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Legislative madness makes its return

Last modified: 1/10/2012 12:00:00 AM
Believe it or not, it was just a week ago that New Hampshire House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt held a press conference to assure the world that the Legislature's main focus this term would be on the economy.

"While the Democrats and some in the media remain obsessed with social issues, House Republicans have worked to produce more than a dozen pieces of legislation that will keep the 'Open for Business' sign hanging out in front of the state of New Hampshire and help put our citizens back to work by fostering a prosperous, business-friendly atmosphere," he said.

Sure, there are a "limited number" of offbeat legislative proposals filed by "one or two representatives," he said - but it's unfair paint those as characteristic of the entire House.

Well, that was last Tuesday. Here's what happened since then:

• The House passed a bill that would prohibit college, state and local officials from banning guns on campus, in day care centers and in other public places.

• The House voted to let people carry concealed guns without a permit.

• Not only that, but legislators also embraced legislation to allow loaded rifles and shotguns in motor vehicles.

• The House passed legislation likely to welcome payday lenders back into the state - just a couple years after they were chased away. The bill would allow "installment loans" with interest rates as high as 403 percent. Similarly, they pushed through legislation allowing extraordinarily high interest rates on car title loans - overriding Lynch's 2011 veto.

• Lawmakers endorsed a bill that would free insurers from having to cover home births and the services of midwives - despite compelling arguments that home births are cheaper than those in hospitals. This, in the name of reigning in the cost of insurance.

• Lawmakers debated whether to strip state licensing requirements from hairdressers, massage therapists and a dozen other professions. They rejected the bill - but the issue will return in an alternative form later this year.

• The House passed a bill aimed at weakening the State Employees' Association: preventing the union from automatically collecting money from workers who don't join the union and pay full dues. Does this sound familiar? It's a more narrow version of the right-to-work bill that lawmakers couldn't pass in 2011 after Gov. John Lynch's veto. But hope apparently springs eternal.

• Lawmakers overrode Lynch's veto of a bill giving parents the option to exempt their children from any school material they find objectionable.

Yes, Bettencourt is right - there are some bizarre proposals that are the pet projects of just a small number of unconventional legislators. On that list we'd include the failed effort to take President Obama's name off today's presidential primary ballot. We'd include the bills that would weaken the teaching of evolution, the bill to post warning signs at the state border, the bill to link contemporary legislation to the Magna Carta. We'd include the bill to turn the state's inmates into involuntary vegetarians - except on Sundays. We'd throw in the bill that says judges must be at least 60 years old.

But the legislation passed last week was endorsed by a majority of the Republican-led House - in some cases, an overwhelming majority.

These bills will increase the possibility of deadly gun violence in the state. They will make out-of-state students think twice before attending college here. They will put desperate residents at the mercy of predatory lenders. They will limit women's options in how to give birth - perhaps putting midwives out of business altogether.

None of them would improve life in New Hampshire.

There may well be thoughtful proposals to encourage business growth pending in the House - but those elusive job-creators just might think twice, given this collection.

Sort of a breathtaking tally for Week 1, wouldn't you say?


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