Concord – By a single vote, the New Hampshire House today reversed itself and passed a bill that bars discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The proposal was dubbed the “bathroom bill” by its opponents.
The bill, House Bill 415, allows individuals to bring actions at the Human Rights Commission when they feel they have been discriminated against on the basis of their sexual identity, or the way they express it, such as with their clothing or makeup.
After more than three hours of debate that opened today’s session, the House voted 188-187 to pass the bill.
Early in the debate, Speaker of the House Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, took the unusual step of leaving her podium and speaking in favor of the bill. She said she was disappointed in debate two weeks ago, and by “the muddying of the waters” on the issue.
“New Hampshire and the New Hampshire General Court has always stood against discrimination. Somewhere along the way, that message got lost on this bill,” she said. “We’re not asking you to open up bathrooms to sexual predators. We’re asking you to stand tall against discrimination.”
The bill adds the words “gender identity or expression” to the state’s anti-discrimination laws that protect people from discrimination based on race, sex, religion, age, and national origin.
Sponsor Rep. Ed Butler, D-Hart’s Location, said his bill simply protects people whose gender is an issue from discrimination in housing and the workplace.
On March 25, the House voted to kill HB 415, by a vote of 181-149. But Rep. Kathleen Taylor, D-Franconia, brought the bill back to the House floor today by asking for a second vote.
The House agreed, bringing it back by a vote of 190-180, two hours of debate ensued. The long slog through more than a dozen GOP-backed amendments delayed action on the proposed $11.5 billion state budget.
Republicans tried to get wording passed that would meant to lessen the effect of the bill. They wanted to exempt private and religious schools, employers who need women or men in certain positions, churches, rental unit owners, and health care facilities. All the amendments were defeated in order by the roughly the same 70-vote margin.
The bill now goes to the Senate.