What to watch as NH lawmakers head back to the State House this week

Representatives Hall in the New Hampshire State House.

Representatives Hall in the New Hampshire State House. Dan Tuohy / NHPR

New Hampshire Public Radio

Published: 01-03-2024 12:22 PM

State lawmakers will kick off their 2024 session this week by polishing off 2023’s leftovers — the more than 300 bills slated for action last year that were retained over the summer.

The New Hampshire House of Representatives has the far fuller plate, and is poised to act on more than 200 bills this week alone.

Most of those proposals are expected to end up being killed. The same outcome is also likely in the New Hampshire Senate, which held onto more than 75 bills from 2023.

But both chambers will debate — and could pass — significant policies, including bills addressing the state’s bail system, landfill siting and gender-affirming healthcare. They will also vote on a plan to move the state’s primary election day to August from its current position in early September.

Here’s an overview of what’s on the docket this week in the State House.

Bail reform

The House will take up several bills related to the state’s bail system. One (House Bill 318) would boost pay for bail commissioners; another (Senate Bill 249) would create up to 15 court magistrate positions to expedite bail hearings and issue warrants when judges aren’t available. Another proposal, Senate Bill 252, would require bail hearings before bail is granted for violent crimes

The Senate, meanwhile, will take up its own bail measure: Senate Bill 248. It would require people charged with any of 13 specific violent crimes to be held without bail until they go before a judge.

Transgender rights

Several bills that could affect the rights of transgender Granite Staters are headed for a vote this week.

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The most sweeping bill, House Bill 619, would prohibit trans youth from receiving gender transition-related medical care before age 18 and place various restrictions on trans students in public schools. A proposed amendment could significantly narrow the focus of the legislation, banning only gender-affirming genital surgeries and removing the language on schools.

Another bill, House Bill 396, would clarify that government entities can separate bathrooms, athletic competitions, prisons and jails by “biological sex.”

LGBTQ+ rights advocates, meanwhile, are backing House Bill 264, which would make it easier for someone to change their birth certificate so it aligns with their gender identity.

Another bill, House Bill 368, aims to protect patients against lawsuits and criminal investigations based on other states’ laws against gender affirming care.

Drug policy

House Bill 470 would make it legal for harm reduction organizations to test small amounts of controlled drugs, for the purpose of informing people whether those drugs have been mixed with fentanyl or other substances. It would also allow individuals to possess drug-checking equipment and “nominal” amounts of a controlled drug for testing purposes.

State Primary Day

House Bill 115 would move the state’s primary election day to August, from its tradition spot in early September. It’s the latest of several attempts to lengthen New Hampshire’s notoriously short general election window.

Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a bill to move the primary to August in 2021.

Landfill siting

House Bill 607, as amended by the House, would institute a two-step permitting process for new landfills. A preliminary screening phase would allow regulators to decide whether the location of a proposed landfill violates any rules created by the Department of Environmental Services before the landfill application proceeds. The bill also directs the department to create criteria for where landfills can be located based on things like whether soils at the proposed site are permeable, how far a site is from where waste is being generated, or whether the site is part of special habitats.

Law Enforcement Physical Fitness

House Bill 113 would eliminate state fitness tests — push-ups, sit-ups, and a mile and half run — for people applying to become police officers. Backers of the bill say those tests, which are adjusted for age and gender, have become a barrier for local police departments that are struggling to fill jobs.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.