The Latest: ‘Communicable diseases’ language stripped from absentee voting bill

NH state house
House and Senate Republicans reached agreement Thursday on House Bill 2. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)

This story was updated June 3, 2021, at 4:13.

The New Hampshire House is in session at the NH Sportsplex in Bedford. We will be watching for the vote on right-to-work legislation, Senate Bill 61, among others to come. Here’s a look at some of the votes so far:

Communicable diseases as qualifying condition for absentee voting stripped from bill

The version of Senate Bill 31 passed by the House on Thursday eliminates language that would have made communicable diseases a qualifying condition for absentee voting in the future.

“The underlying bill does a number of laudable things,” said Rep. Russell Muirhead, a Hanover Democrat. “We believe that citizens suffering from communicable diseases should be permitted the use of absentee ballots, and for that reason, we oppose this.”

The bill simplifies absentee ballot affidavit envelopes, an effort which has bipartisan support. It also gives the supervisor of the checklist access to the statewide voter registration database, which Rep. Peter Hayward, a Milton Republican, said would improve the accuracy of voter lists. As introduced, the bill included language that would allow communicable diseases, like COVID, to be a qualifying condition so a person could vote by absentee ballot.

Hayward said that including communicable disease would be problematic, calling it “self-determined” and an “imprecise” unverifiable medical diagnosis.  

The amendment striking that language was approved. The bill, including the amendment, was passed, 214-162.

House passes ‘Second Amendment sanctuary’ bill

The House voted, 199-177, to join several other states in passing legislation that prohibits the state from enforcing any federal rules or orders limiting or regulating access to guns when they are inconsistent with state laws regulating weapons and ammunition.

Because the House amended the Senate version of the bill, it must go back to the Senate for another vote on the changes.

The so-called “Second Amendment sanctuary” bill has been supported by several gun rights groups that see President Joe Biden’s April gun-related executive orders as a threat to their constitutional right to bear arms. These include an order to reduce the proliferation of “ghost guns,” homemade firearms without traceable serial numbers.

Senate Bill 154 has been opposed by domestic violence advocates and others who argue that restricting the enforcement of gun laws would put the public at risk. Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat, was among them Thursday, citing firearms deaths of family members, saying he has “closed the coffin lid on the gunshot-riddled body of my father, and having closed the coffin lid on the gunshot-riddled body of my brother-in-law.” He continued, “Gun violence is something that strikes at the heart of many families in this state and in this country.”

Background-check bill passes

Citing long delays with the state police “Gun Line,” the House voted, 197-180, to pass Senate Bill 141, which would put all background checks on firearm purchases in the FBI’s hands. The state currently does background checks on handguns only, while the FBI handles long guns.

The bill would also allow county sheriffs to conduct their own federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) background checks when deciding whether to return firearms to individuals under a protective order for domestic violence or stalking.

The bill passed the Senate, 14-10, along party lines. The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee had recommended it be voted inexpedient to legislate, arguing the state police have addressed delays with its check. There was also concern passing the bill would allow the federal government to collect data on handgun owners.

The bill was championed by gun groups as well as Senate Republicans. House supporters included Rep. John Burt, a Goffstown Republican, who said earlier this year: “A yes vote on a motion to (designate as inexpedient to legislate) is a vote in favor of a wait period for gun buyers. This is an anti-gun vote.”

‘Main Street’ aid bill defeated

Businesses that opened within nine months of COVID-19 or during the pandemic were not eligible for federal “Main Street” aid last year. The Senate voted 23-1 to lift that deadline for future rounds of aid.

The New Hampshire House said no Thursday, following the Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee’s 11-7 recommendation that the bill be voted inexpedient to legislate.

Opponents said Senate Bill 107 was irrelevant because future aid will be governed by federal rules, not state rules. Supporters argued the existing deadlines unfairly excluded businesses that have been no less hurt than the nearly 7,600 businesses that received aid from the Main Street Relief Fund.

An earlier version of this article misstated Hampton Democratic Rep. Renny Cushing’s title and party.