May 19 - Claremont/Leb Bus Bill Goes to Governor for Consideration

This article appeared in the E-Ticker News May 19, 2014

NH House Happenings

By Rep. John Cloutier

Claremont/Leb Bus Bill Goes To Governor For Consideration

Bus service between Claremont and Lebanon along Route120 is now just one step away from getting the stateʼs blessing because of action taken by New Hampshireʼs House of Representatives last week.

On May 14, the House by voice vote concurred with a minor Senate amendment to House Bill 650, which would authorize such bus service, an amendment that had been earlier approved by the New Hampshire Senate on April 24 upon the recommendation of its Transportation Committee before the full Senate adopted the bill by voice vote. This amendment simply permits Newportʼs Community Alliance Transportation Services to actively solicit federal and private funds to start the bus service, rather than require the mass transit agency to solicit these funds as had been written in the Houseʼs amended version of the bill.

House Bill 650 now proceeds to Gov. Maggie Hassan for her consideration. This week I plan to contact Gov. Hassanʼs office about the bill and ensure that she will sign this worthwhile measure that I believe will be beneficial to the Claremont-Lebanon area, a measure of which I am honored to be the prime sponsor. 

I was in the Senate Gallery on April 24 and watched as Hanover Sen. David Pierce made a great speech supporting the bill. Sen. Pierce, who is the senator for both Claremont and Lebanon as well as a House Bill 650 co-sponsor, declared that the bill could help both cities, which now have approximately the same population as well as surrounding communities. In fact, Sen. Pierce originally wanted me to be the prime sponsor of the bus service bill and asked me to become the prime sponsor because he thought it would be easier for the measure to become law, if it started in the House, rather than the Senate.

In other business, the House on May 15 by a 162-100 roll call vote approved and sent back to the Senate an amended version of Senate Bill 319, which would establish certain parameters or “buffer zones” for access to reproductive health care facilities. These buffer zones would be defined as within a 25-foot radius of any portion of an entrance, exit, or driveway to such facilities and would prohibit people from knowingly entering or remaining on a public sidewalk within these zones. Exceptions would be facility patients, facility employees, law enforcement officers, firefighters, public works, utility, and other con- struction personnel, or other individuals moving along the sidewalk to get to another destination. The buffer zones would only be in effect during the facilityʼs regular business hours.

Furthermore, according to Senate Bill 319ʼs amended version, the buffer zones would have to be clearly marked with signs indicating that no congregating, patrolling, picketing, or demonstrating was allowed between the signs which would be paid for by the affected reproductive health care facilities. But prior to posting such signs, the facilities would be required to consult with local law enforcement and other local officials to insure that the sign locations and sizes would comply with local sign ordinances. Also, law enforcement could not issue citations to anyone violating the designated buffer zones, until after the mandated signage was erected. Additionally, law enforcement would be prohibited from issuing citations to anyone violating the buffer zones until after at least one written warning was given. Violations could carry a minimum fine of $100.

Senate Bill 319ʼs amended version was recommended by a bipartisan majority of the House Judiciary Committee, after earlier passing the Senate in its original form. The bill is sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators led by Manchester Sen. Donna Soucy, and includes New London Sen. Bob Odell, who used to be Claremontʼs senator. Under the billʼs amended version, its provisions would take effect 30 days after becoming law.

The debate on the controversial Senate Bill 319 was very long, lasting nearly three hours. Proponents like Pelham Rep. Charlene Takesian stated that the Judiciary Committeeʼs amended version struck a balance between the right to seek and obtain reproductive health care, including abortions, in a safe and private manner with the right to assemble and demonstrate with opposing anti-abortion views and offer sidewalk counseling on public property. Rep. Takesian also declared that while not all anti-abortion protestors use “objectionable tactics” to advocate their views, such protests often “present threats” to the safety of patients, protestors, and the general public. She added that while many New Hampshire citizens use reproductive health care fa- cilities for various services like physicals and birth control, the protestors often automatically assume they are entering to obtain abortions, “legal procedure objectionable to them.”

Nevertheless, Senate Bill 319 opponents like Londonderry Rep. Alfred Baldasaro claimed that the measureʼs 25-foot buffer zones were not necessary and violated free speech rights under both the United States and New Hampshire Constitutions. Others such as Fremont Rep. Daniel Itse said that the buffer zones were contrary to the New Hampshire Constitution because they gave special protection to only reproductive health care facilities, and not other businesses.

However, other Senate Bill 319 proponents like Westmoreland Rep. Paul Berch pointed out that buffer zones have been earlier established by the New Hampshire Legislature, zones prohibiting demonstrators and signholders within them. They include 150-foot zones for funeral homes and 300-foot zones between one hour before and one hour after funerals, established in 2007 in response to demonstrations by the Westboro Kansas Baptist Church at the funerals of military personnel killed in recent wars.

For readersʼ information, I voted for Senate Bill 319 as amended by the Judiciary Committee. I voted “Yes” because of the reasons stated by Reps. Takesian and Berch.