The New Hampshire House of Representatives kicked off 2012 with a marathon 8-hour session Wednesday.
And in those 8 hours, lawmakers tackled controversial topic after controversial topic, like fetus rights, the death penalty, the 2ndAmendment and health insurance.
Amidst all the action, House leaders flashed something they haven’t shown much of before...restraint.
By now - halfway into their term – House Republicans have earned a reputation for fiscal austerity and Libertarian tendencies.
But with elections in the fall, people are beginning to ask, ‘are those House members going too far?’
The first day of the 2012 session suggests that perhaps some House leaders themselves think so.
Take a bill that would treat the murder of a fetus as manslaughter or negligent homicide, which passed the full House.
Some House Republicans wanted to amend that bill, adding that life begins at conception.
That’s when Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt put his foot down.
“This is a fetal homicide bill, let us stay focused on the issue at hand, and not drift away into other issues. As difficult as it may be personally and morally for some of us.”
The amendment failed.
House leaders also mustered up enough support to table a bill that would expand the death penalty, even though Republicans likely had the necessary votes.
However, Republicans pushed through an extremely controversial gun bill yesterday.
The legislation would allow firearms to be carried on public grounds, including colleges and universities, day care centers and New Hampshire Hospital for people with severe mental illness.
Supporters say the bill ensures citizens 2ndAmendment Rights are protected on public lands.
GOP Representative Mark Warden defended the vote.
“There are a lot of bills that are very confrontational and have a lot of emotion behind them. In general the Live Free of Die State believes in the 2ndAmendment, they like their ability to possess firearms legally and not harm anybody. So I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.”
It apparently was a big deal to lots of Republicans.
The measure only passed by about 35 votes, a tiny margin given the GOP’s 3:1 majority.
Majority Whip Representative Shawn Jasper didn’t like bill.
“I think it went too far. Particularly as it dealt with campuses and dorms. I think there is just, the idea of allowing students to have guns in dorms, where you have roommates and the security is relatively lax. There is such a potential.”
Jasper’s word, ‘potential’ has two meanings.
Obviously, ‘potential’ legislative implications, but also ‘potential’ political implications.
Earlier this week, Bettencourt promised the theme of 2012 would be pro-employment and pro-growth.
But Bettencourt knows when the House passes bills that would open the University of New Hampshire to firearms, his business message could get lost.
Democratic Representative Steve Shurtleff says he doesn’t understand what Republicans are thinking.
“There are so many different groups, from law enforcement, to colleges to city officials that are so upset...they really did shoot themselves. It’s so bad. So bad. It makes no sense.”
House members return to Concord later this morning to take up more legislation.
Representative Jasper, part of House leadership, says he knows January is going to be a tough month for his team.
“Last March I started referring to January as bloody January. Because many of these controversial issues were studied, and we knew they would come back and there are going to be some very tough votes to take in January.”
Jasper says he worried fights between ideological members and more political lawmakers would have been more vicious.
But he says, things went a lot better than he expected after the first day.