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House rejects bill to ban guns at polling places

State House Bureau

February 15. 2017 9:09PM
Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, said law-abiding New Hampshire citizens should not be denied their constitutional right to carry a firearm “discreetly” in any polling place just because many schools serve as polling places. (DAN TUOHY/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD — A bill to ban firearms at polling places was defeated in the New Hampshire House of Representatives on Wednesday in a 204-144 vote.

Supporters of the ban said the issue is more important than ever, now that the state is close to allowing concealed carry of firearms without a permit from the local police chief. The "Constitutional Carry" bill has passed both the House and Senate, and is likely to be signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu.

Rep. Wayne Burton, D-Durham, said the ban should also be approved to make New Hampshire law consistent with the federal Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994, since so many communities use school buildings for voting.

“Given the expected elimination of the concealed carry permit, the minority would prefer to retain this bill in order to address those issues and possible conflicts with federal law,” said Burton.

Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, arguing for the Republican majority on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said law-abiding New Hampshire citizens should not be denied their constitutional right to carry a firearm “discreetly” in any polling place just because many schools serve as polling places during local, state and national elections.

He also pointed out that the bill makes no exception for law enforcement.

“It is a poor solution in search of a non-existent problem,” he said.

HB 201, a bill requiring background checks for commercial firearms sales, will be the first bill up for debate when the House reconvenes today.

The bill would extend background checks that now apply to in-store purchases to private sales at gun shows, online or through classified ads.

Sharing pension cost

A bill that requires the state to pay 15 percent of public employee pension costs for cities and towns passed in a bipartisan 267-83 vote. If the bill is signed into law, the state will resume retirement subsidies that were eliminated in 2011, when the state was paying 25 percent.

State Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, sponsor of the bill, said the restoration will help reduce the local property tax burden.

At one point, the state paid as much as 40 percent of the pension costs, as an incentive for cities and towns to join the state retirement system.

Rep. Raymond Gagnon, D-Claremont, called the bill “among the most important pieces of legislation to come before the House this session.”

“It provides real assistance to communities faced with escalating property taxes,” he said, “and is in sync with comments made by the governor about reinstating state assistance to its political subdivisions.”

Gagnon said the bill also keeps a promise made to cities and towns as an inducement to join the state retirement system.

Rep. Peter Hansen, R-Amherst, arguing against the bill, said the number of employees, their pay and bonuses are local decisions.

“The minority is concerned that this would encourage towns to spend more,” he said. “In addition, an inducement to join the retirement system a generation ago can reasonably be discontinued now without violating any promises.”

No redistricting commission

The House again defeated a bill that called for an independent redistricting commission to redraw the electoral map of New Hampshire after the 2020 census.

Without a commission, whichever political party has a majority in the House and Senate will be in charge of redrawing districts for elective office after the census numbers are released.

Rep. Norman Silber, R-Gilford, called the bill “an unnecessary and an expensive expansion of state government.”

Rep. Wayne Moynihan, D-Dummer, urged lawmakers to at least retain the bill for further study.

“The committee minority believes that it is a mistake for the House to proceed headlong toward 2020 without carefully considering the appeal of the voters for an independent, nonpartisan redistricting process,” he said.

All the approved bills now move on for consideration in the state Senate.

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