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Republicans nix Democrats' firearms ban, mandatory anti-sexual harassment training

  • New Hampshire lawmakers rise to honor the flag during an outdoor session, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. The 400-member House and 24-member Senate are meeting to get sworn in, choose leaders and elect constitutional officers including the Secretary of State. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Elise Amendola

  • New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner speaks to lawmakers after being re-elected during an outdoor session, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. The 400-member House and 24-member Senate are meeting to get sworn in, choose leaders and elect constitutional officers. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Elise Amendola

  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, at podium, swears in lawmakers during an outdoor session, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. The 400-member House and 24-member Senate are meeting to get sworn in, choose leaders and elect constitutional officers including the Secretary of State. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Elise Amendola

  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, left, swears in lawmakers during an outdoor session, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. The 400-member House and 24-member Senate are meeting to get sworn in, choose leaders and elect constitutional officers including the Secretary of State. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Elise Amendola

  • A section of New Hampshire lawmakers sit without face masks during an outdoor session, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. The 400-member House and 24-member Senate are meeting to get sworn in, choose leaders and elect constitutional officers including the Secretary of State. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Elise Amendola

Monitor staff
Published: 12/2/2020 4:51:06 PM

After two years of speeches and a lawsuit, the ability to carry concealed firearms on the New Hampshire House floor is back. Gone is the requirement for lawmakers in the House to attend anti-sexual harassment training.

Hours into their first session in power Wednesday, New Hampshire House Republicans reversed a pair of lightning-rod rules passed by Democrats in 2018, including one that had banned firearms and deadly weapons from the House floor and gallery.

In a resolution passed shortly after Dick Hinch was elected speaker of the House, the representatives of the newly elected House moved to change the House rules back to their 2016 status – when Republicans were in the majority – overruling a series of recent changes from Democrats.

That means the firearms rule is effectively gone moving forward. And it also means a requirement that all representatives attend in-person anti-sexual harassment training is also no longer in effect.

Both rules had prompted strong opposition from Republicans, who had declared both unconstitutional. The firearms ban rule prompted a lawsuit by several conservative representatives against Democratic House Speaker Steve Shurtleff, while the anti-sexual harassment training mandate caused a handful of representatives to be reprimanded by Shurtleff for failing to follow the rule.

The change was an unusual break in tradition for the House. Ordinarily, the House convenes on Organization Day, the first Wednesday of December, to swear in state representatives and senators, and elect party leaders and state officers only. Any rule changes for the new Legislature are usually made on Convening Day, the first week of January, after the House Rules Committee has a chance to meet later in December and make a recommendation.

Democrats fumed at the departure from standard procedure, which Rep. Timothy Smith called a “black stain” on the body, one made before about a third of the 400 representatives had yet to be sworn in. Citing concerns over COVID-19, a large contingent of Democrats had skipped Wednesday’s outdoor meeting; those representatives will be formally sworn in remotely by the Governor and Executive Council on Thursday.

But almost all the Republicans present appeared to vote to move ahead with the change, which was largely seen as inevitable. Republicans have objected to the mandatory anti-sexual harassment training and firearms ban for two years.

On Wednesday, with only 270 members of the House in attendance at the start of the day and many Democrats absent, the motions passed were largely Republican ones.

Still, other factions made their own attempts.

Democrats tried to pass a rule requiring the House speaker to allow remote voting for members of committees who don’t want to meet in person. The effort, from Rep. Andrew Bouldin of Manchester, was broadly opposed by Republicans, who said that more time should be given to look at the feasibility of the technology, and argued Speaker Hinch should be allowed to make the final decision on committee meetings.

And at one point, a splinter group of Republican representatives attempted a bolder rule change, this time aimed at Gov. Chris Sununu. Rep. Scott Wallace proposed a bill to pare back the governor’s broad powers under the COVID-19 emergency.

“At this point in time, it’s time for the Legislature to do its job and get this state back to normal,” Wallace said.

That attempt needed the support of two-thirds of the members present and didn’t achieve that, with a large number of Republicans, including leadership, joining Democrats in knocking it down. But it still picked up a deep well of support, especially from the group of representatives sitting in the unmasked section.

It wasn’t the first time anti-mask-mandate Republicans have challenged their own party in recent weeks; recently Rep. Andrew Prout and six others floated an impeachment motion against Sununu. But ahead of Organization Day, he and the others withdrew that motion, seeking instead to focus on statutory reform.

Near the end of the day, one Republican representative attempted something even bolder: A rule suggesting that those representatives who did not show up on Wednesday due to COVID concerns would not be allowed to be sworn in remotely by the Governor and Executive Council until a further review by a House committee. That committee would decide whether the representatives could be seated if they had not taken the oath in person.

Hinch shot down that proposal, calling it out of order as it would trample on the executive branch’s authority.

By then, there wasn’t much objection. After three hours in the crisp December air, the representatives were cold.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at 369-3307, edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)




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