CONCORD — The Democratic majority in the House on Tuesday passed bills regulating the use of plastic bags and straws, while requiring gender-neutral changing stations for infants and disabled adults in certain public buildings — bills attacked by Republicans as needless government intervention.
HB 558, restricting the use of plastic straws, passed 196-146, with only one Republican joining Democrats in favor of the bill, Rep. David Danielson, R-Bedford.
“Plastic straws cannot be recycled, are harmful to wildlife and are one of the ubiquitous litter problems in our waterways,” according to Rep. Christy Bartlett, D-Merrimack.
The bill prohibits any food service business from providing a single-use plastic straw unless requested, with an exemption for health care facilities.
Businesses could offer straws made from paper, pasta, sugar cane, wood or bamboo.
“Even California recognizes that plastic straws have a place in society, and they chose to only apply their prohibition to full-service restaurants,” said Minority Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack.
“If this bill becomes law, and you’re driving away from receiving your drive-thru milkshake or iced coffee realizing you forgot to ask for a straw, just remember that even your friends in California have more straw freedom than you do here in the Live Free or Die state.”
A bill to restrict the use of single-use carryout bags, HB 560, passed 201-145, with one Republican vote, Arthur Barnes, R-Salem.
The bill forbids any food service business or store with more than 1,000-square feet of retail space from providing a single-use plastic carryout bag to a customer, except to use up the bags they still have on hand.
Businesses would be allowed to sell reusable plastic or recycled paper bags for 10 cents each.
“In 30 years, there will be more plastic, ton for ton, than fish in the ocean, and bits of plastic in the fish we buy,” said Rep. Joyce Weston, D-Plymouth.
Rep. John Hunt, R-Rindge, argued that the issue should instead be sent to a study committee.
“This bill is a fast-track attempt to move New Hampshire from having no laws governing the use of plastic bags to adopting far-reaching legislation,” he said. “The minority agrees that something should be done, but we need to proceed cautiously to identify any unintended consequences.”
HB 520, requiring public accommodations built after Jan. 1, 2021, to install at least one diaper changing station accessible to both men and women, passed 206-142. The bill also requires a similar installation for any public buildings being renovated at a cost greater than $50,000.
“The committee heard testimony from new and young fathers who believe that this accommodation is long overdue,” according to Rep. Edward Butler, D-Hart’s Location.
Republicans argued against the mandate.
“This is a great idea, but I don’t agree with mandating businesses to do it,” said Rep. Kimberly Rice, R-Hudson.
A related bill, HB 628, requires gender-neutral changing stations for adults who have a physical disability at all new public buildings with foot traffic of more than 1,500 people a day or more than 40,000 square feet.
Rep. Constance Van Houten, D-Manchester, described how for 14 years she has taken care of an elderly parent, “changing her on dirty floors of public restrooms.”
“That has instilled in me an appreciation of the need for universal changing stations to preserve the dignity of both caregiver and the disabled person,” she said.
Hunt said this type of changing station with an automated lift does not currently exist anywhere in the state, and requiring them will be an expensive mandate.
“In addition, there is some question about whether it is appropriate to have these lifts installed without ensuring there is someone present who knows how to operate them,” he said.