Key Point 1: "Republicans in the New Hampshire House are advancing a series of conservative social issues -- ranging from bills loosening restrictions on gun owners to a likely vote seeking to repeal the state's gay marriage law .... But several Upper Valley Democrats, and a handful of Republicans, say the bills are too extreme and take the focus away from the economy."
Key Point 2: "Kidder, the New London Republican who could see his town merged with Newbury in a new two-person House district that could put him in a contest with a more conservative Republican, said he believes the GOP may suffer at the polls in the fall from what many regard as extreme legislation."
Valley Newsy: In Concord, An Agenda of Social Issues
By John P. Gregg
Valley News Staff Writer
West Lebanon -- Republicans in the New Hampshire House are advancing a series of conservative social issues -- ranging from bills loosening restrictions on gun owners to a likely vote seeking to repeal the state's gay marriage law -- that they say are consistent with constituents' wishes and faith in small government.
But several Upper Valley Democrats, and a handful of Republicans, say the bills are too extreme and take the focus away from the economy.
The fate of the bills, which are fueled by the GOP's sweeping success in 2010, remain uncertain in the Republican-controlled state Senate.
"They are going after the social stuff this year, and we knew it was coming," said state Rep. David Kidder, a moderate fourth-term New London Republican who was assigned to the obscure House Legislative Administration Committee, because of his refusal to toe the GOP party line.
"The gun legislation, with those first three bills, I just think they were crazy. Why do we need to deal with these kind of things? We've got the fiscal issues -- that's enough to keep our plate full," Kidder added.
Lawmakers on Jan. 4 and 5 passed several conservative bills, including measures that would allow loaded guns in a car, allows residents to carry a concealed weapon without a state permit and could likely lead to guns being allowed on state college campuses.
State Rep. Steve Cunningham, a Croydon Republican who was the chief sponsor of the latter measure, said the bill simply gives the authority to regulate where weapons can be taken on state property to Legislators, not to state administrators.
"Whether you want to ban them or allow them everywhere ... (that) should be up to the lawmakers of the state," said Cunningham, who is an NRA-certified pistol instructor, home safety instructor and certified range safety officer.
If the concealed weapons bill becomes law, Cunningham said New Hampshire would be joining a handful of other states, including Vermont, with similar laws.
But state Rep. Andy Schmidt, a Grantham Democrat and self-professed hunter and gun owner, said allowing guns on campus or allowing loaded guns in cars could be more dangerous.
"It's not an issue of the Second Amendment that concerns me. It's the issue of public safety. I feel they are detrimental to public safety," said Schmidt, a retired insurance adjuster.
House lawmakers tomorrow are expected to vote on a bill intended to prohibit any state funding for Planned Parenthood or other abortion providers, and a vote to repeal gay marriage and replace it with civil unions is also likely in the weeks to come.
Legislation that already passed the House this month included measures to allow divorcing spouses in child custody cases open access to all medical and psychiatric records; allowing installment loans that can cost borrowers far more than 36 percent in annual interest; and declaring an "unborn child" as a person for the purpose of homicide cases.
Lebanon's four Democratic House lawmakers have begun a newsletter cataloging the bills for constituents, and state Rep. Susan Almy said another measure to be voted on tomorrow -- a proposed constitutional amendment that would prohibit any new tax from being levied directly or indirectly on a person's income -- could block virtually any new tax and handcuff future Legislatures.
"One of the scariest things about this is (that) in freezing taxes we are freezing our response in the middle of a changing economy," said Almy, who noted that gas tax collections, which pay for road repairs, could decline dramatically if hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles become more prevalent.
Cunningham, the Sullivan County GOP chairman, said his party is home to a broad range of interests, ranging from establishment Republicans to libertarians and Tea Party activists, and that the House is responding to concerns about liberty.
"As a group we are quite diverse and have a broad representation of views, but I think currently the libertarian, Tea Party people are dominating the party a bit and getting us to concentrate on some of the personal freedom issues," said Cunningham, who applauds the trend.
The House is also about to vote on a resolution supporting Arizona's controversial immigration law, which requires local police to detain people suspected of being in the country illegally and to require legal immigrants to carry their papers with them at all times.
State Rep. Paul LaCasse, a Claremont Republican who voted to ease gun laws and to have the state join a lawsuit challenging President Obama's health care law, said he is adhering to a "small government" philosophy and the will of constituents.
"The majority of people do not want Obamacare," said LaCasse, who also voted to allow the installment loans, noting that adults were mature enough to "make their own decisions."
"It's trying to get government out of their rights and how to do things," he said of his philosophy. "We're all big boys here."
Not all Republicans are comfortable with the focus of the House.
Haverhill Republican state Rep. Rick Ladd, a former school principal who sits on the House Education Committee, said he is concerned by lawmakers' attempts to restrict the rulemaking authority of the state Board of Education.
"We've got to be cautious with that," said Ladd, who said he believes the focus should be on capital improvements for schools; improved funding for post-secondary education; and improved science and math education, among other measures.
"I still think some of the fiscal stuff needs to be in front of us, on our plate here," said Ladd.
Although the House is passing conservative legislation, its fate in the Senate, which is controlled 19-to-5 by Republicans, is uncertain, because Senate leaders have signaled a more pragmatic focus on the economy.
But state Sen. Matthew Houde, a Plainfield Democrat, said the measures will still land on the Senate's plate.
"While leadership in the Senate has indicated that they want to focus on the economy and jobs issues, the proof will be in the pudding," Houde said.
Kidder, the New London Republican who could see his town merged with Newbury in a new two-person House district that could put him in a contest with a more conservative Republican, said he believes the GOP may suffer at the polls in the fall from what many regard as extreme legislation. At the same time, Kidder said he doesn't want to see the House "go careening way back to the other side," saying employers are most concerned about continuity and consistency.
"I think in November we may see a more moderate House," Kidder said.