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June 8 - HHS Office Could Close in City

This article appeared in the E-Ticker News June 8, 2015

NH House Happenings

By Rep. John Cloutier
HHS Office Could Close In City

Citizens wishing to vote in future Granite State elections will have to be residents of our state for at least 30 days before being allowed to vote, if New Hampshireʼs House of Representatives and Senate get their way. 

On June 3 the House, by a 211-145 roll call vote, adopted an amended version of Senate Bill 179, which would make various changes in the eligibility requirements for New Hampshire citizens regis- tering to vote. Among these changes would be the requirement that citizens have an established domicile for voting purposes, a domicile that has been established for no less than 30 consecutive days before the election in which they want to vote.

The amended Senate Bill 179 also makes changes and modifications to the term “domicile,” for voting purposes. Among other changes, it redefines a voterʼs domicile “as the principal or primary home or place of abode of a person.” The amended bill further redefines the principal home as “that home or place in which his or her habitation is fixed, and to which a person, whenever he or she is temporarily absent, has the intention of returning after a departure or absence therefrom, including when the person is absent because of military service, “ or temporarily absent as described in current state law. 

Additionally, the amended measure states that the determination of what is a principal or primary place of abode depends on the following circumstances. These circumstances include business pursuits, employment, income sources, residence by income, or other tax pursuits, and motor vehicle registration. The measure declares that qualified voters who have temporarily left their current homes, and gone into another state or another community in this state shall not be considered to have lost their domiciles. Finally, it says that qualified voters who have moved into other states with the intention of making that state their homes shall be considered to have lost their domiciles in New Hampshire. 

Senate Bill 179 as amended now returns to the Senate for further re- view of the Houseʼs amendment, though it is likely that a majority of senators will concur with the amendment. The bill is sponsored by a group of eight Republican legislators led by Londonderry Sen. Sharon Carson. Adoption of the controversial legislation followed a brief debate on the House floor, and after a narrow majority of the House Election Law Committee had recommended passage of the amended legislation.

Senate Bill 179 proponents like Rochester Rep. James Gray declared that the measure was needed “to protect the integrity of the vote.” More specifically, Rep. Gray argued that voter registration requirements should ensure that every person, “who votes in New Hampshire is enti- tled to vote in New Hampshire.” Also he claimed that the “perception of voter fraud is real,” and said such fraud, “diminishes the importance of voting to our citizens.” He added that the billʼs provisions, including changes to the stateʼs current voter registration form, would protect voters moving from one community within our state to another, and those temporarily absent for such reasons as military service. Finally, he said that the Election Law Committee had inserted an amendment to ensure that individuals who do not meet the 30-day residency or domicile requirement would be allowed to vote in their previous domiciles. This inserted amendment was in response to the New Hampshire Supreme Courtʼs recent Guare Decision striking down the voter registration law enacted by a previous legislature in 2012.

Nevertheless, Senate Bill 179 opponents, including Durham Rep. Wayne Moynihan, declared that even the amended bill was unnecessary, confusing, and maybe even unconstitutional. Rep. Moynihan said that as of today there is “no verified or credible record” of such problems “as voter fraud, drive-by-voting,“ or “undeserving voters.” Problems which proponents claimed made the adoption of Senate Bill 179 necessary. He added that the billʼs language making “domicile,” the same as “residency,” for the purposes of voting registration is confusing. Fur- thermore, he claimed that the measure as written would violate the New Hampshire Constitution as recently determined by the Supreme Court in the Guare Decision because the different terms of “residency,” and “domicile,” are used interchangeably. Finally, he stated that it might violate the US Constitution because it makes public certain voter registration and affidavit information now considered private.

For readersʼ information, I voted against Senate Bill 179ʼs adoption. I voted “No,” for many of the same reasons just mentioned by Rep. Moynihan. In other words, this confusing and probably unconstitutional measure is not needed. However, I also voted “No,” because I believe New Hampshire should encourage citizens age 18 and over to vote, rather than discourage them as I believe the amended bill would do. Voter fraud is not a serious problem in our state as of now. But what is a problem is that not enough of our citizens do vote in elections.

During the same June 3 meeting of the full House, I learned of some disturbing news while taking a restroom break. I learned that the New Hampshire Senateʼs Finance Committee had recommended the closure of some regional state offices in its version of House Bill 2, which is the so called “trailer bill” to House Bill 1, the proposed state operating budget. More specifically, the Finance Committee had recommended the closure of four State Health & Human Services Department Offices, including the offices located on Claremontʼs Water Street. A recommendation that was approved by a majority of the Senate on June 4, when it adopted House Bill 2 and House Bill 1. A majority which I was pleased did not include Hanover Sen. David Pierce, who voted “No,” on both bills. 

Obviously, I will do everything possible to insure that the Health & Human Services Departmentʼs offices are not closed in Claremont by specifically removing such closures from House Bill 2. A removal that I hope would be accomplished in the expected Committee of Conference compromise agreement on the “trailer bill.” Otherwise, I would definitely vote “No,” on Committee of Conference agreement regarding House Bill 2.

Editorʼs Note: See related item on page A8.

Email: jocloutier@comcast.net