Anti-bully bill targets New Hampshire House speaker

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 20, 2012 6:49 PM
Anti-bully bill targets New Hampshire House speaker

By Jason McLure

LITTLETON, New Hampshire (Reuters) - The nation's latest proposed anti-bullying law targets not schoolyard tormentors but a conservative New Hampshire House speaker who critics say was so harsh he once forced a grown legislator to cry.

A group of moderate Republicans and Democrats have taken aim at Republican House Speaker William O'Brien with a bill banning bullying of any member of the state's House of Representatives, including behavior that causes physical harm, inflicts emotional distress or creates a hostile environment.

Violators could be subject to civil penalties of up to $2,500.

The bill's author, Representative Susan Emerson, a Republican, was subjected to a lengthy tirade by O'Brien last year that left her weeping after she proposed a number of amendments that would restore healthcare funding to a budget bill, said Representative Tim Copeland, a fellow Republican who said he overheard the incident.

"He was yelling and screaming and threatening her," Copeland said on Friday.

"She came out visibly shaking and crying and I consoled her," he said, noting his colleague wrote the bill with O'Brien in mind.

Emerson was due to be released from a Maryland hospital on Friday after a seven-week recovery from surgery and could not be reached for comment.

Copeland, who suffered a broken back while working as a police officer in 2005, also accuses O'Brien of moving him out of a handicap-accessible aisle seat in the legislature as retaliation for voting against anti-union legislation last year.

O'Brien, a conservative favorite of the Tea Party, did not return calls seeking comment about the bill. He has previously denied making Emerson cry and accused Copeland of fabricating the story. In a 2010 speech after winning election as speaker, O'Brien called for greater harmony in the legislature.

The anger at O'Brien signals a rebellion by a group of moderate Republicans who disagree with the party's more conservative leadership on issues such as anti-union "right-to-work" legislation.

Debates over a recent right-to-work bill, which was similar to those passed last year in Ohio and Wisconsin, have drawn hundreds of protesters and supporters to the state capitol.

Republicans control a supermajority in both the state Senate and House, but the House leadership needs moderate votes in order to muster the two-thirds vote needed to override legislation vetoed by Democratic Governor John Lynch. O'Brien's attempt to override Lynch's veto of the right-to-work legislation fell 12 votes short in November.

(Editing By Barbara Goldberg and Daniel Trotta)