New Hampshire’s studious legislators

Often when a thorny issue comes up in Concord, our citizen-legislators develop a sudden enthusiasm for study. Consider how our House of Representatives has responded to a decision by the state Supreme Court to replace court stenographers with electronic recording systems and monitors who are paid less than stenographers.

According to Supreme Court spokesperson Laura Kiernan, the move will save the judicial branch more than $239,000 per year. Nine remaining (out of the previous 16) stenographers have been notified their jobs will be eliminated as of Sept. 15. Last year Superior Court Justice Philip Hollman ruled the high court could not lay off the stenographers, pending their appeal of his earlier dismissal of their suit. The appeal is scheduled before a panel of substitute judges at the Supreme Court on June 1.

Enter Rep. Larry Emerton, R-Goffstown, with a bill to overrule the court’s decision and let the stenographers keep their jobs. His studious colleagues amended the bill in committee to create a commission to study the question, which likely means it will be resolved when the school-funding issue has been settled or there is a new natural rock formation, resembling a human profile, on Cannon Mountain — whichever comes first. The bill passed the House on a voice vote and will soon go before the Senate.

Why doesn’t the Legislature just stay out of this one and let the matter play itself out in the courts? Why, that is, other than the fact that our representatives get paid $100 a year to be the world’s most underpaid and overworked busybodies?

Nobody likes to see anyone lose his or her job, but New Hampshire’s courts are not established as a full employment program. The Legislature establishes the court’s budget, and the court has to live with it. As both Chief Justice John Broderick and House Speaker Doug Scamman have noted, the Legislature is not likely to appropriate more money to keep the stenographers on.

“If there’s a realistic chance of funding them, then have a study committee,” Broderick told the Union Leader. “If not, then why torture everyone?”

Maybe it’s because the representatives, when it comes to torturing both law and reason, are nearly as good as some judges we know. And there’s no protocol of the Geneva Convention against that — so far as we know, anyway. But then, maybe the House could set up a committee to study that question.

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