Public Policy Committee Update - November 2016

Figuring Our Work in the Upcoming Legislative Session
Submitted by JJ Smith, NHPHA Public Policy Co-Chair

A week has passed since the elections and now we need to adjust our policy work for the upcoming two years. Much has changed even though the partisan make-up of the NH legislature remains nearly the same as of this writing (some recounts are still in progress). With many new Representatives and Senators elected we will struggle to know what issues will come to the forefront for us and how the newly elected officials will decide on issues that are important to advancing public health. We need help from all of you, our members, to monitor and contact the legislators who represent your districts and in following introduced legislation once it is known what policies are in the bills that are being filed. Be alert for updates from us as this is a long process while the legislative services office slowly helps write up hundreds of bills that may exist just as concepts in the legislators’ minds.

One important change is in New Hampshire’s Governor. We agreed with many of the vetoes issued by Governor Hassan. Since the legislature was not able to override those vetoes, we expect similar pieces of legislation to be introduced again. Whether any of them will then become law will depend on the issue and the attitudes and beliefs of many people but most of all of Governor Sununu. Since he was not a part of the last legislature, we don’t know where he will come down on many things we care about. It is likely he will agree with legislation that is sent to him after passing the House and Senate since they majorities of both chambers come from his political party. But there is some uncertainty about that, especially since he has said he favors reproductive rights, including access to abortion.

Governor Sununu’s attitude on reproductive rights issues may become the deciding factor because of the changes in the State Senate. Nine of the twenty-four Senators are new and did not participate in the Senate 12 to 12 deadlock on the attempt to repeal the NH law that puts protections in place for access to facilities that provide abortion. Those in favor of this repeal present this as a free speech issue for protesters. However, many believe that the law is helping keep those protesters from hostile behaviors that could discourage women from getting care even when pregnancy termination is not the reason for the visit to the facility. There was also a difficult battle over an attempt to add “fetus” to the definition of “another person” in our state homicide laws. By a narrow vote, the Senate replaced the House bill language to change it to “viable fetus” and excluded any pregnancy termination done by or at the request of the woman carrying the fetus. The House did not concur with that change so it ended there.

The nine new Senators include four that are replacing those who voted to maintain current law. It seems clear that three of those replacements will support reproductive rights but there is no information on this issue from the fourth in campaign literature or reporting. Another new Senator replacing a vote on the other side of these issues also does not have a position publicly articulated. Those two are Ruth Ward and Scott McGilvray.  We will need to reach out to them and perhaps to others whose minds can be changed by cogent reasoning on the negative consequences of such proposed changes in our laws. And the new Governor’s attitude to such changes is not a foregone conclusion either even though he has said he is in favor of maintaining reproductive rights.

The likely outcomes in the legislature on many other issues will be even more difficult to ascertain. Having more of our members making themselves available to contact their Representatives and Senators on issues is one important step. Another is to be available to come to the State House and testify on issues where you have expertise or passion for public health solutions. This can be difficult for some since times listed in the legislative calendars for testifying to committees are only accurate for the earliest possible start on a particular bill. But the State House does have open wireless connectivity so it is possible to bring a laptop or tablet and do work while waiting. If you have trouble knowing who represents the place you live, find the links to search by location at www.gencourt.state.nh.us
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