Borders and Boundaries

On this episode of Civics 101: New Hampshire, we're telling the stories behind New Hampshire's many borders, boundaries, and district lines. We talk with a historian about how the state border acquired its convoluted shape, and we dig into an ongoing challenge to the way New Hampshire voting districts are drawn.


Transcript

Transcript coming soon.

 
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Executive Council

One of New Hampshire's most distinctive civic institutions is the Executive Council, an elected group of five people from across the state who vote to approve or veto many of the Governor's decisions. In this episode, Nick Capodice goes for a jaunt into the history and function of the Executive Council. 


Transcript

NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.

Ben Henry [00:00:00] The name makes them sound extremely powerful doesn't it.

Nick Capodice [00:00:04] Executive Council.

 Ben Henry [00:00:05] Yeah like to me I feel like they belong in Game of Thrones.

 Nick Capodice [00:00:10] I would say that in addition to game of thrones it sounds like something you'd see in Star Wars. Yeah. Executive Council has a vote of no confidence.

 Ben Henry [00:00:16] Yeah well so we got a question from a listener named Kendall who wanted to know what New Hampshire is Executive Council actually does and why we have an executive council in the first place.

 Nick Capodice [00:00:27] This is an excellent question. The executive council is a unique facet of New Hampshire government.

 Ben Henry [00:00:33] And that is what we're all about here. This is civics 101: New Hampshire. It's a show about government and politics in our state. I'm Ben Henry.

 Nick Capodice [00:00:40] I'm Nick Capodice

 Ben Henry [00:00:41] And Nick I think this is the first time you've been on the podcast so welcome.

 Nick Capodice [00:00:45] Thank you. I'm the pleasure is more than half mine.

 Ben Henry [00:00:48] You are the co-host of our sister podcast civics one on one and you are a big fan of the Executive Council. So I was hoping you could help me answer Kendall's questions first of all can you just tell me what is the executive council.

 Nick Capodice [00:01:01] All right. New Hampshire is the only state in the union with an executive council that has any real powers and authorities. It's made up of five people and what they do is they share some of that power that would normally just belong to a governor.

 Ben Henry [00:01:15] And so they represent five districts throughout the state. I was looking at a map of them there's one for Southern New Hampshire northern New Hampshire the seacoast. There is one that people say is kind of gerrymandered district 2 curves across the state through Concord and this council what you're saying is an extra layer of the executive branch.

 Nick Capodice [00:01:34] Yes. And it goes back to checks and balances every part of our government is checked and balanced by some other part of it. And at a basic level the Executive Council is a check on the governor. So what do they actually do. The short answer is they vote to approve or veto a ton of the things that the governor does. So for example the governor appoints people to some of the more powerful unelected positions in government but the executive council has to sign off on all those appointments. This is like commissioners and people who run all the big state agencies.

 Ben Henry [00:02:07] So for anybody who's not really familiar with how the state government works state agencies have a lot of autonomy in some situations and the people who lead them are not elected they are appointed.

 Nick Capodice [00:02:19] And they make a lot of decisions they do but also contracts. So if a company wants to get a nice contract to do some work for the government the executive council has to approve it.

 Ben Henry [00:02:29] So they're in charge of a lot of money.

 Nick Capodice [00:02:31] Yes.

 Andru Volinsky [00:02:35] We're the only state in the nation that has a functioning Executive Council. Massachusetts has a ceremonial one but ours has real authority.

 Nick Capodice [00:02:46] This is Andru Volinsky. He is a member of the Executive Council and he once called it the most powerful body in New Hampshire that no one knows about. And if you listen to a cell phone greeting you'll get a little hint of that. Yeah.

 Archival [00:02:59] Hey this is Andy Volinsky. Thanks for calling. If you're calling because you have been nominated to a government position and you were trying to reach me as an executive councilor please understand that I must review 20 or 25 nominees each week. Please feel free to send me an email.

 Andru Volinsky [00:03:19] It's my cell phone. So I have one cell phone and the governor's office instructs everyone who's nominated to every position in state government to contact their councillors because they're always in their districts.

 Dana Saviano [00:03:33] There are available to all constituents to their towns to their cities either available to everybody by their cell phones. My name is Dana Saviano. I am the Executive Secretary to the Executive Council. I am the only full time employee for the Executive Council. I sort of run the office for all the councillors.

 Nick Capodice [00:03:50] And are they here now. Where is everyone.

 Dana Saviano [00:03:52] No most time the councillors are in their own districts. Most of them have full time professions and so that keeps them busy as well as them working as councillors within their districts.

 Ben Henry [00:04:03] So to be an executive councillor you must be 30 years of age a registered voter. You have to have lived in your district for at least seven years. But other than that it sounds like these are just regular people with day jobs.

 Nick Capodice [00:04:15] Yes. This goes back to the tried and true New Hampshire tradition of our legislators not being professional politicians. They usually have another job. They spend most of their time in their hometowns not in Concord.

 Dana Saviano [00:04:28] Executive councils are elected for two year terms same as the governor and their two year terms are run concurrent with the governor's term. They are just sort of another layer of citizen representation within the executive branch. We have had an executive council since New Hampshire became a state since it was a colony. Really.

 Ben Henry [00:04:48] Oh wow. OK. So this is not a modern invention.

 Nick Capodice [00:04:51] No not at all. The executive council goes back to the very beginning of New Hampshire's government how much do you know about New Hampshire's founding as a state.

 Ben Henry [00:05:00] The origin story as I understand it is that New Hampshire used to be just a big backyard to Massachusetts and then at some point we decided hey we want to be our own state.

 Nick Capodice [00:05:12] That's pretty much pretty much right. OK. The person who made that decision to separate New Hampshire from Massachusetts was King Charles the Second back in the sixteen hundreds.

 Ben Henry [00:05:22] You're going to have to walk me through this because I don't I don't know who that is.

 Nick Capodice [00:05:27] Well looks like it's time for a New Hampshire history minute. I just made that up that's not going to be a real thing. But here's how it all went down. The colony and eventual state of New Hampshire has a long and complicated history specifically when it comes to our relationship with our old friend Massachusetts. I know I know I know I know.

 [00:05:51] See in the 1600s we went from being separate from Massachusetts to being a part of Massachusetts and then in 1641 being governed by Massachusetts but all established towns were self ruled. And finally in sixteen seventy nine Charles the Second issued a charter that separated New Hampshire from the Massachusetts Bay Colony and there's a whole lot more there. But we're just focusing on the executive council here. When Charles split us in twain he elected a president of New Hampshire which is later called himself a governor named John Cutt and a nine man council. Now this might have been a mistake on Charlie two's part because while John Cutt usually agreed whatever the King said his nine man council did not as a matter of fact in their first assembly. The Council enacted laws that were directly opposite to the wishes of the British crown. So while today the Council serves as a check on the governor they used to check the king of England himself. Can you get more new Hampshire than that. Jeezum crow.

 Dana Saviano [00:06:58] And that has. It has been in place ever since.

 Nick Capodice [00:07:01] What is the role of the Executive Council.

 Andru Volinsky [00:07:04] The job of the Executive Council is to act as a board of directors to steward mostly the economy of New Hampshire. We do more on the business side of things than on the policy side and we're constitutionally designed to be a check on the power of the governor. So there are a lot of powers that the governor has where he can or she can initiate the action but then three out of the five counselors have to confirm the action for it to take place.

 Dana Saviano [00:07:38] The executive council has authority over all state contracts valued at twenty five thousand dollars or greater. Could you give me an example of a state contract. Sure. Like say the Department Transportation wants to hire a company to resurface some roads section of road frost heaves going crazy they want to fix the roads up actually and so they will want to enter into a contract with a company they have to put out a bid they have to you know get the different contracts they choose somebody then they put that to the council and asks for the council's OK and the council has to vote yes or no.

 Nick Capodice [00:08:10] Okay. And are the votes ever like just barely split down the middle of the usually go one way or the other.

 Dana Saviano [00:08:15] Well it's it's a three to two because there's five members. So so somebody is always the swing vote but most of the time most of the contracts go through fine but the councils have a lot of responsibility. They get all the contract paperwork for all the contracts on every agenda they get that the Friday before the Wednesday meeting and it's their responsibility to review all that paperwork and I and I'll tell you they review it all they will have gone through it they will have questions and all of that takes place during the governor and council meetings.

