CONCORD — The effort by Democratic majorities in the state Legislature to rollback changes to election laws passed by Republicans last year continued on Thursday, as the Senate approved a House-passed bill regarding the definition of residence for voting purposes (HB 106).
Like most election-related bills, the measure passed along party lines, 14-10, with all Republicans opposed. If signed into law, it would repeal a bill passed last year, HB 1264.
“The most serious concern with HB 1264 is that it links the act of registering to vote with the obligations to register your vehicle and obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license, both of which can be very expensive for college students and will create a burden attached to voting that will turn some away from the polls,” said Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, in introducing the bill.
“New Hampshire needs to encourage its students in civic participation and make them feel welcome. HB 106 will prevent HB 1264 from taking effect and ensure that voting in New Hampshire will continue to be uncomplicated and burden-free.”
Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, who led the Republican election-law efforts in 2017-18, said repeal of HB 1264 will put the state back into what she called a “two-tiered system,” in which someone who is domiciled here and also a resident of the state must adhere to the laws of the state, while someone who is domiciled but not a resident doesn’t have to adhere to the laws of the state. That is not a fair system.”
Gov. Chris Sununu initially expressed concerns about HB 1264 and last year requested an advisory opinion as to the bills constitutionality from the state Supreme Court. After the court ruled the law constitutional in a split decision, Sununu signed it into law.
The Senate also passed a House bill (HB 504) calling on Congress to address campaign finance and gerrymandering — the drawing of electoral districts to benefit one party over the other — through constitutional amendments.
“Roughly one-third of the communities across the state have already voted to send this message to Congress,” said Sen. Melanie Levesque, D-Nashua. “They want money out of politics and honest representation. This bill will show that we stand with them and will start to build public trust in our system.”
Birdsell argued against the measure, pointing out that lawmakers have already passed a bipartisan bill to address gerrymandering. She also objected to a provision in the bill requiring the Legislature to host hearings with the state’s federal delegation on the election issues.
“Why should the New Hampshire Legislature be doing the work of our congressional delegation?” she said. “We should not be taking time away from our constituents to deal with federal issues.”
The bill passed along party lines, 14-10.
The Senate shelved a bill (HB 556) that would have allowed municipalities to process absentee ballots prior to Election Day, referring it back to committee for further study.
Other Senate bills
Manchester charter commission: A bill to allow Manchester to create a charter commission that could lead to an independent school district cleared the Senate on a voice vote.
HB 544 will allow voters of Manchester to decide if they would like to impanel a Charter Commission, which could recommend a charter change to establish an autonomous School Board, whose budget would not have to be approved by aldermen.
Voters would first have to create the charter commission, then vote on the charter changes it recommends.
“This bill addresses only the school district and not other departments in the town,” according to Manchester State Rep. Pat Long, who is also a school board member.
Manchester Sen. Lou D’Allesandro said the community needs to decide who is going to have final say over school finances.
“It’s highly problematic what’s going on today … the battles between school board members and aldermen,” he said. “This gives the people of Manchester the opportunity to make a decision on a very significant issue.”
PFAS study commission: A bill creating a commission to investigate the environmental and public health impacts of PFAS contamination in Merrimack, Bedford and Litchfield cleared the Senate on a voice vote.
The vote came after Democrats defeated an amendment brought forward by Republicans to delay for up to two years new drinking water standards related to PFAS about to be released by state environmental officials, pending a cost-benefit analysis.