Is New Hampshire's citizen legislature obsolete?
By: LFDA Editor
The New Hampshire House (400) and Senate (24) make up the largest state legislature in the U.S. and the fourth-largest English-speaking legislative body in the world (UK, India and U.S. Congress).
Lawmakers are elected biannually and paid $100 per year, plus mileage reimbursement.
Despite the minimal pay, legislators review more than 1,000 bills every legislative session. Representatives were responsible for attending 21 legislative sessions between January and June of 2010 and that doesn't include special sessions, committee meetings and public hearings, reports Foster's Daily Democrat.
University of New Hampshire Associate Professor of Political Science Dante Scala said the legislature "often is made up of older residents who have the time and financial standing to serve."
"They really run because they can. Unlike in states with professional legislatures, the barriers to entry are very low in New Hampshire," UNH associate professor of political science Dante Scala told Foster's.
Supporters of New Hampshire’s “citizen legislature” argue that the large number of lay-person legislators ensures that citizens have maximum access to the legislative process. Ideally New Hampshire’s legislative model also removes any selfish or monetary motive for running for office.
However, the low pay and significant time commitment prevents some highly qualified and good-intentioned individuals from running for the legislature. The large number of legislators also results in a significant, perhaps excessive, number of bills every year. Each year advocates for small, simple government argue that too much regulation passes through the legislature.
New Hampshire’s revenue constraints make it unlikely that the state will significantly increase the pay for legislators. However, the legislature has explored decreasing the time commitment for legislators.
Two resolutions related to switching the General Court sessions from annual to biennial were introduced in 2012. CACR 33
and CACR 20
never gained traction in the House or Senate.Click here
for a primer on the state's legislative process.
Does New Hampshire need to change its legislative process?