 Ben Henry [00:08:47] Nick if I may jump in to clarify the executive council meets every other Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Concord. Anybody can go.

 Andru Volinsky [00:08:54] So we have five days to read the materials. I read. All the materials I get two of us read them on our iPads and bring the little pads to the meetings with us. Three of the current councillors get printed copies of the materials delivered to them on Fridays by the state police. Why. Because there's sealed secret or they're not secret. They're not secret but you're not supposed to get them until that Friday. And they don't want to delay it in the mail because we have to vote on Wednesday.

 Nick Capodice [00:09:27] How much paper we talk and how much stuff do you have to review.

 Andru Volinsky [00:09:30] The agendas get longer as you get closer to the end of the fiscal year because everyone's trying to get in before the deadline. So we're in it right now. We're in that now. We could have 300 items on our agenda in June which is two or three feet worth of paper. So it's it's a long weekend. So we approve contracts. We confirm nominees. So the governor has the power to nominate judges department heads all of the volunteers who populate the many commissions and committees around the state. The governor brings forward their names. We get resume is we have phone conversations with the nominees and then we come in and vote again on the Wednesday morning meeting.

 Nick Capodice [00:10:15] Could you give me some hypotheticals of situations where somebody would want or should call you.

 Andru Volinsky [00:10:21] They don't have to be hypothetical. There's a dam being taken down by the Department of Transportation in the Durham area people are concerned about that there's a culvert in East Concord what's a culvert culvert along the side of the road where water flows off the road and it's caught and goes to a storm drainage seemed to be overflowing and affecting a farmer's field. I was called about that. People hear that a certain person is nominated to be a judge or a department head. They've had interactions good or bad right. I get called on that kind of thing. People should know what we're doing because of the 6 billion dollars state budget we approved the expenditure of about 2 billion. Wow. So people should pay attention right. Our agendas are online at the secretary of state. So if you hit New Hampshire executive council in your browser you'll come to our Web page. There's a bunch of information including the agenda's every Friday every other Friday. Since I helped confirm the heads of every state agency they tend to take my calls. And so if a citizen has a difficulty with the state agency doesn't understand what they're doing or why they're doing it. I can usually get that answered for them I may not be able to change the decision because there may be a good reason for it but I can usually intercede to get a question answered. I'm also the highest elected state office holder for the Democrats. The two Executive Councilors so we have some leadership roles in that area. I'm not very political so I don't go very far in that direction but I get some of those calls.

 Nick Capodice [00:12:21] So there it is the Executive Council. Yet another way that you as a New Hampshire citizen can get involved with your government. Go to their website at nh dot gov slash council to read their agenda see who your councillor is. See what they're voting on. They can read minutes of previous meetings going all the way back to 1989. And if you go to their meetings I just might see you there. I'm just going to see that giant stack of paper.

 
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Counties

Some jobs are just too local for the state government to handle, but too large for a town to deal with, and that's where counties come in. On this episode, we hear from the people who run county offices in New Hampshire about how this in-between governmental structure holds the whole state together.


Transcript

NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.

Daniela Allee [00:00:00] Stu Wallace teaches New Hampshire history at a college in Concord. In his classes cover the New Hampshire primary. 1960s politics local government including towns and counties.

Stu Wallace [00:00:11] When I ask students about counties I usually get a blank stare. And very few of them have any idea what counties do.

Daniela Allee [00:00:22] And this mystery around counties isn't just limited to college students. Linda Lauer gets asked by folks in her town what she does for Grafton County all the time.

Linda Lauer [00:00:32] Counties in New Hampshire are probably the little forgotten part of government.

Daniela Allee [00:00:39] Hello and welcome to civics 1 to 1 New Hampshire. Today on the show we're talking about counties. New Hampshire has 10 of them. But what does this forgotten part of our government do. And what role does it play in our day to day lives.

 [00:00:58] Counties have sort of been an afterthought in New Hampshire since it was a colony. People lived here in the 1640s but towns and townships were the primary form of local government. We didn't get counties until nearly one hundred and thirty years later.

 [00:01:15] It's the 60s. The 1760s and New Hampshire's population is booming.

Stu Wallace [00:01:20] People are pouring into the lakes region. They're going up into the upper valley. Suddenly New Hampshire is covering the map with brand new towns.

Daniela Allee [00:01:28] Soon after three quarters of the New Hampshire towns we know and love today were in existence. But even with all these settlers moving further north and west Portsmouth was a colonial capital the hub of New Hampshire colonial life. People had to make their way over to the seacoast for jury duty to the court to take care of all their government business and the people away out in the Upper Valley and the lakes region.

Stu Wallace [00:01:53] Was saying hey wait a minute this is a major gripe for us to have to send somebody from say Hanover or Haverhill all the way down to Portsmouth just to be a juror or to file a deed or whatever.

Daniela Allee [00:02:06] These towns decided enough is enough. There has to be a way to handle local business well more locally so the lower house of the colonial assembly got together and.

Stu Wallace [00:02:17] Petitioned to have the state divided into. Four counties.

Daniela Allee [00:02:22] But the bigwigs in the Governor's Council who all lived in the Portsmouth area were like. No.

Stu Wallace [00:02:28] They thought it was just fine that everybody had to come to Portsmouth to stay in their taverns and eat their food and they didn't have go anywhere.

Daniela Allee [00:02:34] So the lower house said Let's do three counties. But the council said How about two. After some back and forth the province of New Hampshire was divided into five counties. It's basically a county is a geographic boundary in New Hampshire they were drawn along the already existing town lines. So by 1769 Cheshire, Rockingham, Grafton, Belknap, and Stratford, counties where in place named after some English nobleman friends of the governor. These new counties meant farmers wouldn't have to take several days off to make their way out to Portsmouth on foot or on horseback. Instead folks can head to their own county system like North Haverhill and Grafton County or Keene in Cheshire County to deal with land deeds and any justice issues.

 [00:03:22] Five more counties were drawn up in the next 80 years. Coos, Sullivan, Merrimack, Hillsborough, and Carol. And that's what we have today. Ten separate counties. Each is a little different geographically demographically even culturally one might say.

 [00:03:38] Hillsborough County for example is home to about a quarter of the state's one point three million people. It's where the cities of Nashua and Manchester are located. Coast County on the other hand I hear they have more moose than people. The state legislature gives counties limited responsibilities so counties in this state don't have a lot of power. Your only interaction with the county might be when you buy and sell a house. It's a county that records and keeps property deeds. Linda Lauer who is a Grafton County commissioner says there's a reason counties are the ones in charge of running the jail nursing home and Registry of Deeds.

Linda Lauer [00:04:19] Back behind the scenes there are a lot of things that it financially doesn't make sense for the towns to try to handle and a good example would be a nursing home.

[00:04:31] Or the Department of Corrections it just financially doesn't make sense to do those on a town to town basis. But at the same time it doesn't make sense to just do it on a state basis because they really are local operations and that's where the county stepped in.

Daniela Allee [00:04:48] For all the machinery in local government to run smoothly you need counties something that's bigger than a town but smaller than the state. So say if every town had a jail there'd be way too many. And the quality of the jail would depend on how much money a town could allocate. It might cost a lot for a town to start their own drug court and the state would be way too big to make sure that could run effectively carrying out those responsibilities falls on the county commissioners. Each county elects three of these folks. And you can think of them as the executive branch or the CEOs of the county in Grafton. The commissioners serve two year terms. Other counties have different term lengths. They're typically two or four years long depending where you are.

Linda Lauer [00:05:44] County commissioners are responsible for personnel and financial management of all the county operations.

Daniela Allee [00:05:52] But that's mainly it. Counties don't have a legislative branch. They're not creating laws or policies. Only the state and towns have the power to do that. So you can think of counties as having a judicial branch and an executive branch the judicial branch handles jails and courts the executive runs the nursing home Registry of Deeds employee and personnel issues and they have to find the money to make sure those are all running. Putting the annual county budget together is one of the jobs that takes the most time for Linda and the two other Grafton County Commissioners. It's in February that that process really gets going. The commissioners sit down with each department head from nursing home jail the county attorney's office.

