Another View -- Stephen Shurtleff: House leadership focus is on finding common-sense solutions
As the New Hampshire House of Representatives came back into session, a new atmosphere of bipartisan cooperation and open communication between the two parties was symbolized best by the new seating plan that had Republican and Democratic House members seated next to one another rather than split into voting blocks.
But just as there is hope for a renewed focus on working across party lines to find common ground and solutions to the problems facing our state, there are some issues that the House was forced to revisit early in the session.
Some have criticized the new Democratic leadership for revisiting the gun ban in the House chamber and gallery on our first day of the session. While I agree that there are many more important issues facing our state, I want to set the record straight about why the House dealt with this issue on our first day.
Quite simply, the House needs to approve rules on the first day of the session in order to conduct all other business, and the gun ban, as it had existed for 40 years, was a part of the House Rules. This was not simply a decision to reverse the decision of a Bill O'Brien-led House, but rather a return to a policy that had worked for Democratic and Republican majorities dating back to Republican Speaker Marshall Cobleigh in the early 1970s.
While the Republican-led House was widely (and rightly) criticized two years ago for repealing the gun ban in the House chamber on its first day, the criticism was largely derived from the House GOP reversing a policy that had been in place for close to 40 years and without regard for public safety concerns of having guns in a public building that is regularly visited by school groups.
And while there were certainly many other issues that we could have spent our Wednesday afternoon discussing, as representatives, we have a duty to have an open and honest debate of all issues that come before the House. Unlike the previous House leadership, we did not limit debate, nor will we going forward on any issue.
I would also add that reinstating the gun ban was not the first piece of business that the NH House acted upon this year. Even though it was not as exciting a headline, before the debate on the House Rules, the House unanimously approved a bill to help save the taxpayers of the Newfound School District hundreds of thousands of dollars when it passed a fix to legislation passed through the GOP-led legislature two years ago.
This first piece of legislation showed that Democrats and Republicans could effectively work together to help solve problems and it set the right tone for the coming session. While there will be times that the New Hampshire House must revisit and reverse some of the more extreme policies that were passed by the Bill O'Brien-led House over the last two years, the priority of House Democrats is to focus on finding common-sense solutions to the problems facing our state.
Rep. Stephen Shurtleff of Penacook is the House Majority Leader.