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NH House Roundup: House passes bill banning conversion therapy on third try

By Dave Solomon
State House Bureau

February 08. 2018 10:08PM
State Reps. Jerry Knirk, D-Freedom, left; Ed Butler, D-Harts Location; and Shannon Chandley, D-Amherst, celebrate passage of the ban on conversion therapy after the House vote on Thursday. (Dave Solomon/Union Leader)

CONCORD — If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

That appears to be the strategy of a bipartisan coalition in the House that has tried since last year to pass a bill that bans conversion therapy, the practice of attempting to change a child's sexual orientation or gender identity through psychological or spiritual intervention.

A bill to ban the controversial practice failed in the House last year despite a positive committee vote.

A new bill (HB 587) was introduced in January, and failed by one vote after Republican House Speaker Gene Chandler cast the tie-breaker.

House rules allow the matter to be reconsidered if a representative on the prevailing side asks for another vote. Rep. Henry Parkhurst, D-Winchester, who voted with the winning side, filed such a request.

His motion on Thursday to reconsider the bill was approved, and this time HB 587 passed the House with 20 Republicans joining all Democrats in a 179-171 vote.

The bill's passage was preceded by heavy lobbying on both sides.

Kathy Edelblut, the wife of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, urged state representatives to vote against the ban.

“This bill would prohibit talk therapy, unnecessarily interfere with clinical relationships, punish counselors and undermine parental rights,” she wrote in an email to all House members days before the vote.

Jennifer Horn, former chairman of the state Republican Party, co-signed a letter to Republican representatives urging their support.

The bill now goes to the Senate, which passed a similar bill of its own, SB 224, in a bipartisan 15-8 vote a year ago. Gov. Chris Sununu says he is opposed to conversion therapy and likely to sign a bill if it gets to his desk.

Birth control access

The House passed a bill making hormonal contraceptives available directly from a pharmacist in a voice vote after rejecting a negative recommendation from the Health and Human Services Committee in a 265-76 roll call.

Rep. Mindi Messmer of Rye wrote against the bill for the committee majority, expressing concerns about potential liability for pharmacists. But just before the roll call, she announced a change of heart.

“I decided to change my opinion on this bill and support passage,” she said. “While I’m still concerned about implementation, the overriding factors are to provide women with a means to access contraception in our state. I am now convinced we need to support passage of the bill. Any problems can be addressed in the Senate or conference committee.”

State retirement funds

The House narrowly defeated a bill sponsored by Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, to restore a 15 percent state contribution to municipalities for the retirement cost of local police, firefighters and teachers.

HB 413 failed in the January session of the House by a vote of 172-166, but was brought up for reconsideration on Thursday, and failed again, 171-170.

“As part of the budgeting process, payment of a percent of retirement payments was discussed and dismissed as an uncontrollable cost to the state,” according to Rep. J. Tracy Emerick, R-Hampton.

The state ended its annual contributions to municipal retirement funds 10 years ago, with a contribution of about $50 million to municipalities in the last year of the program.

Road usage fee

The House approved HB 1763, which would impose a fee on energy-efficient vehicles to make up for lost revenue from the gasoline tax, in a 194-132 roll-call vote. The bill now goes to Finance Committee for further review and will likely be back for another House vote.

The bill imposes a fee in addition to annual registration for all vehicles with an EPA fuel economy rating of more than 20 miles per gallon. The better the fuel efficiency, the higher the fee.

Highly efficient gas and hybrid vehicles with a fuel economy range of 40 to 50 mpg would pay a road usage fee of $62 a year. Fully electric vehicles would pay $111.

Opponents called it bad public policy and bad tax policy, arguing the state should be encouraging fuel-efficient vehicles, not taxing them at a higher rate.

Supporters said roads and bridges in the state are deteriorating, while receipts into the highway fund are declining, and something must be done.

Gun-free zones

A bill (HB 1749) adding penalties to towns or school districts that impose gun-free zones, a power restricted only to the state, was referred for further study.

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Thank you, Sununu