House finishes work with slew of ‘Christmas tree’ bills
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Christmas came early for the New Hampshire House on Tuesday, but for the most part, only Democrats were celebrating.
With their work interrupted for months by the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers scrambled to meet Tuesday’s deadline for final action on all bills. After the Republican minority in the House effectively killed hundreds of bills earlier this month, Senate Democrats responded by combining hundreds of bills into catch-all measures and sending them back to the House, which could only vote yes or no Tuesday but couldn’t make any changes.
Such omnibus bills also are called “Christmas trees” because there’s so much hanging on them. Republicans repeatedly objected to the process, saying lawmakers shouldn’t be passing bills that hadn’t been properly vetted with public hearings.
“This Christmas tree has more decorations than the Rockfeller Center tree,” Rep. Glenn Cordelli, R-Tuftonburo, said in opposing one bill that combined a dozen education measures. “The lights on this Christmas tree are all bright red.”
But those complaints didn’t sway the majority, and every bill passed. Among them were several related to criminal justice, including one that would prohibit the use of choke holds by police, require police report misconduct by their peers and require them to be screened for psychological stability prior to starting work. The legislation was drafted before the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked widespread protests about racial injustice, but supporters have said the deaths of Floyd and other Black men and women highlight the need for such measures. Floyd, who was handcuffed, died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes.
“It’s not enough for us just to give our hearts and prayers to people who are in situations where they are victims of overreach by law enforcement,” said Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, who drew scattered boos when he said “Black lives matter.”
Criticizing that response, House Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Concord, later said Cushing’s remarks would be printed in the official record for the day.
“As someone who has seen both brown and Black people shed their blood on foreign soil in defense of our liberties here in America, it breaks my heart to see their sons and daughters dying on the streets of America so needlessly,” he said.
The House also passed an omnibus bill that included lifting the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault, requiring colleges to adopt policies on sexual misconduct and removing the exception for married minors from the definition of sexual assault. Another measure would close a loophole that made it legal for teachers to have sexual contact with students over the age of 16 if they weren’t coerced.
The House also passed a package of bills related to prescription medication, including measures that would create a program to import generic drugs from Canada, limit copayments on insulin and require insurance coverage of epinephrine pens.
Tuesday’s session was held at the University of New Hampshire’s hockey arena to allow the 400 members to be socially distanced to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. At least five of the bills sought to address the pandemic’s fallout, with measures aimed at employment, elections, health care and housing.