The Bulletin Board

Sununu vows veto of ‘parental bill of rights’

By: - May 19, 2022 11:27 am

Sen. Becky Whitley (center right), a Hopkinton Democrat, speaks in opposition to HB 1431, which would require public schools to inform parents of changes to their child’s gender expression or identity. (Ethan DeWitt | New Hampshire Bulletin)

This story and headline were updated on May 19 at 2:16 p.m. to reflect Gov. Chris Sununu’s statement vowing to veto the final version of the bill.

Gov. Chris Sununu vowed to veto a controversial “parental rights” bill Thursday, arguing that it could cause “challenges” to children, hours after Republican Senate and House negotiators had agreed to advance it.

In a statement, Sununu expressed concerns over the legislation, which would require public schools to notify parents if their child brought questions about their gender identity to a staff member.

“This bill as written creates numerous challenges for kids,” Sununu said. “I share the concerns of the Attorney General and as such, will veto the bill if it reaches my desk.”

The statement came after a series of dramatic twists and turns for the bill, which had appeared to fall apart in negotiations Tuesday. On Thursday, House and Senate Republican leaders maneuvered to revive the bill, sending it on a potential path to Sununu’s desk.

In its latest version, House Bill 1431 would require schools to develop policies to inform parents “promptly” about a number of developments with their child, including any action taken around “gender expression or identity.” 

That language mirrors a version of the bill passed by Senate Republicans weeks ago. But the new version, introduced as an amendment Thursday, also includes a “severability clause” that allows sections of the bill to still stand if certain portions are challenged in court and struck down. That provision could protect less controversial pieces from falling if the matter is litigated.

And it features language that one Senate Republican, Sharon Carson of Londonderry, said would address concerns that information identifying victims of domestic violence could be disclosed under other sections of the bill that require schools to provide certain records. 

The bill has been opposed by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, LGBTQ+ rights groups, civil rights advocates, and teachers unions, who noted that the legislation would require schools to “out” trans students to their parents. They argued that doing so could be dangerous for some students and might discourage others from seeking help at school.

At an earlier committee of conference meeting between House and Senate lawmakers this week, House Republican negotiators also expressed opposition to the bill, citing advocates’ concerns for the safety of LGBTQ children. The chambers had appeared to reach an impasse Tuesday.

But on Thursday, House Speaker Sherman Packard, a Londonderry Republican, replaced two of the House negotiators on the committee with himself and House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, an Auburn Republican. The new negotiators agreed to accept the Senate amendment presented, allowing the bill to advance.

Discussion in the final meeting Thursday morning was brief but heated.

Sen. Becky Whitley of Hopkinton, the lone Democrat on the committee, said the new changes to the bill did not address concerns raised by LGBTQ+ advocates, and warned that the bill could have harmful effects on children whose parents are less accepting. 

“I think that this bill is antithetical to all the work we have done in the state to ensure that individuals in this community, in the LGBT community, can live a life free from discrimination and be safe in all communities,” Whitley said.

Osborne responded by summarizing House and Senate Republicans’ position. “I think it’s pretty clear that when children need help, their best chance of getting it is when a parent knows what’s going on,” he said.

One House Republican, Rep. Debra DeSimone of Atkinson, appeared to reverse her position on the bill from earlier in the week. On Tuesday, DeSimone had expressed similar concerns as Whitley that the bill would put children whose parents don’t accept their gender expression or identity in a harmful position. She warned it could lead to an increase in teen suicides. But on Thursday, she voted to accept the Senate’s position, noting to the committee that she did so “begrudgingly.”

“I think there needs to be more work done to protect the kids who do not have what every kid deserves in a parent,” DeSimone said in an interview after the vote. 

Other House Republican members who opposed the bill, including Rep. Kimberly Rice of Hudson, were removed and replaced on the negotiating committee by Packard. 

The amended bill now heads back to the full House and Senate, which will vote on May 26 whether to send the bill to Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk.

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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]