Hearings spark heated debate over controversial bills


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the traditional in-person hearings in the New Hampshire Legislature have moved to a Zoom format, which has made it more accessible for Granite Staters to publicly testify on bills.
Since the start of the new legislative session in January, the New Hampshire legislature has heard heated arguments from both sides of the aisle on controversial bills.
One hearing that lasted over the span of several days was on H.B. 20 — also know as the Richard “Dick” Hinch Education Freedom Account Fund — which, in effect, would establish a taxpayer-funded voucher program for students to attend private schools.
Critics of the bill have pointed out that New Hampshire public schools are cash-strapped as it is, and Governor Chris Sununu has been reluctant to provide more state funding for schools in the pandemic.
H.B. 20 provides that New Hampshire students would receive between $3,700 and $8,400  to attend any private or charter school — including religious school — or put forth money to alternative education costs.
In one hearing for H.B. 20, a mother and her daughter testified that they would use the money to purchase aerial silks.
Although Republican sponsors and lobbyists in support of the bill argue that an app would track the expenses, the regulations on the use of vouchers remain unclear, which is why the committee voted to retain the bill in committee for the time being.
Notably, some of these arguments in favor of H.B. 20 came from people living outside of the state of New Hampshire in places such as Arizona where lawmakers passed a voucher program bill earlier.
While the outlook for H.B. 20 is uncertain at the moment given that it is retained in committee for the time being, New Hampshire Senate Republicans have introduced a similar bill — S.B. 130 — that is going to be scheduled for a public hearing.