Linda Lauer [00:06:40] They will each come in and sit and spend time with what the commissioners and with the with our county administrator. We will go through the budget line item by line item and try to get justification see what what we think is critical. What isn't critical.

Daniela Allee [00:06:58] Then they meet with the employee council which represents the 400 people who work for Grafton County. A big part of that meeting concerned salaries for the next year.

Linda Lauer [00:07:07] They certainly want some say so in their cost of living increase.

Daniela Allee [00:07:11] And after all of those meetings the commissioners put a draft budget together and they have a public meeting about it. Because well you pay county taxes if you own property in that county.

Linda Lauer [00:07:22] On your property tax bill there will be a line for county tax. It typically is fairly small typically well under 10 percent of your total tax bill.

Daniela Allee [00:07:35] So if you live in Lebanon the biggest city in Grafton County the total tax rate is about thirty dollars per 1000 dollars of valuation. Lebanon gets about 10 bucks of that and the county just too. So some folks might pay more attention to what happens in their city or town than what happens at the county because in Linda's experience Grafton public hearings don't get big crowds.

Linda Lauer [00:08:01] It was so disappointing last year when we had our public budget hearing. Knowing that we're impacting the county taxpayers and I looked down into the room and I had two newspaper reporters one state rep and his wife who was a social service agency asking for money.

Daniela Allee [00:08:29] You might think the budget process ends here after all. Linda and the other commissioners have talked to pretty much everyone they have drafts and charts and excel sheets at the ready but the commissioners don't actually hold the county's purse strings. That power rests with the County delegation.

Stu Wallace [00:08:47] And the County delegation are the elected members of the House of Representatives in that county.

Daniela Allee [00:08:54] That's right. The folks you elected to represent you at the state house in Concord have a big say about what happens in your county. Each county has an executive committee that's made up of a few state reps.

Linda Lauer [00:09:05] The county commissioners meet with that executive committee at least every two months and we bring them up to speed on where we are financially. How do our expenses look compared to where they should be. How is revenue looking. Do we have any major facility issues that are coming down.

Daniela Allee [00:09:26] So once the commissioners have put a draft budget together and have had their public hearings they send the budget to the executive committee and then the process sort of starts all over again.

Linda Lauer [00:09:37] Department heads and county commissioners sit in front of the committee and go through they ask all of their questions they asked justification. The commissioners we tried to explain why we supported it or why we didn't support it.

Daniela Allee [00:09:52] The Executive Committee can add money or cut money where it sees fit to. And once they have a draft all 27 Grafton County delegates get together at the end of June to vote on whether or not to approve the budget. And unlike the state budget nobody can veto the budget. The delegation passes they get the last word.

Linda Lauer [00:10:13] Our job as commissioners is to manage the budget they give us and to tell them what we think the budget should be.

Daniela Allee [00:10:19] They also set the salaries of the County's elected officials. So if you look at how much you're paying in county taxes there are two pretty big budget items. Those dollars go to the nursing home and the county jail. All 10 counties have one of these nursing homes. Grafton spent about three million dollars on it last year. But why do counties have this type of elder care.

Linda Lauer [00:10:47] It actually grew out of the old poor houses.

Daniela Allee [00:10:50] If you don't know what a poor house is it was a publicly funded place in the 17th 18th and 19th centuries where folks struggling to make ends meet would be forced to live. They were often considered the undeserving poor. They would get food and shelter often at the cost of grueling work on a farm or factory.

Linda Lauer [00:11:10] There was some of the very very old Grafton County annual reports. You'll have the names of the poor that were housed here and somehow the poor houses transitioned into a nursing home.

Daniela Allee [00:11:41] After the 13th Amendment passed and involuntary servitude was outlawed people were no longer forced to be in poor houses and by the 20th century reforms were made to these places. More specific institutions were established for children and the mentally ill and the people left in the poor houses were the elderly. Then comes the Social Security Act of 1935 which said aid would not be provided to poor houses.

Daniela Allee [00:12:11] So public officials move the elderly left in those homes to private boarding homes and those eventually became the precursors to the nursing homes we know today. Nowadays there are hundred and thirty five beds in the Grafton County nursing home and the place is almost at capacity but the hundred and twenty six people staying there as of February of this year. Many of the residents there are on Medicaid the government program that assist low income families or individuals.

Linda Lauer [00:12:45] A lot of the money that comes in is from Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement from the nursing home.

Daniela Allee [00:12:53] And as New Hampshire's population gets older there's more and more need.

Linda Lauer [00:13:00] It's expensive nursing homes are expensive.

Daniela Allee [00:13:08] The second big budget item is the county jail. This is where prisoners serve out sentences for misdemeanors. That usually needs a sentence of less than a year or if they don't have enough money to make bail. They weight in jail until they get a hearing and no bail to clarify is basically a payment you make to the court if you want to get out of jail after you're arrested. Last year Grafton County Jail averaged about 83 inmates per day according to the Department of Corrections annual report. A lot of the inmates work on the county farm. Grafton has the only remaining County farm in New Hampshire and these farms used to employ people in the poorhouse Grafton County farm has a dairy operation a small piggery a tree stand and a farm stand. Some of the food even goes to the nursing home and the Department of Corrections as well as to a food pantry and some local schools.

Linda Lauer [00:14:02] We actually have inmates that run our farm stand during the summer. They handle all the cash. They do everything. So it's a good learning experience for the inmates.

Daniela Allee [00:14:13] But they aren't paid for their labor.

Linda Lauer [00:14:15] They get fresh air and a chance to talk to their buddies and get away from the TV.

Daniela Allee [00:14:22] County jails in New Hampshire and across the country have had to face a growing opioid crisis. Oftentimes county jails are serving as the main mental health facility for communities. And there have been efforts to divert people who have substance use disorders from jails. Often that takes the form of drug court.

Linda Lauer [00:14:42] Rather than put them in the jail taking them away from their families away from their homes away from their jobs. They went into a drug court program under. They saw that to a judge every week they got counseling they had drug testing on a random basis pretty intensive program.

Daniela Allee [00:15:02] Drug court is primarily funded by the state. But for it to really work the judges and caseworkers and police all need to be a part of the community. And that's one reason why drug court is administered at the county level. The key player in helping Grafton County become the second in the state to have a drug court was the county attorney in other parts of the country they're known as District attorneys in New Hampshire. You elect these attorneys. This position has major influence over the local criminal justice system in part because they're the ones in charge of prosecuting crimes and deciding how they'll charge people because the county attorney is the one that has to make the offer.

Linda Lauer [00:15:44] That these are not programs that anybody can just say oh I don't want to go to jail let me go into drug court. These are programs that the county attorney or their staff has to agree to put them in.

Daniela Allee [00:15:57] A large portion of the rest of the criminal justice system is administered at the county level.

Linda Lauer [00:16:02] We also have adult diversion and we have juvenile diversion programs and again things that just require people to make restitution require them to do community service. They have a chance to get their record wiped clean. They get a chance for a fresh start across the country.

 

Daniela Allee [00:16:18] A lot of district attorneys or county attorneys ran unopposed so your vote does matter if there are certain kinds of changes you want to see at the local level. In recent years because of these alternative sentencing programs the number of inmates at the Grafton County Jail has actually gone down.

Linda Lauer [00:16:38] Our population at the Department of Corrections has gone from the 90s and 100 plus down to 60. So we just don't have the number of inmates and unfortunately that doesn't translate to a big cost savings because we still need to run the same number of units. So we still need the same number of corrections officers it just means we have this almost the same expense for fewer people.

Daniela Allee [00:17:08] There's one more elected position that's vital to a county's criminal justice system. The sheriff. It's a partisan position because as it's written in state law all county office positions are partisan. You have to pick which party you're representing other parts of the country do have nonpartisan county positions. Grafton Sheriff through 2018 was a Republican and last November he lost to a Democratic challenger. The sheriff is in charge of a few things. Transporting prisoners to court apprehending folks who are indicted and serving civil proceedings so a summons for court for example in Grafton.

[00:17:45] The sheriff's department also oversees a dispatch call center which handles emergency calls for more than 50 communities. In some states especially the further west you go folks can tell you which county they're from. In my middle school we had to fill out a map of all the counties in central Illinois and oftentimes further west.

