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BREAKING NEWS

New Hampshire’s legislative process has many facets

Fun Facts: The New Hampshire Constitution of 1776 was the first to be ratified by any of the Commonwealths. The New Hampshire Constitution of 1784 became the template for the U.S. Constitution after we won our independence.

The League of Women Voters of New Hampshire is pleased to partner again with The Telegraph to offer readers information about how government works and how to participate in and influence our cherished American institutions. Our upcoming series of columns will focus on the New Hampshire State Legislature and bills that are currently under consideration in Concord. We approach this task with a few basic assumptions:

As the lucky recipients of a representative form of government, we recognize that we are the government. Our representatives in Concord can only represent us well if we tell them what our values and priorities are. If we don’t participate, they will represent others or themselves.

Knowledge is power. The more we know about how the process works, as well as about the specifics of the various bills we will consider, the better able we will be to participate positively in self-governance.

The truth matters. At a time when some powerful forces seek to undermine or discredit important American institutions, including a free press, we are mindful of the privilege and grateful for the opportunity to partner with a news outlet devoted to serving the community by publishing fact-based content and a range of commentary. While different readers will come to different conclusions, even when presented with the same information, it is fundamentally important that everyone starts out with a solid foundation of verifiable facts.

To begin with, then, we offer as concise a description as possible of how our state Legislature works and how each of us can be involved in it.

The New Hampshire Legislature is known as the General Court, and is divided into the House and Senate. With 424 members, it is the largest legislature in the U.S. and fourth-largest English-speaking legislative body in the world. Legislators are elected for two-year terms. Lawmakers are paid $100 per year, plus mileage reimbursement. Low financial compensation is intended to assure that our representatives are laypeople instead of career politicians. However, the Legislature has at times considered decreasing the time commitment for legislators and/or increasing their pay, because current rules prevent some highly qualified and well-intentioned individuals from running for the Legislature.

The New Hampshire Constitution states that laws must be enacted by the Legislature; it does not allow legislation by petition or referendum. Because every proposed bill must be considered, it is common for the Legislature to act on more than 1,000 bills every session. When a legislator receives a suggestion from a constituent, or wants to propose a new law, or a change to an existing law, he/she will bring the idea to the Legislative Services Office at the New Hampshire Statehouse. The LSO issues a list of all Legislative Service Requests for the new session, which is available to the public at www.nh.gov, generally in October/November of each year. Proposals are written in legal language and drafts of bills returned to the sponsoring legislators for approval. The full text of the bills is generally available to the public at www.nh.gov in early January. If the sponsoring legislator is a member of the House of Representatives, the bill will begin its journey in the House of Reps; if the sponsoring legislator is a member of the Senate, the bill will begin in the smaller chamber.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate receive lists of the bills for their respective chambers and assign each bill to a Standing Committee for further study and public hearing. The chairmen of the committees schedule public hearings for each bill. Committee chairmen are members of the majority party and are appointed by the House Speaker/Senate President. The public must be given 72 hours notice of the schedule of public hearings. Anyone may testify before the committee in person or submit written testimony. Information about the status of a bill can be found at www.gencourt.state.nh.us/legislation.

After the public hearing, the bill goes into Executive Committee. These meetings also are open to the public, but no comments are accepted. The committee may vote that the bill “Ought to Pass” or that it is “Inexpedient to Legislate.” It is sent to the full chamber with this recommendation, and that chamber then votes to accept or reject the committee report. If it survives this step, the chamber votes again to pass or reject the bill. If it is approved, it will “Cross Over” to the other chamber, where the process starts again.

Every bill must be passed in identical form by both Senate and House, before it is sent to the governor. If a bill has been amended by the non-originating body, it is sent back to the originating body for concurrence. If it concurs, the bill is sent to the governor. If the originating body does not concur, the senate president and the house speaker appoint a conference committee of members of both houses to work out a compromise. If a compromise is not reached, the bill dies. If a compromise is reached, the bill goes to the governor’s desk, and he or she may sign it into law, veto it or allow it to become law without signature. If it is vetoed, it returns to the Legislature, which may overrule the veto with a 2/3 vote of both houses.

Our legislative process can seem maddeningly Byzantine, but, in their wisdom, the Founders designed it exactly to be elaborate and cumbersome. Having grown up under a burdensome and capricious monarchy, they understood the value to citizen rule of carefully designed inefficiency and redundancy. In New Hampshire, we are fortunate to have more representation per capita than any other state in the Union. We can demonstrate our gratitude to the Founders and those who serve as our representatives by being in touch with them about issues important to us and making our voices heard in Concord.

Sources: www.nh.gov New Hampshire Almanac: How a Bill Becomes Law; www.lfda.org Citizens Count New Hampshire; www.cheshiremed.com Cheshire Medical Center, Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

The League of Women Voters of New Hampshire is a non-partisan organization dedicated to voter education and advocacy.