CONCORD, N.H. — With a series of nail-biter votes Wednesday morning, the New Hampshire House of Representatives set aside its version of a parental rights bill that has been raising alarm among advocates for LGBTQ people.
Supporters of the Republican-backed legislation said it would reaffirm the rightful role of parents to direct the upbringing of their children. But opponents said it’s a dangerous and unnecessary “culture war” proposal that would harm students, families, and teachers.
Republicans offered a floor amendment that would have overhauled House Bill 10, adding provisions that would force schools to out transgender students to their parents. But the amendment failed by a margin of four votes, 190-194. Then a motion to approve the bill in its unamended form failed by six votes, 189-195.
Democrats had hoped to kill the bill entirely. But a motion to table the measure passed instead. The vote was 193-192, with the chair weighing in to avoid a tie.
“The proposed parental bill of rights legislation was a shameful effort straight out of a culture war handbook, rather than a sincere effort to enable teachers and parents to work together in the best interest of students,” said Deb Howes, president of the American Federation of Teachers in New Hampshire. “Let’s hope this brings an end to a terrible foray into the euphemism of parental rights but really was an abuse of students’ and educators’ rights.”
Tabled bills can be brought back up for consideration, but there is another pending measure, Senate Bill 272, that’s a more-likely vehicle for parental rights legislation this session. Senators passed their bill last week and sent it to the House.
There are many differences between the House and Senate versions, but they follow the same basic structure. Both include a long list of parental rights, including many that are already established elsewhere under state and federal law. And both would allow for civil litigation as a way for parents to claim that their rights have been violated.
One major difference between the two bills is that the House version would also impose professional and criminal penalties. School personnel who knowingly violate the law could have their teaching credentials suspended or revoked, and they could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, which is a criminal offense punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, a Republican from Auburn, said on Wednesday that the position Democrats took on HB 10 seems to suggest they want to keep the government in charge and keep parents in the dark about their kids.
“This bill sought to answer one fundamental question: who are your children’s parents? You, or the state?” Osborne said. “Democrats want school to be a black box for you to deposit your children.”
Osborne said educators and parents “should be partners in a child’s education,” and school administrators shouldn’t be the ones deciding whether to release or withhold information to parents.
“Sadly, today every Democrat in the House chose to support systems and secrets over parents,” Osborne said.
Minority Leader Matt Wilhelm, a Democrat from Manchester, said the parental rights legislation is dangerous and unnecessary. It would threaten the health and safety of children by injecting the government into the parent-child relationship, he said.
“Tabling this bill is a step in the right direction, but we must end right-wing culture wars and kill this concept once and for all,” Wilhelm said.
Advocates for LGBTQ people have been especially pointed in their criticism for the Senate bill, which would require schools to answer “truthfully and completely” when parents ask about their child’s gender expression, effectively forcing teachers to out transgender students.
The original House bill didn’t include any specific requirements based on a child’s gender expression at school, but Republicans sought to change that with Wednesday’s proposed floor amendment. Under the amendment, which was defeated, the House bill would have said parents have a right to ask for and receive information from school personnel about any change to the name, gender, or pronouns their child uses at school.
There appears to be widespread approval for the idea that parents have a right to be told if their minor child is being identified by a different gender at school. While 64 percent of New Hampshire residents agreed with that idea, just 27 percent disagreed, according to polling results released Tuesday by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
Pollsters didn’t ask about any particular penalties or enforcement mechanisms, but they did ask whether respondents supported parental rights legislation in general terms. On that question, public opinion was closely divided, with 41 percent supporting such efforts and 39 percent opposing. Support for the legislation was higher among those with children in their household.
The data also show a stark political divide: while 73 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of independents expressed support for a parental bill of rights, just 6 percent of Democrats did so.