My Turn: House Republicans are not done putting legislative session at risk

For the Monitor
Published: 8/1/2020 6:00:19 AM

This past June, House Republican leadership took the unprecedented action of trying to shut down the legislative session. Republican leadership, trying to protect the governor from having to veto priorities of Granite Staters, refused to change the deadlines under which the House operates.

The deadlines had to be changed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Like a toddler trying to justify his or her actions, Republican leadership had different excuses for why they wanted to stop the people’s work.

At first it was because they were not involved enough. The problem with that excuse was I personally spoke with members of Republican leadership multiple times a week and our committee chairs had emails showing them working with their Republican counterparts. Once it was obvious that excuse wasn’t going to work, they resorted to blackmail, telling us they wouldn’t agree to amend the deadlines unless we agreed to suspend the business tax trigger proposed by Gov. Sununu in the 2019 budget agreement.

Not only were we not going to respond to blackmail, we also knew that the trigger in the budget was likely not going to be reached. It has not, and tax rates will remain the same.

Working with the Senate we were still able to pass important legislation pertaining to the COVID-19 crisis, minimum wage, health care coverage, and fair elections. Still, House Republicans couldn’t bring themselves to bipartisan cooperation. Even though Senate Republicans agreed, nearly unanimously with 32 bills that were passed out of the Senate, House Republicans objected to almost all of them.

House Republicans voted against adopting the consent calendar – a group of bills so noncontroversial they normally pass on a voice vote, and even voted against a bill that allowed for absentee voting for the 2020 election due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thankfully, even the governor recognized how extreme that position was and recently signed the bill into law. It has become clear that House Republicans are increasingly out of touch with the people they represent and that their only mission was to obstruct.

If only that was the end of the obstruction. During our first session back after we suspended our work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I introduced a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the Legislature to meet remotely when a state emergency order or federal emergency order is in place. Granite Staters across the state are being asked to plan. Schools are trying to reopen. Businesses are figuring out how to adjust to life with employees working from home. And parents are making plans for how to deal with children who can no longer go to school when they have even the slightest cold. I felt it was important for the House of Representatives to make a plan as well.

With cases rising across the country and in New Hampshire and knowing the average age of a state representative in this state is 63, it was an important step. Unsurprisingly, and seemingly just out of spite, House Republicans voted against the measure. Since the constitution requires members to be “present and voting,” we are left to figure out how the 400-member House can once again meet in person next session when we very well could be in the second phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I hope when people are casting their ballots this year they remember that during a global crisis House Republicans played politics and attempted to shut down the Legislature while House Democrats showed up to get the work done and pass legislation that helps all of New Hampshire.

(Steve Shurtleff of Penacook is speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives.)

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