New Hampshire State Legislature 101

Everything You Wanted to Know About Your State Legislature (But Were Afraid to Ask)



Yes, this is an article about state government. But we promise ­­- it won't be boring.

You're just going to have to trust us.

In fact, with a legislature of 400 representatives and 24 senators, the story practically writes itself.

The New Hampshire Legislature has long been known for its uniqueness - it's the second largest legislative body in the nation following the US Congress and the only state legislature that holds a hearing on each and every bill request.

And there are lots of those. There are currently 259 bill requests for 2013, giving some insight into what's in store for the session to come - a lot of the same issues have popped back up, including Right to Work, abortion restrictions and gambling among others.

These bills are remnants of a controversial session under House Speaker William O'Brien, who because of his leadership style and agenda that clashed with union and women's rights groups, wasn't popular with everyone.

Some who served in the Legislature in years past remember things being different.

Kim Zachos served in the Legislature from 1969 to 1974 as a Republican, a time he says was marked by "civility and respect, integrity and the idea shared by all that we should try to solve problems in the best interests of the people of New Hampshire with few exceptions."

He went back as a Democrat for one term in 2008 and says what he noticed about personal and professional relationships and behavior contradicted that idea.

"That's when the problem started in terms of atmosphere and attitude and relationships in the Statehouse," he says.

The legislative session this time around did see its share of controversial and scandalous acts - from the proposal of an anti-bullying bill specifically directed at O'Brien to House Majority Leader DJ Bettencourt stepping down after it was discovered he fabricated internship reports in order to graduate from law school.

But the November election is likely to shake things up a bit and be a different story from 2010 when Republicans took hold of a 3 to 1 supermajority. Democrats are more involved this time around, largely due to there being a Democratic incumbent in the presidential election.

We already saw it in the September Primary when more Democrats than expected came out to vote in New Hampshire. The GOP already had to scramble post-primary to fill some holes on the November ballot after Democrats filled more seats during the June filing period.

So there might be some similarities between the coming two years and the past two years, but we're going to take a look back - and at times way back - so you can be prepared and fully understand what happens up there in the state capitol building.

From the Magna Carta to Brainpower, it's been quite a ride

New Hampshire found its place on national television this year, that’s for sure.

Yes, we’re unique here because every single bill introduced and assigned to a committee gets a hearing. Live free or die, right? But that leaves open the possibility of a bill, say, winding up on a late-night political comedy show.

You may remember a bill, sponsored by young backbencher Kyle Jones, R-Rochester, that would have eliminated the 30-minute lunch break for state employees. His reasoning? “If I was to deny one of my employees a break, I would be in a very bad position with my company human resources representative. If you consider that this is a very easy law to follow, in that everyone already does it, then why do we need it?”

Stephen Colbert agreed, thanking Jones for trying to eliminate unnecessary laws and suggesting if he makes it to the White House, he should streamline the Constitution to read, “We the people ... got it, thanks.”

Colbert also dedicated part of his show to another NH House bill sponsored by Bob Kingsbury of Laconia, Tim Twombly of Nashua and Lucien Vita of Middleton that sought to require all new legislation include a line from the 13th-century English treaty, the Magna Carta. But lawmakers may have had some trouble incorporating certain lines into new legislation, for instance: “We shall straightway return the son of Llewelin and all the Welsh hostages.”

Oh well, they tried.

But let’s not forget those bills that, while not featured on a national broadcast, were still good for an eyebrow raise or two.

Like one by Michele Peckham, R-North Hampton, that would prohibit state employees who work with the public from wearing “fragrances and other scented products during regular business hours,” or one that would have declared brainpower as a state resource. Committee members thought about it, but then it was voted Inexpedient to Legislate.

One bill to require NH prisoners to eat an all-vegetarian diet was estimated to cost the state $700,000 annually, although its sponsor (Kingsbury again) argued otherwise.

We’re sure these bills were well-intentioned, but shouldn’t there be a box on the form for explaining the logistics of implementation?

Common Lobbyist: Orangetagum Influenceus

Population: Approximately 950 registered between December 2011 and May 2012 (however one lobbyist can be counted more than once if they're there for multiple clients)

Population growth: Steadily growing over the past decade, creating competition in the profession

Habitat: The Statehouse and Legislative Office Building in Concord

Identifying feature: Bright orange name tag

Patterns of behavior: Often gather in groups of the same shared interest, but not uncommon to see one on their own

Tracking information: Note: there is no electronic tagging or tracking of lobbyists, but paper registration forms for each one are kept on file in the Secretary of State's office.

Longtime lobbyists know the ins and outs of the process pretty darn well. Like any successful business, they've built up a base of clients and have certain pieces of legislation that pop up regularly.

After registering as a lobbyist, they attend committee hearings on the legislation in question and speak their position to try and affect the outcome.

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