Commentary

Commentary: The overwhelming intrusion of the party claiming to corner the market on freedom

July 1, 2021 6:10 am
State flag and the State House dome

The state budget’s numbers and policies belong to us now. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)

The New Hampshire Republican Party would have you believe that they have just done you a solid.

The GOP-led Legislature just passed a $13.5 billion budget as well as an accompanying policy trailer bill. GOP Gov. Chris Sununu promptly signed both bills into law. Both the numbers and the policies belong to us now. They’re supposed to make Granite Staters’ lives freer and better. All through this year’s legislative process, the GOP alone allegedly has been working to keep big, bad government from dictating and intruding into individuals’ lives. With these laws, they promise, they’ve achieved their and your goals.

That’s their story, anyway. The problem is that the story is fiction. Parts of the budget and trailer laws intrude more into people’s lives than anything Democrats or anyone else might have dreamt up, lacking only the honesty of purpose that might be found in other legislation.

Let’s begin with the restrictions placed on abortion in the new law, signed by a governor who somehow still insists on calling himself “pro-choice.” The new law inserts itself into women’s medical crises by imposing non-medically indicated imperatives, such as forcing women to continue pregnancies after 24 weeks even after they have been told the fetus has died or that their babies will be born with deformities incompatible with life. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. This harsh law will endanger the health of some patients and further traumatize them at their most devastating moments. It also threatens doctors who try to provide the best medical care possible to their patients with up to seven years in prison. 

How is that freedom?

When challenged during debate on another mandate in the bill – the one that forces any woman seeking an abortion at any stage of pregnancy to undergo a medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound at her own expense (again with no exception for rape or incest) – Sen. Sharon Carson stated that these ultrasounds would give more information to patients. 

“How is that anti-woman?” she said. “In fact, I think it’s probably empowering women to take control over their bodies and their lives.”

Were women asking the senator or anyone else for mandated, medically unnecessary, invasive procedures in order to assume control over their lives? I was under the impression that women, in concert with their medical providers, were already capable of determining for themselves when they need more information and when they do not. How paternalistic of the self-labeled party of freedom.

But this failed illusion is not only about abortion.

The budget trailer bill signed into law also contains New Hampshire’s version of a “divisive concepts” provision. This language in effect bans discussion of the real and systemic racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, etc., ingrained in our society and experienced by Granite Staters and other Americans every day. Throughout the debate on this legislation, supporters frequently decried the “indoctrination” they feared from those who would teach a more well-rounded view of American racial and gender history and who aim to acknowledge the systemic discrimination still present in our society today. Proponents fought hard for inclusion of this language in the bill, in part, they said, to protect children and adults from being exposed to these concepts. 

This language legislators passed and Gov. Sununu signed constitutes a public censorship law, banning discussion of certain ideas under the guise of protecting children especially from “indoctrination.” Not once, it seems, did the supporters of this censorship bill consider that their own actions comprised the very thing they claimed to be avoiding. If you’re banning the teaching of reality-based concepts like race and gender in today’s society in order to prevent people from learning to think critically for themselves about those issues, you are most certainly engaging in state-imposed indoctrination. 

Next we turn to the “education freedom accounts,” where the sales pitch is built right into the name.

Proponents of what is now one of the most sweeping education voucher programs in the United States say that a law that allows you to remove your child from public school and take the state per-child allocated portion of the funding with you to a private, religious, or home school is all about freedom and choice. But there are many things proponents aren’t telling you.

New Hampshire’s new law allocates funds to children who are already attending private, religious, and home schools. The per-child allocation doesn’t amount to nearly enough money to cover many non-religious private schools’ tuitions, so you won’t be able to choose any school you want, and unlike public schools, those private schools aren’t required to take all comers; they can choose which students they’d like to teach while rejecting others.

The law has very little accountability built into it, so you won’t really know if your tax dollars are being used wisely. But you know already that your tax dollars will be supporting religious schools.

And it gets worse, because the truth is that the scale of this program will devastate public schools and result in higher property taxes because the latter is the vehicle we use in large part to fund our public schools. When state adequacy grants follow a child who leaves a public school, the school can’t simply adjust the budget to accommodate that exit. You can’t cut part of a teacher, or a school bus, or a heating bill. Schools don’t work that way.

Eventually, if many students leave, a school can slash staff and programs in subsequent years’ budgets. But the size of New Hampshire’s public school classes will get bigger, the academic choices available to older kids will decrease, and these schools will still be required to take all the students who can’t get accepted to or pay for private schools, or whose families still believe in the democratizing (small “d”) goal of quality public education that serves all of the people. And your property taxes will still increase in the process.

Does that sound like freedom of choice to you?

Today’s New Hampshire GOP sings a fine song about freedom, but the truth is they’re only interested in the freedom to organize people’s lives in the way they think people ought to live. They’re perfectly fine with government intrusion when it suits their purpose. 

So take their freedom with a grain of salt, because as it turns out, freedom not only isn’t always free – sometimes it’s not even freedom.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Tracy Hahn-Burkett
Tracy Hahn-Burkett

Tracy Hahn-Burkett is a writer and public policy advocate. Her website is TracyHahnBurkett.com, and you can find her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/THahnBurkett.

MORE FROM AUTHOR