APNewsBreak: Gay marriage not on NH GOP agenda

By Norma Love
Associated Press / January 12, 2011

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CONCORD, N.H.—House Republicans have decided not to pursue a repeal of New Hampshire's gay marriage law this year and plan instead to focus their energy on finding ways to improve the state's financial footing.

House Republican Leader D.J. Bettencourt confirmed to The Associated Press on Wednesday that jobs and the economy will be the top priorities on the House GOP agenda to be announced Thursday, which the GOP will use as its policymaking scorecard for the next two years.

"The social issues must take a back seat," said Bettencourt, R-Salem.

He said one abortion initiative will be on the agenda but he declined to say what it is. Republican House Speaker William O'Brien has openly favored quick enactment of a parental notification bill, however.

Bettencourt said he met with House Republicans to get a consensus on an agenda and "to a person, everyone was in agreement we have to immediately get to work on the budget, retirement and reform education."

He said there was widespread agreement that social issues would have to come later.

That leaves open the possibility that Republican leaders will postpone action on repealing gay marriage until next year, a non-budget year. The House can do that by having committees retain bills. Bettencourt would not say if leaders plan to do that.

Under the rules, committees cannot kill bills, but can keep hold them over the first year of a two-year session and bring them in the following year for a House vote.

"The legislative process will work its way through on those bills," said Bettencourt. "Our focus will be on fixing the budget, reforming the pension system and getting to work on reforming the education system."

He said those reforms won't happen if Republicans get distracted by other issues. He said issues like gay marriage were not the primary reasons voters replaced the Democratic majority in the House with a Republican one, he said.

"We cannot allow ourselves ... where we campaigned on one set of issues and governed on another set of issues," he said.

The exclusion of the controversial issue comes a week after House Republican leaders battled criticism they were not focusing on the issues that voters sent them to Concord to deal with: the state budget, spending reductions and jobs.

New Hampshire's unemployment rate was 5.4 percent in November. Estimates of the size of the state's budget hole range from $600 million to $800 million in a $3 billion budget funded by state taxes.

On the Legislature's opening day, House Republicans -- who have a 3-1 advantage over Democrats -- lifted a 40-year-old ban on guns on the House floor and in adjoining rooms. They also moved to oust a Manchester Democrat who works as the party's executive director. The committee charged with investigating the lawmaker postponed a hearing on it to gather more information about their constitutional authority to recommend removing a sitting lawmaker.

They could draw criticism from within their ranks of social conservatives who want equal billing for placing limits on abortion and repealing gay marriage if leaders fail to get behind bills on both issues.

Gay marriage was enacted two years ago when Democrats controlled the Legislature. Gov. John Lynch signed the law and has since repeatedly said he would veto any attempt to repeal it.