CONCORD — A bill to declare gun-free zones on school property across the state is on its way to the Senate, after passing the House for the second time, 213-159.
Thursday’s vote was largely along party lines, with nine Democrats opposed and one Republican in favor.
The bill (HB 564) bans possession of firearms on school property, including buildings, grounds, school buses and vans. Exceptions would include anyone picking up or dropping off a student, provided the firearms remain in a motor vehicle.
The first House vote in February followed a review by the Education Committee, after which the bill was sent to the Criminal Justice Committee.
“The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee strongly feels this bill is in the best interests of students and teachers of our state. It is our considered opinion that firearms do not belong on school or school property unless carried by personnel authorized by school administration,” said Rep. Sandy Swinburne, D-Marlborough.
Rep. Mel Meyler, D-Contoocook, said New Hampshire is one of only three state that does not have a similar school safety statute.
School boards would have the option of authorizing exemptions under certain circumstances, and the law would not apply to law enforcement, resource officers or members of the military when on duty.
School districts in several New Hampshire communities have tried to impose gun-free zones, but a state law giving the state Legislature sole authority on all gun-related issues rendered those local decisions moot, according to the Attorney General.
The review by the Criminal Justice Committee focused on the penalties in the bill, which Rep. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem, said would create a new class of criminals.
“This bill is creating a crime, but not doing anything to prevent a crime from happening,” he said.
Violators can be cited for a Class A misdemeanor and could face fines of up to $2,000 and a year in jail.
“Its intention is to keep children safe, but the law would apply when the school is not in session. Anyone on school property for any event held by the town even when school is not in session could be prosecuted under this statute,” he said. “We will be prosecuting individuals with no criminal intent who are law-abiding citizens.”
The bill did not pass by the two-thirds majority that will be required to override an anticipated veto by Gov. Chris Sununu, should it also pass the Senate.
A bill to establish a procedure to protect older citizens and other vulnerable adults from exploitation and abuse passed 219-156, with opposition from GOP members over potential confiscation of firearms by court order.
They argued it did not provide enough due process protections for accused abusers.
The main focus of bill, which now moves to the Senate, is financial exploitation of the elderly.
Other House bills
HB 641, which gives municipalities the option of implementing a hotel or room rental occupancy fee of up to $2 per day per room, passed 209-146, and now goes to the Senate.
Supporters of the bill say it’s designed to help cities and towns make up for the legislature’s continued reduction in their share of the statewide rooms and meals tax.
A bill to allow a special officiant license for anyone to solemnize a marriage in New Hampshire, HB 295, passed 214-155, with only three GOP votes.
HB 729, a bill to create a right-to-know ombudsman and commission, failed 203-165, after Finance Committee review.
Opponents argued that the $48,000 in the bill is inadequate to fund the operation. The bill passed 177-165 in February after Judiciary Committee review, but the Finance Committee recommended killing it.