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House tables transgender civil rights bill

State House Bureau

March 09. 2017 11:41AM
A bathroom sign welcomes both genders at the Cacao Cinnamon coffee shop in Durham, N.C., on May 3, 2016. (REUTERS/Jonathan Drake/File Photo)

CONCORD — A bill that would have guaranteed transgender people civil rights protections in employment, housing and public accommodations was tabled Thursday by the New Hampshire House of Representatives in a 187-179 vote, effectively killing the measure for the rest of this legislative session.

The bill, HB 478, came to the House floor with a 15-2 bipartisan vote of “ought to pass” by the House Human Services Committee, but was strongly opposed by the House Republican leadership.

Speaker Shawn Jasper and Majority Leader Dick Hinch worked the Republican caucus aggressively in the past week to get the votes needed to table the measure.

“We used every resource that was available to us,” said Hinch after the morning vote. “We had a number of undecideds along the way who wanted to hear the pros and cons. We had to do our job.”

Republican leadership also had to make sure their members stayed in the House chamber for the day-long session. The close vote could have been reconsidered later in the day if enough opponents had left the session and supporters stayed in their seats.

“We ordered seatbelts for all Republican representatives,” said Hinch.

Nearly seven hours later, a vote to remove the bill from the table and debate on its merits failed 180-168.

Rep. Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, arguing in support of tabling the bill, said it has “serious flaws.”

“Our job as legislators is to pass sound legislation and this bill is not sound,” he said. “Some sections of this bill have serious ramifications that will tie the hands of our citizens and institutions who make decisions based on what’s right in their own situations.”

Rep. Edward Butler, D-Harts Location, urged the House to at least allow a vote on the bill, which he described as urgently needed.

“There are real people with real life experiences who are being evicted or being denied treatment in hospitals due to lack of clarity in the law and they need protection now,” he said.

Hinch said the major concern of the Republicans who voted against the bill was the public accommodations portion, which raises the issue of access to public bathrooms by transgender individuals.

“The most egregious part of the bill has to do with public accommodations,” he said. “The rest of the bill is workable. In fact there are many parts of the bill that are already practiced as part of our human rights initiatives.”

Hinch had prepared an amendment to deal with that issue in case the motion to table failed. “As husbands and fathers we have very grave concerns about making sure that our wives and daughters are adequately protected,” he said.

Sarah Huckman, a 16-year-old transgender student at Kingswood Regional High School in Wolfeboro, watched the debate from the gallery with her family and later met with reporters.

“I’m very disappointed that it didn’t happen,” she said, “but at the same time I’m still OK with it. I know that even though we are going to have problems we will be able to overcome what’s happened here today.”

Huckman was among the many transgender individuals who testified in support of the bill in the House public hearing.

“I want be able to go to college, get a job, get housing at an apartment,” she said. “Now that (the bill) has been tabled, I could be denied a job, an apartment or admission to colleges, just because I’m transgendered.”

Democrats criticized Gov. Chris Sununu for failing to take a position on the bill. He told reporters on Wednesday he was monitoring the situation, but had no personal opinion on the matter.

“With Sununu’s support, the bill, which was tabled by a slim margin, would be on its way to the corner office,” said Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley. “His silence and apathy are a tacit endorsement of discrimination and he will have to live with the fact that he denied many transgender people the freedom that is granted through equality under the law.”

Sununu’s office declined to comment on the tabling of the bill.

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