[00:18:11] Counties have more power. For example some counties run the public school system. Others have the power to make laws or ordinances. Some run libraries and public parks. Most of those responsibilities though in New Hampshire are left to the town or the state. And that might be more visible to the average New Hampshire resident than what happens at the county level.

[00:18:35] If you have questions call your call your county commissioner call any one of us. I'm not I'm not going to say Don't call me unless you're in my district. Call me. I don't care if you're in Grafton County and you have a question or you have a concern. Call me.

[00:18:51] Call one of the other commissioners make us earn our money. We work for you.

[00:18:56] For a lot of folks. The county is just out of sight out of mind. But so much is happening at this level of government decisions get made about how we take care of the elderly and sentencing in the criminal justice system among other programs. Knowing who's running these institutions is important when you head to the polls. But if you have questions concerns issues that you want the county to take up or listen to. Just give Linda a call. Civics one on one New Hampshire is produced by me. Daniella Ali along with Jackie Hopper and Ben Henry our executive producer is Erica Jinich refunded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

 

 

 
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The Citizen Legislature

New Hampshire's legislature is not run by professional politicians, it's run by regular people who volunteer their time to make laws. This week, we investigate the advantages of a citizen legislature, as well as the disadvantages. 


Transcript

 NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.

Jacqui Helbert [00:00:02] There's a joke, you can't throw a rock in the Granite State without hitting someone who's been a legislator. I can't count how many times I've heard some version of...

 Archival [00:00:13] 400 representatives 24 senators the New Hampshire General Court is the third largest legislature in the English speaking world the third largest legislature in the English speaking world third largest English speaking legislature in the world.

 [00:00:29] Fourth fourth what. What happened. We've been third for so now we're fourth.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:00:37] But we do have the largest state legislative body 400 members in the House 24 in the Senate. The.

 Jacquelyn Benson [00:00:50] We're really proud. So what Massachusetts ours is bigger than yours. You know.

 Ben Henry [00:01:02] Hello and welcome to Civics 101: New Hampshire. Here in New Hampshire we are the most represented people in the United States with about one state legislator for every 3000 people.

 [00:01:14] Today Jacqui Helbert takes a look inside our huge citizen legislature. How did we end up with so many legislators. What's it like to be one of them. And why is our legislature so full of contradictions.

 Archival [00:01:26] Welcome to the New Hampshire House.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:01:28] Session days are grueling.

 Archival [00:01:32] The House will be attentive while we call a roll of the House using the roll call system if you could just give me your attention real quick before you leave no member will suspend. Cell phones. I heard three go off in the first 10 minutes of session.

  [00:01:47] Please remember to silence your cell phones.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:01:53] After a long day of doing lawmaker things you probably don't picture your state representative going to work as a bartender but some of them do just that lawmaking is their side hustle.

 [00:02:08] We have a citizen legislature.

 Anna Brown [00:02:10] Which basically means their volunteers.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:02:13] Our senators and representatives don't work 9:00 to 5:00. They're supposed to be part time. They definitely don't make enough money to quit their day jobs.

 Anna Brown [00:02:23] Our legislators are not really paid. They get paid two hundred dollars for a two year session and mileage.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:02:31] They go back home at night and live in their communities with people who are directly affected by the laws they pass or don't pass.

 Jacquelyn Benson [00:02:39] You'll find them everywhere. They're at like the market basket. They're hanging out at the Puritan Backroom. They're all over the place.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:02:50] A citizen legislator is made up of the people for the people. New Hampshire lawmakers come from many different walks of life.

 [00:02:59] They've been hand surgeons inventors teachers on the flip side a professional legislature is made up of full time lawmakers who can devote all their time to public service.

 Anna Brown [00:03:15] There are just four legislators that are full time well-paid and have a large staff. That's California Michigan New York Pennsylvania.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:03:25] That's cat loving political geek Anna Brown.

 Anna Brown [00:03:28] And I'm Director of Research and Analysis for citizens count.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:03:32] They're a nonprofit group that helps Granite Staters learn about issues candidates and elected officials. Really cool stuff. Most state legislatures are a hybrid.

 Anna Brown [00:03:46] Most states fall in the middle. It might be a full time legislature but they are paid as much. Or it might be part time but they get pretty good compensation that they put in.

 Jacquelyn Benson [00:03:56] I think it's like it literally says in the New Hampshire Constitution thou shalt get two hundred dollars for your two years of public service.

  [00:04:03] I am Jackie Benson and I am the content editor of citizens count.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:04:07] This geek doesn't have cats but she wrote her thesis on paranormal investigators.

 [00:04:17] What kind of people can afford to be citizen legislators.

 Anna Brown [00:04:20] So people who can do this. Let's see. You own your own business. You can set your own schedule. You are somehow independently wealthy. You're retired. Maybe you're a lot of retirees. Maybe you are a stay at home mom whose kids are older now so you feel like you have more time that you can commit. We also have some students in the legislature some college students who are able to schedule their classes around seven days.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:04:56] The design of our legislature was set out in the state constitution only back in 1776.

 Virginia Drew [00:05:05] We put a few things in our Constitution that maybe other states would not have done. We do have the right to revolt because this is the live free or die state.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:05:15] That's Virginia Drew. If New Hampshire had a fan club Virginia would be president.

 Virginia Drew [00:05:21] They were the best state in the country. All those other poor states.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:05:27] She's the director of the visitors center.

 Virginia Drew [00:05:30] Into our Constitution. That's where we put that legislative salary in the beginning. Our legislators only met once every other year. A typical session would be about a month. It would be June into July.

 [00:05:45] It was perfect. Farmers got their farms all set. And while things are growing they've come down to their legislation.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:05:53] In 1889 the pay was set at two hundred dollars per term.

 Virginia Drew [00:05:57] Two hundred dollars for a few months every other year was a pretty good salary back in the eighteen hundreds.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:06:04] The Internet told me that would be five and a half grand. The Internet also told me that with that a lawmaker could buy a horse three milking cows and 16 pigs nowadays not so much.

 Virginia Drew [00:06:21] Two hundred dollars a year. And that's before taxes. And so once they pay their federal tax they're Medicare Social Security. Maybe they have 186 dollars. That's for two years. And then they will buy business cards. They buy their nametags the cool license plates you see once they pay to register their vehicle. They can spend an extra nine dollars and get a fancy set for the car.

 Jacquelyn Benson [00:06:51] Whoa now slow down. big spender the merits of our citizen legislature have been debated and debated including on NHPR talk show the exchange. Here is a classic episode from way back in 2004.

 Archival [00:07:06] Go ahead Deborah welcome to the exchange. I think that having a citizen quote citizen legislature the volunteers that we do have means that the legislators are perhaps more interested in actually serving the people than perhaps serving themselves. They don't get paid. They must be doing this job because it matters to them a very deep level to participate in the legislative process.

 Virginia Drew [00:07:35] I love that we don't have professional politicians that we have citizens who come from all these different walks of life. We have people who do hunt and we have so when they're talking about a hunting bill or a massage therapy bill there's massage therapists in our legislature. We had bills about electricians. We've had bills about plumbers you could name a profession someone in the New Hampshire legislature is either working it now or has worked it. That means while they're not professional politicians they're experts in certain fields.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:08:11] Virginia thinks this is how the founders of New Hampshire intended it to be.

 Virginia Drew [00:08:18] I think government was made that it was supposed to be real people making these laws. It wasn't supposed to be lawyers and politicians. It was the people.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:08:27] So many people our legislature ballooned from 89 people in the beginning to 443.Vermont only has 180. We became a laughingstock. They finally put a cap on it and limited it to 400 representatives.

 [00:08:47] I walked around the state house trying to find one of the real life lawmakers.

 Archival [00:08:52] I make I'm sorry. Are you a lawmaker. Yes. Cool. I'm with New Hampshire Public Radio. What's your name.

 Jerry Knirk [00:09:01] My name is Jerry Knirk and I'm a second term Representative from Freedom New Hampshire. I do not have a day job now but what I did used to do is I would say orthopedic spine surgeon and this is now my new job.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:09:15] He's on the health human services elderly Affairs Committee.

