Kevin Landrigan reported the suit in the Nashua Telegraph The quotes from Gene Chandler (below the fold, emphasis added) are particularly interesting. He is concerned that out-of-state lawyers are involved. First, I would point out the the suit is led by our own New Hampshire ACLU. But, it is also important to remember that this whole voucher proposal was based on a script provided by the Washington-based Cato Institute Center for Education Reform and a Connecticut group that calls itself the Alliance for the Separation of School and State. When the bill faced rough sledding, the Chicago-based Friedman Foundation joined in with a telephone campaign to pressure legislators. Gene Chandler is on pretty thin ice here.
On Rep. Chandler’s point about the cost to New Hampshire taxpayers to defend against a “frivolous” lawsuit, the Legislature had recommendations from many attorneys that this bill could be unconstitutional and that the Legislature should get a (quick and free) “Opinion of Justice” from the New Hampshire Supreme Court before proceeding. Rep. Neal Kurk (R-Weare) acknowledged as much on the House floor (1 hour and 20 minutes into this video) but it came up many other times during the debate on the bills.
The Republican legislative leadership did not respect the Court and did not want to be constrained by such an opinion so did not take the opportunity to save the State and our businesses and families from the cost and uncertainty this suit brings. It should not have been necessary. But now, if the plaintiffs win, the State will probably have to pay those legal costs as well.
CONCORD – Calling it a “backdoor voucher,” three civil liberties groups claim a new education tax credit violates the state constitution and should be struck down.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit in Strafford County Superior Court on behalf of eight plaintiffs, including Joshua Segal, a retired rabbi with Congregation Betenu in Amherst.
“This is just a backdoor voucher scheme. Whether it’s through a traditional voucher or a tax credit, the result is the same: Taxpayers are subsidizing religious institutions,” the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said in a statement.
The 25-page suit maintains that the tax credits amount to illegal support for religious schools, since 61 percent of students in private schools attend parochial studies.
Further, the suit surmises that most of the credits will go to religious schools, since the credits are capped at $2,500 per student and nonreligious school tuition is more than twice the cost.
The Republican-led Legislature adopted this tax credit over the veto of former Democratic Gov. John Lynch last spring.
“It is a shame that we now have an out-of-state special-interest group leading the charge to challenge this law,’’ House Republican Leader Gene Chandler, of Bartlett, said in response.
“This frivolous lawsuit will no doubt cost the taxpayers of New Hampshire money and tie up resources. In the end, we believe the law will stand and New Hampshire will be able to continue this program to empower families by having the opportunity to do what they think is best for their children.”
The law took effect Jan. 1, and the lawsuit maintains that some businesses have already applied to the state for tax credits totaling nearly $90,000.
NHCLU staff attorney Barbara Keshen said the state constitution contains several provisions intended to prevent this kind of program.
“A robust respect for the separation of church and state is vital to protecting the religious freedom of all New Hampshire citizens,” she said.