Senate Steers Clear of Freedom
By: Mike Donnely
April 24, 2012
Staff Attorney Mike Donnelly answers questions and assists members with legal issues in New Hampshire. He and his wife homeschool their children.
A Bright Idea
Homeschool student Jacqueline Roland spearheaded an effort in New Hampshire to leave behind the burdensome and unnecessary driver’s education requirements of yesteryear and implement 21st century, online driver’s education that is proven to be safe, affordable and effective.
Seeking a solution to an expensive state-authorized monopoly of traditional driver’s training programs, Ms. Roland hoped that a new Republican majority in the legislature would be open to a common sense proposal offering choices and freedom based on parental responsibility. Based on laws shown to be safe and effective in numerous other states, the bill, sponsored by Representative Laura Jones and Senator Jim Forsythe, saw dramatic success in the New Hampshire House; it passed by a vote of 240–74.
After hearing from many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of families in favor of the bill, the Senate bowed to the in-state traditional driving school lobby and voted 17–7 to “study” the bill—the equivalent of a kill vote since no bills are carried over through an election cycle.
Fighting the Monopoly
Traditional driver’s education schools vigorously opposed HB 1440—the bill would have ended their monopoly and threatened their future profits. They argued, contrary to the experience in states where online programs are offered, that parent-directed driver’s programs are unsafe. The schools took aim at the House Transportation Committee and persuaded members to require a behind-the-wheel certified driving school component.
Then homeschoolers took action. Responding to requests from HSLDA and others families across the state, homeschoolers spoke up and advocated on behalf of a minority-sponsored amendment that would not have mandated expensive and restrictive driver’s school training. The House of Representatives heard from their constituents and saw through the smoke screen of the driver’s education lobby passing the minority amendment—a victory for freedom! After passing this first test, it was hoped that driver’s education would soon be affordable for all.
Senate Steers Clear of Choices for Families
HB 1440 was then referred to the Senate Transportation Committee. At the committee’s public hearing, homeschoolers turned out in force again to support the bill. There were reportedly 300 supporters of the bill present, and only 50 opposing it.
Senators, however, sided with the driving school lobby, citing concerns about safety for “cover” and sealed the bill’s fate by recommending a “study” committee. HB 1440 followed the example of other states where online driver training has been shown to be safe. The bill only called for a three-year pilot program providing a sunset safeguard if there were problems. Although New Hampshire’s state motto is “live free or die,” one wonders how many of the 17 state senators who voted against this bill really understand what freedom means. HSLDA commends the seven senators who voted for HB 1440. The 17 who voted against it voted to retain a restrictive monopoly at the expense of choice and freedom.
Following this vote, HSLDA Attorney for Member Affairs in New Hampshire Michael Donnelly contacted the majority leader and former congressman Jeb Bradley. In his letter, Donnelly wrote:
“Thousands of New Hampshire citizens are scratching their heads today (and more) trying to figure out why the Senate majority leader and a majority of Republicans did not move this common sense piece of legislation forward for the governor’s signature. After passing the House by a commanding majority (of Republicans), why did the majority of Republicans in the Senate vote against a bill that would have had a positive impact for so many New Hampshire families—and not just homeschooling families—all families, saving them hundreds of dollars (during a time when finances are very tight) and opening up access to driving opportunities where today, for some, there are few and only expensive choices. Why did you as majority leader not lead the majority to vote in favor of this bill?”
Bradley responded, writing:
“While I think there is merit for the concept of online driver’s education, I also am concerned about safety implications on our roads and highways. That is why I voted for Interim Study of HB1440. The New Hampshire Department of Safety recently wrote about HB 1440: ‘Teenagers have the statistically highest rate of crashes and fatal crashes of any age group, way out of proportion of their numbers in the general population.’ While the Department of Safety listed pros and cons regarding HB1440, I felt there was simply not enough empirical evidence from other states that these online programs work in a safe manner. The fact that the state of Texas has decided to re-audit the results of a similar program and will not issue its report until October indicates that New Hampshire should proceed cautiously.”
Bill sponsor and Representative Laura Jones told Donnelly that the House committee had studied this issue at length and expressed frustration with the Senate’s vote:
“There is plenty of evidence that these programs work in a safe manner. It is discouraging that the Senate decided not to discuss the evidence with me, especially since I spent countless hours reviewing that evidence. New Hampshire’s problem of teens waiting until 18 to get their license forgoing driver’s education is not going away. Each year, as the price of conventional driver’s education increases, more and more teens are added to the number of those who wait. My son, Representative Kyle Jones, is just one example of a teen who was forced to wait and who hit the road without any safety instruction at all. How is that safe?”
HSLDA is proud of homeschoolers in New Hampshire whose voices spoke powerfully and unquestionably impacted HB 1440’s success in the House. Even for common sense legislation like HB 1440, it can take several legislative sessions to make changes. This is one of the pros and cons of our bicameral democratic process. HSLDA encourages New Hampshire families to support this legislation again next year when, hopefully, new senators will be more inclined to live up to the motto of “live free or die.”