By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — When the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted Thursday to table a bill extend to gender identity the same protections state law provides against discrimination on the basis of sex, creed, race, age, age, and sexual orientation, Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia) was the lone member of the Beknap County delegation to vote against scuttling the bill.
A dozen of the remaining 16 members, all of whom are Republicans, voted with the majority. They were Marc Abear and Herb Vadney of Meredith, Glen Aldrich and Norm Silber of Gilford, Barbara Comtois of Barnstead, Dennis Fields and Tim Lang of Sanbornton, Ray Howard and Peter Varney of Alton, Michael Maloney of Gilmanton, Michael Sylvia of Belmont and Peter Spanos of Laconia. Robert Fisher and Donald Flanders of Laconia, Valerie Fraser of New Hampton and Jon Plumer of Belmont were excused and did not vote.
The House voted 187 to 179 to table the bill soon after the session began and reaffirmed the outcome by rejecting a motion to take the bill off the table by a vote of 180 to 168 as the day drew to a close.
Speaker Shawn Jasper had pushed to table the bill, citing concerns that men would exploit the legislation to enter women's restrooms. Tabling a bill means it receives no debate or up or down vote. Democratic Rep. Ed Butler, its prime sponsor, urged his colleagues not to sidestep debate on the issue.
"Our job is not to skirt challenging issues but to engage them," Butler told his colleagues.
The bill would've barred discrimination based on gender identity in housing, employment and public accommodations at places such as restaurants or movie theaters. Eighteen other states, including every other New England state, have similar protections in law. New Hampshire provides protections already based on race, religion, sexual orientation and several other factors.
"There's a lot of fear and misunderstanding, and that's unfortunately what seems to lead the way instead of just listening and debating," said Jennifer Huckman, the mother of a transgender teenager.
Republican leadership argued that the bill was flawed and could have unintended consequences. The bathroom argument caught fire among conservative lawmakers, mirroring arguments made during similar debates nationally and in states such as Texas and North Carolina. New Hampshire's Republican governor, Chris Sununu, said Wednesday he had no position on the bill.
"This bill is poorly written and raises too many concerns," said House Speaker Pro Tempore Sherm Packard, a Republican.
Jasper had argued the legislation would make it hard for men to protect their wives and daughters if they saw other men entering women's bathrooms under the guise of being transgender. Such situations do not appear to be happening on a widespread basis in states that have similar protections.
Cornerstone Action, a conservative advocacy group that is against the bill, praised the tabling decision and warned lawmakers against trying to revive the bill.
"This morning's vote to table (the bill) is a temporary reprieve for the many New Hampshire voters who have spoken up with their concerns about the bill during the past week," board member Shannon McGinley said.
It would take a two-thirds majority vote to bring the bill up for a debate.
– AP also contributed to this story.
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