CONCORD — Rep. Brian Gallagher, a Republican from Sanbornton, expected his bill to prohibit women from baring their breasts in public to spark controversy, but he was surprised yesterday when the Republican leadership of the New Hampshire House of Representatives sought to ensure that it, like the nipples he seeks to veil, would not see the light of day.
By longstanding tradition, every bill filed by the 400 members of the House and 24 members of the Senate in New Hampshire is granted a hearing before a committee and brought to a vote on the floor. But, yesterday, as the House readied to vote to accept more than 700 bills filed by its members the majority leader Dick Hinch, a Republican from Merrimack, moved to cull Gallagher’s bill from the herd and forestall its introduction.
Hinch told the House the bill was “too controversial” and noted that the question of public toplessness is before the court, a reference to the case of Heidi Lilley, who was issued a citation by the Gilford Police after baring her breasts on the town beach last summer, which is pending in the Fourth Circuit Court, Laconia Division.
A roll call vote to scuttle the bill failed, 186 to 160. Ten of Gallagher’s fellow Republican members of the Belknap County delegation — Russ Dumais of Gilford; Dennis Fields of Sanbornton; Don Flanders, Bob Luther and Frank Tilton of Laconia; Valerie Fraser of New Hampton; Shari LeBreche of Belmont; Dave Russell of Gilmanton; Herb Vadney of Meredith; and Peter Varney of Alton — voted to quash his bill. Two, Glen Aldrich of Gilford and Ray Howard of Alton, joined George Hurt of Gilford and Peter Spanos, both co-sponsors of the bill, and Gallagher in voting to spare it.
Gallagher described the ploy by the leadership as “suppression of free speech. I was elected to represent the people,” he said. “People expressed a concern. I filed a bill and went through the process. My concern is that the bill could be taken away without the opportunity to have a debate on its merits.”
The leadership reacted to a squabble about the bill between representatives that erupted on social media last week which quickly drew attention from the national media. On her Facebook page, Rep. Amanda Bouldin, a Manchester Democrat, chided the sponsors of the bill, all men and all Republicans, for their hypocrisy in championing small government and personal freedom with one hand and policing women’s bodies with the other.
Bouldin’s remarks prompted Rep. Josh Moore, a Republican from Merrimack and co-sponsor of the bill, to reply.
“If it’s a woman’s natural inclination to pull her nipple out in public and you support that,” he wrote, “then you should have no problem with a man’s inclination to stare at it and grab it.”
Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Londonderry Republican, joined the fray, telling Bouldin “No disrespect, but your nipple would be the last one I would want to see.”
Following the vote to introduce Gallagher’s bill, Shawn Jasper, the Republican Speaker of the House, called for civility without referring specifically to the controversy over the bill. He reminded members that with the presidential primary in full swing, New Hampshire and its Legislature are in the national spotlight and untoward remarks cast both in a poor light.
Meanwhile, Gallagher’s bill, House Bill 1525, has been referred to the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which has yet to schedule a public hearing.
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