthetic sexual images (HB 1319) and another to prohibit certain uses of deepfakes (HB 1432). All three are likely to pass without debate.

HB 1649, a bill to prohibit certain products containing PFAS, is also likely to pass, as well as a constitutional resolution, CACR 13, which would prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude in the state.

Bills that pass with a fiscal note will need to head to a finance committee before returning to the Senate. Bills without a fiscal note will land on Sununu’s desk.

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Bills on guns, transgender rights, end of life hit NH Senate