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How Carroll County lawmakers voted on controversial legislation

May 13, 2009
CONCORD — Carroll County legislators voted on five divisive social issues this session: mandatory seatbelt use, transgender rights, a repeal of the death penalty, and the legalization of gay marriage and medical marijuana. Of those five, only the last two bills are en route to the desk of Gov. John Lynch.

The county's representation in Concord is composed of 14 lawmakers from five districts, and votes on these issues weren't strictly down party lines.

District 1 includes Bartlett, Chatham, Conway, Hale's Location, Hart's Location and Jackson, and is represented in the House by Karen Umberger (R-Conway), Gene Chandler (R-Bartlett), Ed Butler (D-Hart's Location) and Tom Buco (D-Conway).

Robert Bridgham (D-Eaton) is the sole representative for the District 2 towns of Albany, Eaton and Madison. District 3—Freedom, Ossipee, Sandwich and Tamworth—has three representatives: Susan Wiley (D-Sandwich), Mark McConkey (R-Freedom) and John Roberts (R-Tamworth).

Wolfeboro Republicans J. David Knox, Christopher Ahlgren and Stanley Stevens and Moultonborough Republican Betsey Patten represent District 4 (Moultonborough, Tuftonboro and Wolfeboro), while Wakefield Republicans Joseph Fleck and Dino Scala represent the District 5 towns of Brookfield, Effingham and Wakefield.

Also voting on these five bills was recently elected State Senator Jeb Bradley, who represents 14 Carroll County communities.

Mandatory seatbelt use

House Bill 383 "requires passenger restraint use by all motor vehicle operators and passengers unless specifically exempt by law." Exemptions include individuals riding on buses and drivers making frequent stops. Violators would be fined $25 for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense.

It passed the House in a vote of 169-151 on April 9. Bridgham, Butler, Knox and Wiley supported the bill, while Buco and eight of the county's Republicans—Ahlgren, Chandler, Fleck, McConkey, Patten, Scala, Stevens and Umberger—rejected the bill. Roberts did not vote.

On April 29, the State Senate voted 13-11 to table the issue, with Bradley voting against tabling. No decision was made.

Transgender rights

House Bill 415 sought protections for transgendered individuals under New Hampshire's existing non-discrimination laws. It banned discrimination against transgenders in health care, the workplace and public accommodations, the latter of which opponents claimed would open up women's restrooms to male sexual predators.

After it was initially shot down by 15 votes, the bill passed the House by a single vote in a reconsideration vote on April 8. Carroll County's 10 Republican representatives voted against it, while Democrats Butler, Wiley and Bridgham voted for it. Buco did not vote.

Bradley and New Hampshire's 23 other state senators voted unanimously to kill the bill on April 29.

Gay marriage

House Bill 436 "eliminates the exclusion of same gender couples from marriage, affirms religious freedom protections of clergy with regard to the solemnization of marriage, and provides a mechanism by which same gender couples who have entered into a civil union prior to the enactment of this bill may obtain the legal status of marriage."

An earlier version of the bill passed the House 186-179 on March 26. Butler, Wiley and Bridgham supported the bill. The county's 10 Republicans and Buco voted against it.

The Senate passed the bill in a 13-11 vote, with Bradley voting no. "I went door to door visiting the voters of Senate District 3, and the overwhelming feeling was that citizens want the Legislature to focus on the economy not these divisive social issues," he stated on April 29.

The Senate added an amendment that protects churches from having to perform marriages against their religious beliefs. On May 6, the bill passed the House with the Senate amendment 178-167, with all Carroll County representatives voting the same.

The bill now goes to Gov. Lynch, who is being heavily lobbied from both sides. While Lynch has said that he believes a marriage is between a man and a woman, he has not revealed whether he will veto the bill, which arrived at the Secretary of State's office on Friday.

Death penalty repeal

House Bill 556 would repeal the death penalty. It passed the House on March 25 by a vote of 193-174. Ahlgren, Bridgham, Butler and Wiley voted for the repeal, while Buco, Chandler, Fleck, McConkey, Patten, Roberts, Scala, Stevens and Umberger voted against it. Knox did not vote.

On April 29, the State Senate voted 13-11 to table the bill (Bradley voted against tabling the bill, which he described on his Web site as "a strategy to avoid making a tough vote that can have political ramifications"). No decision was made.

Medical marijuana

If signed into law, House Bill 648 will allow "the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes if prescribed by a physician." Thirteen other states—including Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island and California—have done the same. Administered by the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, the system would distribute registry identification cards to "qualifying patients" with debilitating medical conditions and allow them to cultivate small amounts on their property.

Democrats Bridgham, Buco, Butler and Wiley—as well as Republican Roberts—backed the bill on March 25, while the other nine Republican representatives from Carroll County rejected the bill. It passed the House 234-138.

The bill passed the Senate with an amendment on April 24 in a 14-10 vote. Bradley voted against it. The House has yet to concur with the Senate version of the bill; the two remained in negotiations at press time. Through his press secretary, Lynch has voiced concerns regarding control of production and distribution of marijuana.

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