 Jerry Knirk [00:09:18] There are I think some big advantages to a citizen legislator and that is that just about everybody here actually either has done or is doing some kind of a job so they come in it with their expertise. You look at the expertise in the committees it's astounding.

 [00:09:33] They were not professional politicians who rely on other people to tell us about stuff.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:09:38] With so many spots up for grabs it can be cheap to run for office here. Some candidates don't spend a penny other than a two dollar filing fee. In 2018 33 races went uncontested so whoever signed up automatically won the seat that low bar can make it easier for quote nontraditional candidates to get their foot in the door I am fed up with ya.

 Archival [00:10:06] Let them eat cake attitude in relation to the nation's most serious problems the economy.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:10:13] Arnie Arnesen ran for state rep back in the 80s. She thought she was a longshot.

 Arnie Arnesen [00:10:18] I mean who I am I am poor. I have two little kids. I'm a backbencher. I couldn't have been elected dogcatcher.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:10:24] Not only did she win but she served four terms.

 Arnie Arnesen [00:10:28] But in an incredibly expensive competitive race where the party goes out and reaches out and finds you it would never happen. But as a result of the four hundred you see a lot of young people you see a lot of old people in a way it truly is a celebration of who we are.

 [00:10:44] You know the fact that you pay someone doesn't mean you get the best people in New Hampshire I walked in the see.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:11:01] Praise has been heaped on the Granite State for being quote ruled by women.

 Virginia Drew [00:11:08] New Hampshire had the distinction of being the first legislature to have more women than men in the legislative boss body. It's a wonderful wonderful thing and I tell people we elect more Republicans more Democrats more men and more women than any other state because we elect the most.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:11:34] And if all that isn't awesome enough there is an added bonus. Bragging rights state lawmaker looks so good on a resumé or college application and it's fun to throw around that family reunions. All right.

 [00:11:53] So far everyone we've heard from has been bright eyed and bushy tailed about our citizen legislature. But it's full of contradictions.

 Archival [00:12:03] What the members elect please take their seats. Ladies and gentlemen. I don't read lips get it to come down use a microphone if you want me to hear you. Ladies and gentlemen I have all day. The member will be seated or removed from the chamber. The House will be in order. We are still in session.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:12:29] Ironically with such a huge legislature we're still struggling to make it truly representative first of all the state constitution wasn't written to represent everybody. It was created by white land holding mills for white land holding Mills who wanted to keep their power. Although New Hampshire pats itself on the back for being ruled by women the first woman wasn't actually voted in until a hundred and forty five years after the state was founded and in the ME TOO era it's still not easy being a woman in the legislature. This report came out a few months ago.

 Archival [00:13:14] In the complaint.

 [00:13:15] The staffer said a representative referred to her as the old bat and the granny in the corner. A female lawmaker felt sexually harassed when during a House session a male lawmaker walked by her while she was seated and stopped Feaster and wiggled his pelvis.

 Jacquelyn Benson [00:13:34] Interesting the race race issue. We have 6 percent or so of our legislators are not white which actually is exactly how many people in New Hampshire are not white. So we're doing great.

 Anna Brown [00:13:49] It's also then still really not racially diverse so it's hard for you know I think you'd be hard to form for example a black caucus in New Hampshire because you know there'd be like four people in New Hampshire the added average age of a legislator is in the mid 60s whereas the average age of the total adult population in New Hampshire is the late 40s.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:14:17] For a part time largely volunteer job it's a huge commitment. Every year roughly a thousand bills are submitted but unlike other states the New Hampshire representatives don't have their own dedicated staff to help with the workload. They have to work on their own time from their home or the road.

 Jerry Knirk [00:14:43] That part can be a bit of a nuisance. I try to use that time to actually listen to an HP PR rather religiously and then also you know return phone calls to people or whatever using my Bluetooth of course and hands free so I'm following the law.

 Jacquelyn Benson [00:15:01] As we said these are folks who aren't getting paid for this and all.

 Anna Brown [00:15:04] A lot of them like they do have another job that they've got to work or kids to take care or they get sick or a loved one gets really sick and if and committee hearings in particular happen mostly in the first two months of the session that's when most of the bills. So if something happens in those first two months and you're out even just one week you could miss dozens of hearings this area daily.

 Archival [00:15:28] Representative King it's always nice to have you. Thanks for coming in. Nice to be here. Last year I was in the Senate I kept very close records and it cost me ten thousand dollars in my own money to be a state senator. I had a big district. I wore out a vehicle every two years and I lost money today. So it's an it costs money to be in the legislature but we pay that price to do that and I don't think we should have to change that.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:15:51] Not every lawmaker can afford to shell out 10 grand a year. That financial hardship and time commitment is too much for some representatives.

 Anna Brown [00:16:02] About one third of them. They do it for two years and then they're like oh my gosh this is this is a full on job and I have a life I can't do this.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:16:12] So it's not as accessible as it could be.

 Virginia Drew [00:16:15] There also there have been legislation in the past to increase the salary change the constitution. They've looked at ways around that by putting in that there would be an expense account for legislators. Any bill that costs the people money must begin in the House of Representatives and that has not passed the House.

 [00:16:38] I don't know that it would. We're a little stubborn on some things as a state.

 Jacquelyn Benson [00:16:46] I think that it's the frugal Yankee New Hampshire way to some extent and that they don't. And I think the other arguments that you'll see on these bills are hey if we start actually like paying ourselves then you know all of these would be professional politicians are gonna swoop in and want the jobs and they they want to keep it so that it's just you know your ordinary folks your ordinary neighbors so having you know non-professional politicians is that cause a lot more scandal.

 Anna Brown [00:17:21] OK I'll put it this way. There's four hundred and twenty four legislators. Right. So even if like one percent of those people is a bad egg that's four people. That's four people every two years.

 [00:17:37] So it definitely opens the door to some to some unsavory situations. If you look back there are definitely a lot of examples of legislators while relatively a lot of legislators getting arrested for everything from illegal hunting because they ran over some ducks.

 Archival [00:17:58] All right well the case involving your state rep from Nashua who ran over some ducks just before Christmas has led to some court fines.

 Anna Brown [00:18:04] Oh my gosh there is this little ring of legislators that were involved in buying marijuana. This was before it was decriminalized. So it was it was very controversial.

 Archival [00:18:13] Report says no charges will be filed against any of the refs because evidence was insufficient to sustain any kind of prosecution.

 Jacqui Helbert [00:18:28] No government is perfect but New Hampshire is special.

Virginia Drew [00:18:31] I will confess. Born and raised New Hampshire I'm a little prejudiced but I think the way we do it is really the true spirit of how legislation's supposed to be. And while maybe it's not perfect it's not always pretty. It's the people doing the people's work and I like that and I'm proud of that.

 
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The NH Supreme Court

At the top of New Hampshire's judicial branch, five justices comprise the state Supreme Court. They don't have as much power as the illustrious name would imply, but they do still have quite a bit. On today's episode, we walk through the life of a supreme court case.


Transcript

NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.

Ben Henry [00:00:00] In 2004 a man named Geoffrey Rallis slipped and fell on a wet floor inside a Market Basket. Not an unusual event in the grand scheme of things.

  [00:00:08] It was a nasty fall though he fractured his hip Geoffrey sued the grocery store for negligence which again isn't too unusual.

 [00:00:16] The grocery store is supposed to be kept reasonably safe for customers and if it's not the store might be responsible for someone getting hurt. Here's what was unusual. It was not just a puddle of water on the floor of Market Basket that day. There were also some green beans. The scene of the incident. The produce section. And you might be thinking who cares. Well the New Hampshire Supreme Court cares.

 [00:00:44] Hello and welcome to Civics 101: New Hampshire. I'm Ben Henry. Today New Hampshire like every other state has its own Supreme Court. It's not the all powerful arbiter of justice that the name would imply. But in cases like Geoffrey's it does get the final word.

 [00:01:03] So here's the question that was at the heart of that case. It all came down to a jury the point of a jury of course is that it's just regular people regular people don't know the ins and outs of the law so the judge has to get them up to speed. They type up a little crash course in the relevant laws. It's called the jury instructions and it's where the jury learns exactly what their job is the decision they need to make. In Geoffrey's case the jury instruction said Market Basket is only responsible if they knew about that spill on the floor or if the spill had been there for so long that they should have known about it. The jury decided no. There's no evidence that the spill had been there very long. Market Basket didn't know it's not their fault. Geoffrey lost his case. But that was not the end.

