Squirrels, hares, and bears: As a new session approaches, a look at under-the-radar legislation

By: , and - December 2, 2021 5:49 am
House chamber

The program was years in the making and was added to the budget at the last minute by Senate Republicans over the objections of House Republicans. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

While proposed legislation suggests COVID-19, voting rights, and abortion will consume much of the legislative debate once lawmakers reconvene in January, there are at least 800 proposed bills focused on other matters, like snowshoe hares, funeral processions, and utility companies hoping to fell trees on private property.

We read through the 874 proposed pieces of legislation from House and Senate members and pulled out a few that will likely get less attention in 2022. 

Squirrel season

There’s a season for everything – even hunting gray squirrels. But a proposal is looking to start that season two weeks later, moving it from Sept. 1 to Sept. 15. 

Co-sponsor Rep. Amanda Bouldin, a Manchester Democrat, said climate change has pushed squirrels to mate later in the year. She thinks the start of the hunting season should be adjusted to reflect that, giving mother squirrels sufficient time to rear their young, called “kittens.” 

“They fit in the palm of your hand,” she said. “We don’t want things going the way of the dodo.”

The bill would also put squirrel hunting season into statute. Right now, it’s up to the commissioner of Fish and Game to establish the start of the season. 

Help for hares

Clemency would be granted to hares and rabbits being held to train hunting dogs under House Bill 1308. If passed, the legislation would require those snowshoe hares and wild rabbits in captivity to be returned to the wild, or to a wildlife rehabilitator if they can’t survive in the wild. Rep. Edith Tucker, a Randolph Democrat, signed on as a co-sponsor. She said five clubs are licensed to take hares and rabbits from the wild in New Hampshire.

Tucker expects the bill will face opposition because the practice is historic. She suggested rabbit and hare hunters train their dogs with rabbit scent, as fox hunters do. “It just doesn’t seem like the type of thing New Hampshire would want to continue to do,” she said.

A heads up on tree work

Right now, your electric utility can chop down a tree on your property to accommodate wires and infrastructure as needed without providing notice. House Bill 1012 aims to change that by requiring utilities to give property owners 45 days notice before cutting or pruning trees near utility poles.

Crop compensation

A law that’s been on the books since 1895 compensates farmers whose crops have been damaged by bears – a provision that House Bill 1201, co-sponsored by Rep. Leonard Turcotte, a Barrington Republican, seeks to repeal. 

In past years, the state has paid anywhere from $9,000 to $80,000 – averaging around $27,000 per year.

The compensation law was updated this year, deleting mountain lions from the statute, among other adjustments, amid heated debates about whether mountain lions exist in the state. Bears are certainly still a presence and have increased to over 5,000 thanks to conservation efforts. 

A more leisurely lunch

New Hampshire public school students who are rushed to finish their lunch may soon have a statute on their side, if a bill by Rep. Brodie Deshaies, a Wolfeboro Republican, succeeds next year.

House Bill 1058 would require public schools to provide lunch breaks of at least 30 minutes, and give students 20 minutes of that to sit down and eat their food. That time could not be used for traveling to the cafeteria, waiting in line for food, filling a water bottle, cleaning up, or heading back to class.

The bill would also require lunch to be held between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. 

Driving lessons

For decades, New Hampshire’s teenagers have had one option available in getting a driver’s license: a certified driver’s education school that can cost $700. Rep. Tim Lang, a Sanbornton Republican, wants to break that stranglehold.

“It’s a closed monopoly,” Lang said. “And so you have a captive audience.”

Lang’s bill, House Bill 1208, would allow student drivers to take the written and practical driving tests if a parent, guardian, or “other responsible adult” provides equivalent classroom instruction and driving training.

Lang has tried to pass a bill since 2018 but has some in his party worried it would raise car insurance rates. He said the New Hampshire Insurance Department has told him rates would not increase, but parents of teenagers who opt out of formal driver’s education could lose discounts. With that assurance, Lang has more support this time: House Majority Leader Jason Osborne is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Lang argues any concerns about safety implications are misplaced. Students who learn driver’s ed at home will need to take the same tests as those in formal driver’s ed programs. If their at-home instruction is deficient, that will be caught, he said.

A toll exemption

For many New Hampshire veterans who opt to be buried in the state’s veterans cemetery in Boscawen, a funeral procession means a trip up Interstate 93 – and tolls for those driving.

Rep. Maureen Mooney, a Merrimack Republican, wants to remove that obstacle by allowing funeral homes to apply for an exemption for processions heading to the cemetery. Mooney says the bill would provide a small bureaucratic token to those who have served. 

“It would be a nice tribute to veterans in the future if they were exempt from that toll on their last ride, essentially, to their resting place,” she said. 

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee reported on energy and environment for New Hampshire Bulletin. She also previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.

Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel. Email: [email protected]

Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications. Email: [email protected]