New Hampshire lawmakers tackle leftovers while looking forward

Concord, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire lawmakers started the new year with old business Wednesday, taking up hundreds of bills left over from 2023. But they also looked ahead to the rest of 2024, with some Democrats demanding action on gun control and Republicans describing an agenda focused on the economy, public safety and other priorities.

Republicans hold a 14-10 majority in the Senate. But the GOP advantage in the House remains slim enough that like last year, Democrats could outnumber Republicans on any given day depending on attendance. Currently, there are 198 Republicans, 194 Democrats, three independents and four vacancies.

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Before their sessions began, Democrats from both chambers held an outdoor news conference to outline a package of bills aimed at preventing gun violence. After the fatal shooting of a New Hampshire Hospital security officer in November, Republicans agreed to work with Democrats on a bill that would ensure that those who are involuntarily committed to psychiatric hospitals cannot purchase or possess firearms until it is determined that they are no longer a danger to themselves or others. But Democrats want to go further with legislation related to background checks, extreme risk protection orders, imposing waiting periods before gun sales and establishing a voluntary waiver of the right to purchase weapons.

The closely-divided NH Legislature is currently considering a series of bills that did not win approval earlier in the session.

“There are those in Concord in the building behind us who say that New Hampshire doesn’t have a gun problem, that we’re the safest state in the nation. And even that we’re lucky to live in a state that just happens to have some of the weakest gun laws in the country,” said Rep. David Meuse, D-Portsmouth. “What I say to that is, tell that to the victims and their families. While no series of laws can ever completely stop gun violence and suicides, there are simple, sensible ways we can reduce the level of risk.”

At a separate news conference, Senate Republicans said their focus is maintaining the “New Hampshire advantage,” GOP shorthand for low taxes and a prosperous economy.

“It is vitally important, in my opinion and in all of our opinion, that we protect hard-working men and women from higher taxes, allow small businesses to thrive and maintain our really – compared to other states – good economic status,” said Senate President Jeb Bradley.

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Beyond that, Republicans will focus on public safety – including bail reform, protecting the northern border and increasing penalties for drug trafficking and other crimes, said Sen. Sharon Carson. “Empowering parents,” expanding school choice, improving access to mental health treatment and protecting New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary also will be priorities, she said.

The House, meanwhile, voted Wednesday to move the state primary from September to August to lengthen what is one of the nation’s shortest general election windows. Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a similar bill in 2021.

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