 [00:01:55] And to explain why I want to explain a little bit about how the judicial branch here in New Hampshire actually works and I've brought in somebody who knows all about it. How many cases have you like brought before the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

Stephanie Hausman [00:02:09] I have probably worked on over a hundred appeals in the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

 Ben Henry [00:02:14] This is Stephanie Hausman she's a public defender. So the state judicial branch is basically just all the courts here in New Hampshire.

 Stephanie Hausman [00:02:21] So there are circuit courts and they tend to take cases that are less serious criminal and civil cases and Family Court matters.

 Ben Henry [00:02:32] Most cases wind up in circuit court everything from a dispute with your landlord to a restraining order to contesting a speeding ticket.

 Stephanie Hausman [00:02:39] Then there are superior courts there's one in every county but two in Hillsborough that is where jury trials take place.

 Ben Henry [00:02:46] And these are the big cases felonies like theft or selling drugs or disputes between individuals in which a lot of money is on the line. Hillsborough has to so that Nashua and Manchester each have their own.

 Stephanie Hausman [00:02:59] So those are the lower courts in our state. They're sort of coequal. Although sometimes a case can start in the circuit court and then sort of bump up to the Superior Court. But you can appeal cases from either court to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

 Ben Henry [00:03:14] This whole system of courts is only for cases that involve New Hampshire law. If you go to trial for breaking a federal law you're swimming in different waters you'll have to a federal court at the very top of that federal court system is the United States Supreme Court.

 [00:03:32] That is not what we're talking about here. Our Supreme Court is just for New Hampshire.

 Stephanie Hausman [00:03:38] But where there are open questions about does the Constitution mean you can do this or you can't do this and theU.S. Supreme Court has not decided it. New Hampshire Supreme Court can decide the question.

 Ben Henry [00:03:51] Pretty much every Supreme Court case starts with an appeal an appeal is when somebody involved in a case in the lower courts doesn't like the way the judge ruled they have the right to ask for a review by someone else. And the New Hampshire Supreme Court is that someone else. They review the case and decide whether the judge made a mistake.

 Archival [00:04:14] This is case number two thousand eight zero point zero Geoffrey J Rallis versus Demoulas Super Markets Inc

 Ben Henry [00:04:22] So Geoffrey the guy who fell down in Market Basket he appealed his case. He said the jury got bad instructions

 Archival [00:04:31] May it please the court. My name is Robert Shaines and I'm here at large. Of course we represent the plaintiff in this case.

 Ben Henry [00:04:38] It's not just about how long the spill had been on the floor he said. It's a question of whether Market Basket should have anticipated that a spill would have happened there in the first place.

 Archival [00:04:49] Was that they knew that the way the pricing was displayed it tended to wind up on the floor.

 [00:04:57] This is where the green beans come in Market Basket has got to know that green beans are going to end up on the floor of the produce section. So there should be more careful about cleaning it up. That was Geoffrey's argument.

 Archival [00:05:10] The trial court gave the following instruction.

 Ben Henry [00:05:15] And the Supreme Court was not obligated to even hear him out though.

 Stephanie Hausman [00:05:19] There are classes of cases that are mandatory appeals which if you file the document the Supreme Court is going to take it and then there are discretionary appeals where you have to sort of sell the case to the Supreme Court and they decide I will take it I won't take it.

 Ben Henry [00:05:33] The court tends to take most of the cases they get. They can turn away some cases that have to do with parole or probation or landlord issues among other things before the court gets down to business. Some clerical work has to happen staff create transcripts of all the lower court hearings on the case. They make a record of everything anyone said.

 Stephanie Hausman [00:05:55] Then the Supreme Court says OK appellant you have X number of days to file your brief and a brief is just a written document that says these are the issues that were appealing. Here's the sort of factual basis that you need to know and then here's the law and here's why you should come to the result that we want is the brief public at the time it's filed in almost all cases except those that are confidential so this is the thing that you might see quoted in news stories. Yes. And then the especially so the the person who's not appealing has a certain number of days writing a legal brief is a very particular art form.

 Ben Henry [00:06:35] The wording needs to be extremely precise. Laws can be fickle but the brief also must be persuasive and needs to tell the story of the case. I actually talked to a former Supreme Court justice about this. What makes a great chief.

 John Broderick [00:06:48] The people who understood brief right and if they had five issues they wouldn't raise all of the three back story a moment.

 Ben Henry [00:06:56] John Broderick sat on the court for 15 years. He actually was there for one of the biggest cases in recent decades. The Clairemont education lawsuits. That's when the court decided the state had to spend more money on public nation. Huge deal anyways.

 Ben Henry [00:07:11] Supreme Court justices spend a whole lot of time reading briefs.

 John Broderick [00:07:15] And say youd get 64 to 70 briefs all of your office and you try to keep up with the work that just came in the door it's overwhelming at times.

 Ben Henry [00:07:24] He can see why Brodrick prefer to short interesting briefs.

 Stephanie Hausman [00:07:27] The Supreme Court then takes some time to decide can we decide it just on the papers or do we want to have the lawyers come in for an oral argument.

 Ben Henry [00:07:36] Those of us who appreciate a good courtroom drama. Yes. This oral argument we're talking about for us is what we envision as like the heart of the judicial process. Take me inside the room on that day. First roll where does this happen.

 Stephanie Hausman [00:07:50] The Supreme Court is on Charles doe drive in Concord. It is a charming building you should go there. I'm going to give tours kind of like a tour. There's almost nothing to see so you walk in the door. There's a clerk's office there's public bathrooms there is the court room. The state law library is also attached so you could go there. It's the end of the winter now but I love going in the winter because the court room has a fireplace and they will sometimes have a crackling fire in the fireplace for winter arguments which is very charming.

 Ben Henry [00:08:22] And so who is in the room during these oral arguments.

 Stephanie Hausman [00:08:26] Almost nobody like anyone can come almost all of them are public and they post their argument list every month but very few people come lawyers from each side get 15 minutes to talk.

 Archival [00:08:41] Particularly Simpson versus wal mart stores.

 Ben Henry [00:08:44] A yellow light comes on when your time is almost up. Red light comes on when you have overstayed your welcome at the podium.

 Archival [00:08:51] Is the burden shifting rule. There's a recurring risk rule which maine a couple of other states.

 Ben Henry [00:08:58] I mean does this ever get dramatic or sort of you know like intense.

 Stephanie Hausman [00:09:04] It is usually pretty low key legal stuff. It's very rarely dramatic in the sense that oh my gosh you know there's there's not a lot of surprises. The justices are very good about reading through the entire briefs beforehand so you don't start your argument from square one and be like this is a case about a level you know they don't want that they've read it all. They've taken detailed notes.

 Ben Henry [00:09:28] So given that you as the lawyer what do you choose to do with that 15 minutes.

 Stephanie Hausman [00:09:34] Usually there might be things that I definitely want to say about what the other side has said in their brief but usually I just want to get them to understand sort of the strongest points about my argument.

 Ben Henry [00:09:47] The argument in Geoffrey's case mostly revolved around which a set of rules that were relevant. His lawyer brought up another case from the New Hampshire Supreme Court back in 1961 that bore remarkable similarities to Geoffrey's instead of a supermarket. The scene was a porch instead of green beans. It was a pear. Somebody managed to slip on a pair. The Court back then said hey those papers always fall off that tree in that same spot. You should have known this would happen. Pears green beans are all the same in the eyes of the law. But the trial judge when they were giving jury instructions they didn't mention the pear School of Thought so the jury couldn't make a fair decision. They didn't have all the information. That's the main point Geoffrey his lawyer made that day.

 Stephanie Hausman [00:10:38] But really the most important thing for oral argument is for the justices to ask us questions that sort of push the limits of our argument.

 Archival [00:10:47] Let me ask question if you're correct that that should be the test.

 Ben Henry [00:10:51] You might recognize this voice. It's Broderick.

 Archival [00:10:53] What do they do to avoid liability. They could do things they normally go in. How does he match not getting maps in front of the area with a new product to the.

 Ben Henry [00:11:05] There's no time limit on the questions just a panel of legal experts grilling another legal expert.

