The N.H. Legislature’s center ring and sideshow

While undoubtedly important to their sponsors, several bills are of less universal significance or suspect substance

In reviewing all of the bills filed in the New Hampshire House and Senate, there seems to be a division between the main business of the Legislature and peripheral matters raised by some representatives.

This would be deemed the center ring and sideshow, if it were a circus. 

During the first or organizational phase of the Legislature, the selection of Shawn Jasper, who was elected by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, resulted in a partisan sideshow conducted by former Speaker William O’Brien and his supporters, disappointed in his failure to be elected again. 

In odd-numbered years, like 2015, the state budget is the main event and primary focus of legislative activity. That does not keep hundreds of other bills from being proposed.

While the budget is critical, and such major matters as proposals to reduce business taxes, increase the R&D tax credit against the business profits tax and other economic bills are central, there are other substantive bills that have been getting a lot of attention. 

A proposal to repeal the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has received a lot of publicity. Likewise, the establishment of a committee to study the New Hampshire Retirement System and such bills as House Bill 369, establishing a defined contribution retirement plan for public employees, seek to examine a serious matter –the form and viability of the Retirement System. 

On the other end of the spectrum, while undoubtedly important to their sponsors, are bills of less universal significance or substance. A random sample of several that popped out at me:

• HB314 “establishing a commission to study the charitable status of certain nonprofit organizations for purposes of state and local taxation” proposes a commission to examine why tax exemption is given to organizations not exempt from federal taxation. 

 • House Address 1, a Bill of Address, seeks the removal of Virginia Barry, commissioner of the Department of Education, and Paul Leather, deputy commissioner, for allegedly exceeding their constitutional authority and perpetuating “a fraud on the people of New Hampshire by implementing educational programs that fail to adhere to the principle of local control and therefore forced the increase of local taxes thereby violating the provisions of the New Hampshire Constitution, Part I, Article 6.” (Curious. If they allegedly did something wrong, take them to court!)

 • House Concurrent Resolution 3 seeks to petition Congress to call a convention of the states under the U.S. Constitution. This particular call says the convention would be “limited to proposing amendments to the Constitution of the United States that impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of congress.” (Interesting.) 

 • House Resolution 7, if passed, would direct the House to investigate whether grounds exist to impeach Judge Jacqueline Coburn of the Superior Court for her decision in City of Nashua v. William M. Gardner, Secretary of State. (One wonders if the sponsors of this have heard of the right of parties who do not like decisions to appeal to the state Supreme Court in order to reverse the actions.) 

 • HB 397 is relative to the duties of public servants and says that public servants cannot delegate their responsibility to third parties. (There must be a story behind that one.) 

 • HB 373 establishes the red-tail hawk as the state raptor. (Do we need one?) 

 • HB371 is relative to assessing the consequences of the Citizens United decision, which allowed unlimited spending in political campaigns and has been controversial. 

 • HB 388 establishes university number plates and says that the proceeds will fund the New Hampshire Excellence in Higher Education Endowment Trust Fund. (Maybe we should fund education on a more universal basis than proceeds from license plates.)

 • HB 387 is relative to motor vehicle inspections and makes inspections every two years instead of every year. (Expect opposition from car dealers and repair shops.) 

 • SB 116 repeals the license requirement for carrying a concealed pistol or revolver. (Hmmmm.)

And finally, HB370 enables counties and municipalities to establish minimum wage rates. (That would make an interesting situation for employers seeking to figure out where to locate their businesses, wouldn’t it?)

The Legislature has serious work to do and also has to deal with those bills deemed serious by their sponsors, no matter what the subject matter .

It should be fun to watch – from a distance. 

Brad Cook, a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green, heads its government relations and estate planning groups.

Categories: Cook on Concord