CONCORD — A proposed 24-week ban on abortions, except those when the mother’s life is at risk, would be part of any House and Senate Republican compromise for the pivotal trailer bill to a two-year state budget.
House GOP negotiators agreed Monday with the Senate to include the abortion ban in the budget measure.
Work on the 300-page plus bill (HB 2) still remains to be done as the two sides remain apart on some other big-ticket items.
Still up for debate are a controversial ban on the teaching of “divisive concepts,” a dental benefit for adults on Medicaid, the process for closing the Sununu Youth Services Center, COVID-19 grant eligibility for newer businesses, a voluntary family leave benefit, and whether to hire more child protection workers.
Over and over on Monday, House Republican leaders agreed to spend money the Senate had tucked into its trailer bill.
House Finance Vice Chairwoman Lynne Ober, R-Hudson, presided over the negotiations, which must be completed by 4 p.m. Thursday.
“I am not wearing my green dress, but I wish we had had all this money to spend,” Ober said.
The Senate’s $13.5 billion budget was crafted after estimates for state revenue were raised significantly because April brought much more business tax money into state coffers than expected.
“We had more money to be able to move things around,” Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, said.
The bottom line
Spending the House agreed to support included $30 million for a forensic hospital, $25 million for affordable housing, $50 million to bail out the state’s highway fund, $30 million more for both cities and towns and school building projects, and $10 million for the victims of the Financial Resources Mortgage Ponzi scheme.
Morse said some of the Senate spending improved the budget’s bottom line.
Repaying the federal government $7 million to build a Conway Bypass will bring in $29 million in federal highway aid, Morse said.
Coming up with a $5 million match for transportation projects would leverage another $25 million in federal grants.
Letting the state lottery use its own surplus to pay off a $2.7 million mortgage on its office building will save the state $400,000 in mortgage payments, he said.
All this would help grow the state’s Rainy Day Fund up to $150 million by the end of the next two-year budget cycle, Morse said.
“I wouldn’t just look at spend lines; we protected money for the future,” Morse said.
Senate negotiators won support for other non-budget items such as the so-called education freedom accounts or vouchers given to parents who send their children to private, religious, charter or alternative public schools outside their neighborhoods (SB 130).
Senate Finance Chairman Gary Daniels, R-Milford, got one of his pet projects added, eliminating a turnpike tollbooth in his district on the north and southbound ramps on Exit 10 in Merrimack (SB 117).
OK with abortion ban
The House had voted on a separate bill to ban abortions and subject doctors to prison terms of up to seven years and up to $100,000 in fines (HB 625).
The Senate decided putting this ban into the trailer bill increased its chances for survival.
Gov. Chris Sununu said he philosophically agreed with the change and would not oppose it being part of the budget.
Kayla Montgomery, vice president of public affairs for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, urged Sununu to change his mind.
“Pro-choice governors don’t sign abortion bans,” Montgomery said in a statement. “Granite Staters deeply value our privacy and our freedom, particularly when it comes to private medical decisions. If Governor Sununu signs this budget, he will be rolling back Granite Staters’ reproductive freedom by becoming the first governor in New Hampshire history to ban abortion and criminalize doctors.”
Critical Race Theory
Sununu had said he would have vetoed a bill (HB 544) to ban the teaching of divisive concepts such as Critical Race Theory.
The governor praised Senate Republicans for rewriting its language in a way that was acceptable to him and strengthened the state’s anti-discrimination law.
On Monday, Ober offered a four-page amendment from House negotiators to prohibit the teaching of discrimination.
Devon Chaffee, executive director of the Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, sharply criticized the latest language.
“This insidious amendment seeks to erase our country and state’s history: one that is factually rooted in slavery, racism, sexism, and discrimination,” Chaffee said in a statement.
“It builds on the already problematic language aiming to censor implicit bias training and education on systemic racism, and now directly targets the teaching of history itself and the racism inherent in much of that history. This is a crisis of New Hampshire’s identity and values: are we an inclusive state that reckons with our difficult history, or one that ignores that history, perpetuating the racism and discrimination stemming from it?”
Rep. Richard Littlefield, R-Laconia, took to social media to defend this cause.
“(This) Wouldn’t have to be done if schools were more worried about proficiency scores, keeping students engaged, rather than advocating for regressive racism,” Littlefield posted.