The Republican-led New Hampshire legislature on Thursday passed a two-year state budget that includes not only $ 13.5 billion in spending, but also tax cuts, abortion restrictions and controversial education programs and guidelines.
When the Democrats controlled both houses two years ago, Republican Governor Chris Sununu vetoed the budget, forcing the state to operate on a temporary spending plan until a compromise was signed three months later. And while Republicans took control of the House and Senate in November, that didn’t make for a smoother path that year.
Divisions among House Republicans had threatened to derail the process, with some protesting against the inclusion of Sununu’s proposal for paid family and sick leave and what they believed were insufficient restraints on the governor’s power during a state of emergency. But in the end, the House of Representatives approved the bill and accompanying legislation by 208-172 votes, which included both related and unrelated policy changes by 198-181 votes. The Senate vote on both bills was 14-10, and Sununu is expected to sign them.
“Historic tax cuts, property tax breaks and paid family medical leave in a single action are a win for every citizen and family in this state,” he said in a statement.
The compromise bill passed on Thursday spends about $ 300 million less than what Sununu proposed in February and about $ 150 million less than what the House of Representatives originally approved in March. Republicans called the budget both fiscally responsible and responsive to the state’s needs after the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s been a tough year for all of us. Let’s give the people of New Hampshire a bright light and optimism about the future,” said Rep. Laurie Sanborn, R-Bedford. “By passing this bill, we are sending a signal to our people and the world: New Hampshire is emerging from this pandemic stronger, freer, more affordable, more generous and more fun than ever before.”
The Democrats, meanwhile, argued that the budget is ignoring the state’s most needy residents while introducing tax cuts to help wealthy citizens and businesses, as well as $ 10 million to reimburse ruthless investors who lost money on a Ponzi scheme. The proposal provides for a reduction in food and lodging tax, a reduction in trade tax, an increase in the notification threshold and a reduction in trade income tax. It also includes the first step to get out of the interest and dividend tax.
“Do we steal from the poor and give to the rich? I think so!” said Senator Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester. “Robinhood in reverse is the image that is ubiquitous in New Hampshire today.”
Here is a look at some of the other important provisions:
The budget would prohibit abortions beyond 24 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions only to save the mother’s life. Health care providers who perform an abortion after 24 weeks of gestation would face a sentence of up to seven years in prison.
“We’re only one of seven states in this country that don’t restrict abortion in any way,” said Senator Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry. “Forty-three states in this country have agreed that at some point one must think about the life of the infant.”
A large segment of Republicans ranked abortion as the number one problem the country is currently facing in a recent poll, while Democrats barely registered it. A Supreme Court decision in the Mississippi abortion case next year could shape the course of the races in 2022, explains NBCLX Political Editor Noah Pransky.
Under the bill, anyone seeking an abortion procedure would have to have an ultrasound. Senator Tom Sherman, D-Rye, spoke out against this provision by showing a vaginal ultrasound probe, while Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham said lawmakers should not give such mandates.
“I’m not a doctor, but I’ve never understood how a 424-member legislature can fit into a doctor’s office and blend in between doctor and patient and order medical procedures like ultrasound without regard to medical necessity, patient safety, or cost.” She said.
The budget includes the creation of voucher-like “freedom of education accounts” that can be used for spending on private schools or home schools. It also contains much-discussed provisions relating to education and race. An earlier version, reflecting a now repealed order by the Trump administration, attempted to ban the discussion of “divisive concepts” in schools. The approved language, proposed as an attempt to strengthen anti-discrimination laws, would prohibit teaching children that they are inferior, racist, sexist, or oppressive because of their race, gender, or other traits.
Opponents said the ruling deprived young people of an inclusive education.
“The real story, if we’re being honest, we can agree that it was painful, harmful and worth testing,” said Rep. Latha Mangipudi, D-Nashua. “This denial of the truth is insidious because it denies the reality we see with our own eyes and experience ourselves. Living in denial of our past makes us doomed to repeat it in the future.”
Representative Safiya Wazir, who came to the US as a refugee from Afghanistan, said the provision undermines “what makes America a place of freedom.”
“We call ourselves the largest country and we should allow discussion,” she said.
A notable omission from the budget was Sununu’s sweeping proposal to combine the state’s 11 community colleges and four-year colleges and universities into a “seamless system” of students. Legislators kept their finances separate in the budget for the next two years, with the aim of reconsidering the idea for the next year.
Under current law, the governor can declare a state of emergency and renew every 21 days for as long as he deems it necessary to protect public safety and welfare, although lawmakers can still vote for it to be repealed. Sununu did so at the beginning of the pandemic and continued the renewal until the beginning of this month.
The budget trailer bill includes new wording that would require the governor to hold a joint legislative session 90 days after the state of emergency was declared and every 90 days thereafter. The legislature then decides on the lifting of the state of emergency by means of a resolution passed by a majority of the members entitled to vote.
The Associated Press Writer Kathy McCormack contributed to this report.