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Representative Travis O’Hara of Belmont helped sideline one parental rights bill this session, but he said he plans to vote Thursday in favor of another.
O’Hara was one of four Republicans who bucked his party by voting in March against the parental rights bill that originated in the House. That legislation threatened school personnel with criminal penalties, and O’Hara said throwing teachers in jail over these disputes would be “insane.”
The parental rights bill that originated in the Senate has weathered a flood of criticism as well, especially from LGBTQ rights advocates who warn the proposal would force teachers to surveil transgender students and out them to their parents.
But the Senate version sticks to non-criminal penalties, and O’Hara said it’s a better bill “by far.” Still, he sees an opportunity to improve it further.
O’Hara joined two other Belknap County representatives to cosponsor an amendment that would strip four of the most controversial lines from Senate Bill 272, including the ones that would require schools to answer “truthfully and completely” when a parent asks about their child’s gender expression at school.
“Getting rid of the gender identity issues in the bill will make a better bill,” he said.
Some GOP members have vowed to oppose SB 272 if this amendment passes, saying it would “weaken and gut” the bill, but O’Hara said the change would set aside secondary concerns and attract support from across the aisle.
“I think we’ll pick up more Democrat votes than what we lose from Republicans,” he said.
That prediction is awfully optimistic, considering how partisan the legislative process has been on this topic so far. And while O’Hara said he plans to vote in favor of SB 272 even if his amendment fails, the Democratic representative who’s cosponsoring the amendment, Matthew Coker of Meredith, said this amendment wouldn’t be enough on its own to win his support.
“I’m still on the fence about it, depending on which amendments pass,” Coker said, noting that lawmakers have prepared several other potential tweaks.
While “partisan Democrats” are unlikely to be swayed, Coker said the right combination of amendments might persuade a few moderates like him who recognize the need for policies that make parents feel empowered and involved in the education of their children.
Republican Representative Mike Bordes of Laconia is the prime sponsor of the amendment that O’Hara and Coker are backing. He’s among several potential GOP defectors who might sink SB 272 when it comes up for a vote Thursday in the narrowly divided House. Couple of notes:
- Marc Plamondon, a Democrat, won Tuesday’s special election in Nashua, but he cannot be seated in time for Thursday’s votes, so Republicans will still have a four-seat advantage.
- Governor Chris Sununu hasn’t committed to signing SB 272 into law. He said he has a “generally favorable” view of the legislation but will wait to review the bill in its final form.