State Rep. Molly Howard discusses life in the Legislature

Molly Howard of Hancock represents Greenfield and Hancock in the state Legislature. 

Molly Howard of Hancock represents Greenfield and Hancock in the state Legislature.  COURTESY PHOTO

By JESSECA TIMMONS

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 02-22-2024 8:31 AM

Book-banning, PFAS contamination and expanded school lunches were among the issues voted on last week in the New Hampshire legislature, state Rep. Molly Howard (D-Hancock) reported Monday night in an open house with a group of constituents at Stephenson Memorial Library in Greenfield. Residents from both Hancock and Greenfield attended. 

Howard described the sometimes-chaotic process of voting on the large volume of bills that come through the Legislature. 

“Sometimes we vote on 25 to 30 bills in a day. In our first session this year, we’ve voted on 144 bills,” Howard said. “I’ve been disappointed to see the incivility during some debates – people talking, waking around, paying no attention to the speaker on the floor.” 

The book-banning bill was defeated, the free lunch program expanded and a bill to improve PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated substances) testing failed.

Howard said New Hampshire is the only state with "no gatekeeper” on bills introduced to the Legislature.

“We are the only state where every single bill that is submitted gets evaluated. Our speaker (position) has the least power of any speaker in the country,” Howard said. “Some of the bills that get introduced are really, really crazy, or they’re just really personal.”

Howard has been dismayed by the vitriol in some of the debates.

“Some of the bills are just so hateful,” she said. 

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Howard serves on the Environmental and Agriculture Committee, which recently created a bill restricting how close landfills can be to a water source. 

“We looked at best practices for landfills. People on the committee wrote really specific limitation to try to limit the leaching of PFAS contaminants into the water table,” Howard said. “It’s like dumping toxins into an underground river.”

Research has suggested that PFAS exposure is linked to multiple health problems, including possible increased risks of some types of cancer, lower birth rate, lower immune function, changes in liver enzymes and other conditions. The bill proposed increasing test sites around landfills to measure the amount of PFAS leaching into the ground. The E & A Ccommittee also submitted a bill to put a moratorium on building new landfills in New Hampshire, similar to laws in Maine and Massachusetts. 

While the bill failed, Howard said the committee will keep trying.  

Howard said building new housing, particularly workforce housing,  is a priority for the state.

“We’re 20,000 units behind with housing, and pretty soon we’re going to be 50,000 units behind. We’re working on bills that will make ADU’s (accessory dwelling units) easier. We need to do more because this is hurting our economy,” she said.

Howard is optimistic that the recent SWEPT school-funding decision will improve education funding throughout the state. 

“The way it works now, everyone in the state pays the same state education tax rate per $1,000. There are some property-rich towns, like some of the resort towns, that actually get their state education funds back, but they don’t even need it for their students. Those towns just roll it back into the general fund, and the funds don’t get used for education at all,” Howard explained. “There should not be extra money going back to towns; it all needs to go to education.”

Howard noted that she rarely hears from her constituents, and that she encourages all Hancock and Greenfield residents to reach out or to attend events. She noted that she had recently heard from a high school student advocating for later school start times. 

“I want to hear people’s concerns, what’s important to them, how I can help them, ” Howard said. ‘’I represent everyone.” 

To contact Howard, send an email to molly4nh@gmail.com.