CONCORD, N.H. — A purported parental rights bill was defeated Thursday on a five-vote margin in the 400-member New Hampshire House of Representatives, prompting a sigh of relief among critics who had warned the bill would harm LGBTQ students.
The Republican-backed legislation would have required schools to disclose information about a child’s gender identity to their parents upon request, unless school personnel could show “clear and convincing evidence” that the child would likely be abused or neglected.
Opponents argued the measure would infringe on the privacy rights of an already vulnerable group of young people, so they celebrated when the House voted 195-190 to indefinitely postpone Senate Bill 272, which means the legislation is dead and won’t come back up for the remainder of this year and next.
Representative Gerri Cannon, a Democrat from Somersworth who is transgender, said the defeat is a joyous occasion for LGBTQ people in New Hampshire and those pushing back against anti-LGBTQ legislation nationwide.
“We’ve been heard in New Hampshire, and we’ve set the tone for other states,” she said. “We need to stand up for the children in our schools. They have rights. Just like all of us, they have the rights to be who they are, safely.
“If a parent wants to know what’s going on with their child from a gender or sexuality perspective, they need to ask their child,” she added.
Two Republican representatives — David Bickford of New Durham and Joseph Guthrie of Hampstead — bucked their party to join 193 Democrats in voting to defeat the bill.
Before debate began, House Speaker Sherman Packard, a Republican from Londonderry, told lawmakers to refrain from booing, yelling, or impugning each other’s motives. After the final vote, he released a statement criticizing his colleagues across the aisle.
“I am disheartened House Democrats chose institutions over NH parents today,” Packard said. “They chose secrets over parent-involved solutions. They chose to ignore the majority of NH parents who made it clear they were looking for legislative support to help protect their rights and their children.”
The most fiery remarks during Thursday’s debate came from House majority leader Jason Osborne, a Republican from Auburn, who raised his voice and drew murmuring then cheers from the chamber as he derided schools as “a mysterious and secretive black box.”
Osborne said the bill would be sending a message to parents that they have no choice but to avail themselves of the state’s education freedom accounts to transfer their kids to nonpublic schools.
Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut — who has previously run for governor — released a statement saying the New Hampshire Department of Education is “disappointed” with the vote to kill SB 272.
Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, had expressed a favorable view of the bill, though he said he would have waited to review the final version before deciding whether to sign it.
Senate Republicans responded to the bill’s defeat with a vitriolic statement that bashed Democrats and called on Sununu to issue an executive order on parental rights.
“By denying parents the opportunity to exercise their inherent authority, Democrats have undermined the very fabric of our society, where the family unit and parental involvement play an essential role in the upbringing and development of our children,” the Senate Republicans said.
A spokesperson for Sununu did not immediately respond to questions about whether he would be open to pursuing a parental rights executive order.
Before the final vote on Thursday, lawmakers considered and adopted six amendments to the bill, including a major change that stripped the four most controversial provisions from the legislation.
“It has been a rough day for anyone who advocated for parental rights,” said Representative Brian Cole of Manchester. “I would have liked to see it pass, but we didn’t have the votes today to get it done.”
Cole said he’s amazed the House rejected such a popular bill.
“On the flip side,” he added, ”I understand that perhaps the state should not get involved in making a mandate for all school districts and that’s what we saw prevail today.”
Republicans hold an extremely narrow four-seat advantage in the chamber. Several absences and the two defections were enough to foil the party’s attempt to pass this bill, which is topically similar to a bill that failed a year ago after Sununu vowed to veto it.
With only nine declared absences, Thursday’s votes we relatively well attended — only once before in the past 20 years have so few absences been recorded, according to research by Citizens Count, a nonpartisan nonprofit.
While one lawmaker caught flak for remaining out of state on a family vacation, others drew praise for adjusting their travel plans to attend the vote.
Steven Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @reporterporter.