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N.H. lawmakers let housing discrimination bill die for year

Last modified: 5/29/2014 12:18:40 AM
House and Senate members ended negotiations on a housing discrimination bill without a solution yesterday, leaving advocates with only the option of bringing the bill back next year.

The House-passed version of the bill banned landlords from discriminating against victims of domestic violence or people who receive federal housing subsidies. But after hearing from landlords who were against the bill, senators suggested creating a committee to study the issue more fully.

During yesterday’s committee of conference, House members suggested prohibiting discrimination only against veterans who receive specific housing subsidies or extending the protections only for victims of domestic violence. But senators held firm that the issue needs further study. After a roughly 30-minute, and at times heated, meeting, the two sides agreed to disagree and left the bill to die.

Rep. Sylvia Gale, a Nashua Democrat, said she worried the committee wouldn’t have enough time to conduct a meaningful study by November and that victims who supported the bill might be discouraged from coming back next year. Gale is a retired employee of the Division of Children, Youth and Families.

“What I know about people that are low income, what I know about people that feel powerless, what I know about people that are turned away – they’re not going to come back the next time and ask again,” Gale said.

But Sen. David Boutin, a Hooksett Republican who helped structure the proposed committee, said senators took the issue very seriously and would commit to a meaningful study committee.

During a Senate hearing on the bill, Boutin spoke passionately about his support for victims of domestic violence. But also during that hearing, senators heard from several landlords who said dealing with the federal government, which administers the housing subsidies, can overburden landlords with only a few properties.

“We’re trying to expose the issue as much as possible,” Boutin said.

At one point during the conference, tempers flared between Sen. Sharon Carson, a Londonderry Republican, and Rep. Peter Sullivan, a Manchester Democrat. Carson said the Senate refused to compromise on its position and accused Sullivan of disrespecting and talking down to her. He suggested the Senate was using a study committee as a “fig leaf” instead of dealing with the issue head on.

Carson noted that the Senate passed five pieces of legislation aimed at protecting victims of domestic violence this year and bristled at the suggestion that senators did not wish to tackle the issue meaningfully.

New Hampshire Legal Assistance, which advocated for the bill, released a statement after the conference saying much of the resistance to the original bill was based on misinformation about low-income people.

“New Hampshire Legal Assistance will continue to fight for our clients who face housing discrimination every day. . . . We remain open to working with all stakeholders toward a legislative solution that will advance housing opportunity for all,” the statement said.

House and Senate negotiations also fell apart yesterday on a bill to increase unemployment benefits. House members wanted to increase the benefits, while the Senate did not. After a passionate debate on the Senate floor earlier this month, senators voted along party lines against increasing the benefits.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)


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