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NH House reps honor fourth-graders who proposed raptor bill, encourage student involvement

State House Bureau

March 25. 2015 7:05PM
In this image taken from video, Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, bottom left, speaks to the NH House on Wednesday, addressing the House's handling of a bill sponsored by fourth-graders. (Source: video)

CONCORD — The House Wednesday honored fourth-graders who participated in the government process, after lawmakers killed a bill earlier this month that proposed making the red-tailed hawk the state raptor.

Concerns over a floor speech by Rep. Warren Groen, R-Rochester, on the bill caused House Speaker Shawn Jasper to call for him to apologize. Groen has not apologized.

Groen, a pro-life activist, suggested the hawk could be a symbol of the Planned Parenthood organization, saying the bird rip apart their victims limb from limb.

Several other House members chastised the bill, saying lawmakers had more important business to attend to beyond naming the state raptor.

The incident made national news after an NH1 broadcast report that included the comments of Groen and other representatives went viral.

Gov. Maggie Hassan will deliver the House resolution to the Lincoln Akerman School in Hampton Falls next week along with a letter from Jasper apologizing for the incident.

The resolution notes fourth-graders have initiated legislation for many years including designating the state dog, amphibian, insect, fruit and vegetable, but also unsuccessful attempts to name the state color, beverage, fossil and raptor.

“New Hampshire supports the rights of all her citizens to be involved in the legislative process, especially and including all the students who wander the halls of the oldest, continually used state house in the nation.”Through the resolution the House recognized the students’ involvement and encouraged them to participate in the process even if they are not successful.

The prime sponsor of House Bill 373 to name the red-tailed hawk the state raptor, Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, told his colleagues he first came to the State House as a fourth-grader and felt the place was special.

Cushing said he first spoke on the House floor as a high school student attempting to convince lawmakers to lower the voting age to 18 years old at a public hearing.

“I was treated with respect,” Cushing said. “No one advocated for my not being here. No one made fun of the legislation or mocked me.”

He noted a fair amount of attention has been paid to what the House did earlier this month when the Lincoln Akerman fourth graders were in the gallery waiting to see the House act on their bill.

He said he later told the class the legislature is not always mean and cranky as it appeared that day.

And Cushing apologized to the students and their parents for what happened that day, receiving a standing ovation when he finished.

The red-tailed hawk is apt to make another appearance in the State House. The Senate is expected to add making the red-tailed hawk to another bill and send it back to the House.

Click below for video of Cushing's remarks.

School building aid

The House killed a bill that would have provided $50 million a year in state aid for school building and renovation projects.

The school building aid program has been suspended for several budget cycles.

Rep. Michael Cahill, D-Newmarket, urged his colleagues to pass the HB 215, saying there are many renovation and rehabilitation projects that need to be done.

“We did find more money for charter schools,” he said. “That is all well and good, but let’s find more money for the public schools our students attend.”

Rep. Ken Weyler, R-Kingston, said the school building program began when the student population was increasing and was used to encourage smaller school districts to band together and create bigger systems.

But with declining student enrollment, there is less pressure to build new schools, he said.

“It’s time to get rid of school building aid,” Weyler said. “It’s a local responsibility and it should remain so.”

Electronic location

The House sent to the Senate House Bill 468, which would require a warrant to obtain the location of an electronic device.

The bill initially approved by the House but needed review by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

The committee agreed the penalty for violating the statute should be a Class B misdemeanor.

Land use tax

The House also sent to the Senate, HB 572, that would require the developer of a gas pipeline taking land by eminent domain to pay the land use tax to take property out of current use.

And the landowner could require the developer to take the entire parcel of land, not just the portion needed for the pipeline.

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