Capital Beat: Concealed weapons on Legislature’s agenda

Last modified: 1/26/2015 12:37:34 AM
Republicans already scored one victory in the firearms category: allowing concealed weapons back into the House Chamber. Now they are going for the second: a constitutional carry law that would mean you don’t have to get a state-issued license in order to carry a concealed gun. 

“I would call it common sense legislation,” said Rep. JR Hoell, a Dunbarton Republican and co-sponsor of the bill. It’s “a plain Jane constitutional carry bill.”

New Hampshire is an open carry state, meaning if you can buy a gun you can carry it in the open. But if you want to carry a concealed firearm, you need a license that is issued by the local police or officials. This bill, sponsored by Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, would change that and effectively allow anyone who can legally own a gun to carry that firearm concealed. 

“People have a Second Amendment right,” said Bradley, who does not own any guns. “We’re an open carry state already; I just don’t see why the distinction.”

The legislation, posted publicly just a few days ago, will get a hearing on Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Supporters are already rallying behind the legislation. The New Hampshire Firearms Coalition, which bills itself as the state’s “only no-compromise gun rights organization” sent an email to its listserv last week urging members to attend the hearing. 

Bradley has heard from just one person, he said, a police chief who told him he will likely not be supporting the bill. 

Hoell predicts the legislation will see widespread support and pass both Republican-controlled legislative chambers. “I expect the governor to sign it,” he said. “It protects women and the elderly.” Republican state Sen. David Boutin of Hooksett is a third sponsor on the bill. 

It’s not the first time constitutional carry has come up at the State House. Bradley supported similar legislation in 2011, which ended up passing the House. 

Second amendment rights typically haven’t been one of Bradley’s signature issues – which tend to focus on job growth or energy. So, is this a sign he is considering a future campaign for higher office?

“No. Don’t read anything into it,” Bradley said, after laughing for a solid five seconds. “I felt as majority leader I had a responsibility to do it.”

 In the dark

A day before the Department of Health and Human Services publicly presented a plan to cut $7 million in state payments to nursing homes, administrators who run those facilities were in the dark. 

“Nobody knew about this,” said Lori Shibinette, administrator of Merrimack County Nursing Home in Boscawen. 

HHS presented a plan to lawmakers Friday to trim $45 million from its budget to help plug a $58 million department shortfall, largely driven by unforeseen costs. That plan included a $7 million reduction in state payments to nursing homes. Days before the committee meeting, the department submitted several complex budget documents showing the cuts, as a late addition to the agenda. 

It triggered confusion, and left several nursing home officials wondering about the size of the cut and what it would mean.

“When you bring an item that shows up a day-and-a-half before the vote needs to be taken, that is a little disheartening to me. People should be able to look at what government is doing, digest it and figure out what’s going on,” said John Poirier, who represents private nursing homes as president and CEO of the New Hampshire Health Care Association. 

HHS commissioner Nick Toumpas said it’s fair to wonder why the agency wasn’t more public with its plans sooner. But, he said, he wanted to avoid having potential cuts “taken out of context” – and needed full approval from the governor before broadcasting the reduction plans.

“We typically don’t go off and consult with people,” he said. “We look very closely at what we think the implications would be if we had to do a reduction. We take that responsibility very seriously.”

In this case, HHS reached a consensus on the nursing home part of the plan probably at the “end of the calendar year, beginning of this new year,” Toumpas said. The department began discussing the changes a month-and-a-half ago with the nursing homes. “They are well aware of this,” he said after the Friday meeting. 

That was a not the message from nursing home officials. A few said they hadn’t heard from HHS, learned of the plan recently from lawmakers, or weren’t sure of the exact figure that was being cut.

At the Friday meeting, lawmakers seized on the $7 million reduction in state nursing home payments. But that piece was just one element in more than $45 million in cuts HHS presented. None of the other components – including pulling back $3 million in inflationary increases to providers – were significantly questioned by lawmakers.

In the end it may not matter. HHS has said most of the reductions it included in its plan don’t need legislative approval. Lawmakers questioned that assertion, and are planning to speak with the attorney general’s office for clarity. 

Overall, the $7 million is a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of the state budget, but the tense discussions, and lack of communication, may be a precursor of what’s in store as lawmakers begin cobbling together the full $10 billion two-year budget plan this session. 

Iowa welcome

Republican state Rep. Bill O’Brien received a warm welcome in Iowa yesterday. He was there to speak at the Iowa Freedom Summit, a testing ground for potential Republican presidential candidates that included appearances by a long list of hopefuls: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, among others. 

O’Brien, who recently lost an election to regain his post as speaker of the House, has been organizing his own group of Republican representatives separate from the official majority office. 

In Iowa, he was introduced as a conservative leader in New Hampshire who as speaker “pushed through a fiscally responsible budget that sent liberal unions into a frenzy.”  In his speech O’Brien talked about the importance of electing a true conservative leader in the early presidential voting states, which elicited loud bouts of cheering from the crowd. He also took jabs at Mitt Romney and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, neither of whom attended the Iowa event, but who are both weighing presidential runs.

“I don’t know what is worse, nominating someone merely because he has been nominated twice before,” O’Brien said (Romney has run twice, but was the Republican nominee only in 2012). “Or nominating a liberal supporter of . . . Common Core because he has a familiar name. Are we going to do that again?”

“No!” shouted the audience from their seats. 

Back in New Hampshire, O’Brien has said he is planning to run a series of events to introduce presidential candidates to activists and voters. Will he become a sought-out organizer by the non-establishment candidates?

Obama and Hassan

With a defiant wink to Republicans, President Obama underscored his message of helping the middle class in his State of the Union address last week.

And despite sounding many of the same middle class themes in her inaugural speech, and touching on many of the same topics – higher education, energy, and healthcare – you’re not likely to see many snarky winks from Gov. Maggie Hassan any time soon.

While both Hassan and Obama have to work with a Republican House and Senate, they are at very different points in their political careers.“Obama said he has run his last campaign,” said Dante Scala, a professor of political science at UNH. “He is at the point where he is looking at his legacy; Hassan is probably at the middle of her political life.”

While the president can strong arm some of his proposals, Hassan truly needs to work across the aisle here in New Hampshire.

“We’ll have to see whether or not N.H. Republicans are more or less united than congressional Republicans,” Scala said.

(Casey McDermott and Jonathan Van Fleet contributed to this column. Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at


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