The state budget’s numbers and policies belong to us now. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)
Seventy-three bills failed to get a vote in the New Hampshire House after lawmakers missed a key deadline Friday, angering Democrats who accused House Speaker Sherman Packard of setting up the schedule to fail.
In one fell swoop, as the House session came to a close Friday, bills ranging from voting to criminal justice died before being heard on the floor.
Among the dropped items were a bill allowing “no-excuse” absentee voting; a bill prohibiting police officers from using deadly force during arrests; a constitutional amendment creating an independent redistricting commission; a bill raising the minimum wage; and a bill requiring a person’s citizenship status to be printed on New Hampshire driver’s licenses.
The failure to give the bills a floor vote came out of an organizational dilemma. Lawmakers had been meeting at the New Hampshire Sportsplex in Bedford from Wednesday to Friday, voting in a marathon session on roughly half of the nearly 200 bills on their plate.
But as the session came to a close and the April 9 end-of-day deadline loomed, 73 bills still remained on the books. Packard, a Londonderry Republican, moved to close the session, citing an agreement the chamber had made with the owners of the Sportsplex to vacate the building by 7 p.m.
The House had rented out the complex in order to ensure socially distanced seating for lawmakers
In the end, the chamber voted to adjourn the session, 329-15. But after the closure, Democrats objected to the process.
During the three-day marathon, Packard had arranged the schedule of the bills to prioritize legislation that had been approved by committees, largely Republican-led bills, and de-prioritize legislation that had been recommended to be killed by committees, largely Democrat-led bills.
“In the decades that I have served in the House, I don’t remember ever seeing such broad and aggressive moves by the majority to rig our sessions to kill so many bills without discussion, debate, or votes,” said Rep. David Cote, a Nashua Democrat and the deputy Democratic leader.
But House Director of Communications Jennifer Tramp defended the closing of the session, noting that 92% of Democrats had voted in favor of ending the session early.
“The speaker had been pretty transparent that we were not going indefinitely into the night during any of our session days,” said Tramp in a statement Tuesday. “Members were reminded of the proposed end time during the day, each day.”
The House can extend its own deadlines retroactively – effectively giving the bills a second chance – a process that requires the support of two-thirds of the chamber.
Tramp said there were no current plans to do so, but that a lawmaker could propose it and put it to a vote.
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