 Stephanie Hausman [00:11:11] They're all very polite. And when you do it for a long time you're just sort of you know where they're going to press on your argument where there's any weakness. And so you know what to prepare for. And so for every argument that I do most of the questions are questions that I've already anticipated. It must be kind of exciting. It is. I wish it was not bounded by time but when they are very engaged it's a really fun process.

 Ben Henry [00:11:38] This process is not at all the same one that lower courts go through the Supreme Court does not start from scratch and look at all of the facts of the case. All they do is retrace the footsteps of the lower court judge to check whether they made any mistakes.

 Stephanie Hausman [00:11:55] I mean I think a lot of people think about appeals as being an all over fairness review that the Supreme Court because they're the Supreme Court and they've got the most power. They look at everything they read everything. So they would get the police reports they would know what the witnesses would say the police interviews they would get all that stuff and they would decide whether this person in a criminal case should be guilty of this crime or not. And that is not at all what they do.

 [00:12:22] They only look at choices that the trial judge made when the trial judge was asked by one of the parties to make a decision.

 Ben Henry [00:12:30] In the green bean case the Supreme Court was not deciding whether Geoffrey had been treated fairly whether the grocery store had made some fundamental mistake they were making a smaller decision though still an important one about whether the lower court judge gave the jury a good crash course in the law. You can't just ask the Supreme Court to fix what you think is an unfair decision. It doesn't work like that. Is that frustrating for you in arguing these cases.

 Stephanie Hausman [00:12:59] It is frustrating. We have to sort of jump through all of these hoops to get to the outcome and I think the person might come into an appeal thinking I'm going to get this sort of they're going to look at everything and they're going to see that this is unfair. And what I end up focusing on might be this very discrete part of the case that to them feels very small but that's just the function of what an appeal is.

 Ben Henry [00:13:23] After all the briefs have been filed. The questions asked the court gets down to business making a decision. This is the part Stephanie Haussmann doesn't actually know a lot about this next part doesn't involve lawyers and it isn't public.

 [00:13:36] John Brodrick of course knows all about this process.

 John Broderick [00:13:39] So that the two cases could take her reach. When does it come from. Truman had talked about the two cases we just heard. And you were the judge would express your views.

 [00:13:50] You say from juniors here.

 Ben Henry [00:13:52] This recess after oral argument this is when the justices tossed around some ideas and they come to a rough understanding of how the majority of them would vote on this case. Each case is then assigned it to one Justice who is then responsible for writing an explanation of the court's decision which will be called the majority opinion.

 John Broderick [00:14:11] You meet with your law clerks. If you did it as i did it you'd say we talked about this case this is what it involves this is what the court decided. And then the law clerks go about doing drafts and they come in periodically. Show me where they were we'd talk about it.

 Ben Henry [00:14:27] Every Supreme Court justice kind of runs their own miniature law firm. Each justice has a couple of clerks who might be on their way to becoming judges themselves. And they do much of the actual research and writing that goes into a Supreme Court decision.

 John Broderick [00:14:41] When I was an associate justice which I was for eight years I had two law clerks. It was a very collaborative process of my term but at some point. You would get a draft that you were happy with and then circling to the other judges and twice a month we would have case conference just the judges and we go around and have all the opinions be on our agenda and we'll talk about them.

 Ben Henry [00:15:04] More than half the time Broderick says the justices all agreed on this first draft of the opinion and that was that. Other times they would ask for some changes.

 John Broderick [00:15:14] And so it would be held and you'd work with a person and then two weeks or months they come back.

 Ben Henry [00:15:20] And this is where the justices collaborate with each other and where each justice brings their own unique perspective to the table. Now the Supreme Court is not a diverse institution. There have been three women to sit on the court in its entire history. The first was in the 90s. And every justice has been white.

 [00:15:38] When it comes to political diversity Broderick says. The New Hampshire Supreme Court feels much less political than the big Supreme Court theU.S. Supreme Court. Did you feel as though you got along with your colleagues even when you disagreed with.

 John Broderick [00:15:53] Absolutely. i liked my colleagues I felt very comfortable sometimes saying i disagree im dissenting they had the same reservation sometimes. But that's how it should work. It was intellectual exercise important. But it was not personal.

 [00:16:09] Each justice is appointed by the governor and the executive council and they get to keep the job up until age 70. Then they have to retire in some other states. Justices are elected by the public which means they have to act a little bit more like a politician. If they make an unpopular decision they might lose re-election. New Hampshire justices don't have to worry about being popular just about being rights.

 John Broderick [00:16:32] And even though it wouldn't be banner headlines it was affecting its future.

 Ben Henry [00:16:37] This whole process takes about a year from filing an appeal to getting a decision. Once the Supreme Court makes their decision with only a few exceptions that's the final word. It's over. The case is done. It doesn't just go into a file cabinet though in the future. Lower court judges refer back to Supreme Court cases for guidance.

 Stephanie Hausman [00:16:57] And so when the Supreme Court then decides what a law means or interprets a statute that helps says precedent going forward as being like oh OK we know now that this statute does apply to these situations but doesn't apply to these situations. There are other situations like this sort of constitutional law questions where again every situation that comes up is unique. And so they're deciding a unique set of facts and they're saying this violates the constitution setting a precedent is a big deal.

 Stephanie Hausman [00:17:31] The justices are telling future lawyers and judges what the words of the state constitution and the state laws mean.

 John Broderick [00:17:39] You know my view is I don't do world peace when I don't need it. And sometimes lawyers would come in and ask for world peace. and youd say. You don't really need world peace do you to win what do you need to win. Because the longer i sat there i realized the nuances in facts and law. And I realize that I only really had to decide the case in front of me. I didn't have to decide cases that might come in the future. I didn't need to make sweeping pronouncements. I was also sensitive to the fact that I was not a legislator.

 Ben Henry [00:18:12] One way that the court makes absolute sure that they're doing the right thing is that they try really hard to get all five justices to agree on one decision.

 John Broderick [00:18:21] And so when you're trying to give direction to people and businesses in practice in your state it's really important to the extent possible to speak with five voices.

 Ben Henry [00:18:35] Geoffrey's case after the oral arguments and after one justice and wrote of an opinion they did all come to an agreement.

 [00:18:43] Geoffrey had a point. The lower court judge had made a mistake. They overturned the decision. Geoffrey won his lawsuit.

 
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Crossover Day

Every bill has to visit both the New Hampshire House and the Senate before it can become state law, and the deadline when they must cross over from one to the other is called, well, crossover day. Every year, the legislature kicks into high gear as lawmakers rush to meet this deadline. On today's episode, we go behind the scenes of New Hampshire lawmaking to find out how crossover even happens and what it means for the rest of us. 


Transcript

NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.

Tammy Wright [00:00:01] You like my little space?

Ben Henry [00:00:11] Yeah you have a very cool old looking desk. So my vibe from that door is that this was at one point a closet.

 Tammy Wright [00:00:17] Oh I love that you say that, this was it used to be a senator's lounge.

Ben Henry [00:00:22] Tammy Wright does not work in a closet. Despite my first impressions her office is next door to the vaulted chamber where the New Hampshire Senate meets.

 Tammy Wright [00:00:31] This we call it the halfway house so it's in between the third and second floor. Yes that's why I have a half window.

 Ben Henry [00:00:38] Tammy's the Senate clerk one part of her job is to attend all the Senate sessions. Actually if you watch the Senate livestream you can see her. She sits off to the side of the podium where the Senate president Donna Soucy stands. Though if you don't know what she does you might not even notice her.

 Tammy Wright [00:00:53] And no I've been here forever. I was here when they smoked.

 Ben Henry [00:00:56] She showed me down the stairs from the second and a half floor to what she calls her penalty box the little wooden podium where she sits.

 Tammy Wright [00:01:05] This is it. This is where I keep all my stuff mostly if I need water or whatever I have my rules here. These are my roll call sheets.

 Ben Henry [00:01:15] She records all the votes by hand. She actually ticks little boxes with a pencil to show how each senator voted on each bill. She's not the one making speeches or taking votes but everyone who actually knows what her job is knows that this whole thing would grind to a halt without her.

