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N.H. Republicans won’t try to repeal gay marriage law

To focus instead on jobs, economy

By Norma Love
Associated Press / January 13, 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 yesterday that jobs and the economy will be the top priorities on the House GOP agenda to be announced today, which the GOP will use as its policy making scorecard for the next two years.

“The social issues must take a back seat,’’ said Bettencourt, of 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 nonbudget year. The House can do that by having committees retain bills.

Under the rules, committees cannot kill bills, but can 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.

House Republican leaders have 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-to-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.

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