 [00:01:38] Hello and welcome to Civics 101. New Hampshire. I'm Ben Henry. Today: The reason I talked to Tammy is that she is one of the people at the center of the busiest time of the legislative session. For a bill to become a law it has to visit both the House and the Senate and at some point it has to cross from one to the other. There is a deadline for this to happen. That deadline is called Crossover Day.

 [00:02:03] OK. I don't know that you guys need to introduce yourselves but why don't you anyway so that I can check your levels.

 Anna Brown [00:02:10] My name is Anna Brown and I am director of research and analysis for Citizens Count.

 Jacquelyn Benson [00:02:15] And I'm Jackie Benson and I am the editor of Citizens Count.

 Ben Henry [00:02:19] You can read their work at Citizens count dot org.

 Jacquelyn Benson [00:02:22] So in the legislature we have two branches. We have the house and the Senate and elected officials can introduce legislation into their branch. So if you're a representative in the house you can say you can introduce a bill to the house if you're a Senator you introduce a bill to the Senate. What Crossover Day is is the day where these bills have to move from the branch they started in to the other half of the legislature because in order for a bill to become law. You know like bill becomes law 101. You've got to get approval from both branches and we have a date for this so that it gives the other branch time to consider the bill. I mean it's got to go through the whole legislative process twice has to go through public hearings debates on the floor and sometimes a second committee and all of that other stuff.

 Ben Henry [00:03:13] The exact date of Crossover Day is decided by the Senate president. For a few whole weeks leading up to cross over the regular chaos of lawmaking kicks into high gear.

 [00:03:23] So this day usually late March early April here in New Hampshire is when it falls becomes this this you know like in the mudder run or something it's like that final obstacle course that you've got to overcome with like the paint spraying at you and the smoke in your face it's like that moment in the New Hampshire legislature where they've got to just get it all over this giant you know wall. Then it will have you know a continued life in the next branch and a chance of actually passing and becoming a law this year.

 Ben Henry [00:03:51] After legislators have finished introducing all the bills they would like to pass into law they have about three months to basically do politics. They hold hearings. They go to meetings they try to change each other's minds and eventually they vote. During all this the office of the Senate clerk, which is to say Tammy and her staff of three people are responsible for physically keeping track of all of these bills.

 Tammy Wright [00:04:16] To me I always tell people it's like working in a factory. We give it a number. We make sure that it gets sent to print. We make sure that it gets a public hearing. We publish the Senate calendar. We do so many things in this office that nobody understands.

 Ben Henry [00:04:33] They're the ones who shepherded a bill from place to place inside the State House because bills have an electronic life. You can find them online but the official record of bills on their journey to becoming a law. It's all just pieces of paper.

 Ben Henry [00:04:47] You're sitting next to a crate full of bills.

 Tammy Wright [00:04:52] So what you're looking at right now is that bucket House bill sent to leadership. So yesterday there were a hundred bills that were sent up to leadership's office senator soucy's office.

 Ben Henry [00:05:05] I wouldn't want to disturb your filing system but can we just pull out one of these and just look as an example. Sure. So these are the different tabs here.

 Tammy Wright [00:05:13] Well what they are is in the beginning you know fine line.

Ben Henry [00:05:18] Some bills are really straightforward. Everybody agrees to vote yes or everyone agrees to vote no. And most of those bills are finished up long before the big deadline Crossover Day. Other bills take a lot of work. A lot of hearings a lot of research a lot of debate about these bills get pushed right up to the deadline.

Anna Brown [00:05:37] So some of the big bills we've seen on Crossover Day have been family medical leave marijuana legalization casinos. It's those big debates where everybody's waiting to see is it going to pass.

Jacquelyn Benson [00:05:49] Like school funding this year or Medicaid expansion the question about Medicaid expansion that was 2016 Crossover Day down to the finish line.

Anna Brown [00:05:56] Because those bills too if they've had to go to multiple committees because it does involve taxes in this issue and that issue maybe there's a criminal justice element. Those bills will have to get preliminary votes after each committee hearing they get another vote. And so a lot of times these will pass in the House and they'll just kind of keep on chugging them along but you can't really judge if a bill is going to pass just because it passes in one of these earlier moments because everybody knows they're going to have that last chance.

 [00:06:25] And so that's one Crossover Day happens and that's when you get the big debate and it really goes down.

Ben Henry [00:06:30] Crossover Day is more or less the same in the Senate and the House of Representatives though the deadline might be on slightly different days like this year in the Senate. It was March 28 in the house. It was April 4th. One week later and the bill writing process itself is different in each chamber. For one thing the House just has a lot more bills to get through before Crossover Day.

 Jacquelyn Benson [00:06:50] Well you would be able to tell so do you think that the House bills gets amended more.

 Anna Brown [00:06:56] Oh not necessarily. I feel like a lot of times you will actually see Senate bills where an amendment comes out that actually rewrites the whole bill. And it's same intent but it's almost like I feel like the Senate committees do a lot of really in-depth work on a lot of their bills. And you will see that in the House but in the house there's also plenty of bills where it's just change this word here or just send it through or just kill it.

 Ben Henry [00:07:21] Also remember the state budget that bill that lays out everything the state can spend money on for the next two years.

 Anna Brown [00:07:27] So the budget actually has its own Crossover Day. That's after the regular Crossover Day. So the idea is the house because the budget starts in the house they take care of all of the other bills that they have to go through and then they have an entire day just to vote on the budget and talk about a marathon day. We've seen those days those hours into the night. We've seen those days where the House doesn't even agree on a final budget. They literally can't pass a single budget bill. So they're kind of procrastinating the budget. I think they're just squeezing out as much time as possible and ideally giving time for regular representatives who haven't been at these hearings and on the Finance Committee to go through the parts of the budget that are really important.

 Ben Henry [00:08:11] To hit that deadline to vote on every bill that needs a vote legislators stay for as long as they need to. Sometimes late into the night. Great thanks for taking your time. I dropped by the office of one senator Jon Morgan from district 23 in Rockingham County.

 [00:08:27] We are two days from crossover. What is your life like right now.

 Jon Morgan [00:08:31] So it's obviously a little hectic as it usually is and probably even more so. Couple of weeks ago not last week the week before we were here in the state House and to almost 11:00 o'clock at night and on Thursday in session getting through bills. I think we had about 60 bills to get through that day. Well this Thursday we have 85 or some odd on the docket. And so we are actually going to be scheduling a couple of hours tomorrow on Wednesday to be going through some of the easier bills that we can get through and then have their marathon session on on Thursday.

 Ben Henry [00:09:09] Thursday was crossover day.

 Jon Morgan [00:09:11] So basically what happens is Tuesday Wednesday Thursday for the Senate. Incredibly busy. So I wake up on Tuesday morning like I did this morning and I say to my my wife and my three little boys. All right guys. Love you. I'll see you in a couple of days. You know because that's basically the way that it feels.

 Ben Henry [00:09:28] What kind of work are you still doing on the bills that you are involved in either sponsor or cosponsor. What is left to be done or is most of the hard work done by now.

 Jon Morgan [00:09:38] Most of the hard work is done by now most of the work happens in committee sometimes and that's that's what's happening right now. We have session coming up as I mentioned tomorrow Wednesday and Thursday. And so we have some discussions that are happening behind closed doors about you know hey I feel pretty strongly about this bill or that bill I work with you to either make an amendment or convince you to support my side of this issue.

 Ben Henry [00:10:05] Now however late into the night Jon and his colleagues work on Crossover Day the House and Senate staff work even later.

 Tammy Wright [00:10:13] So we have a calendar and as you see I've everything while we are in session we're trying to build the calendar all week. But then when sessions over we have to stay and complete this to make sure it's published before we go home.

 Ben Henry [00:10:28] By the way the calendar she's talking about is just a document they publish that describes everything the Senate does. If you want to go a little deeper than what you can read about in the news you can find the Senate and House calendars online anyways. Crossover eventually happens the votes are in. The bills are assembled. Everybody goes home. And here's the reason Crossover Day is worth paying attention to every legislative session has a story that goes along with it. One of the big issues what's going to change what's going to stay the same. Who is steering the ship. The narrative takes shape during elections and when the governor introduces the first draft of the budget but Crossover Day Crossover Day is a big reality check on that narrative.

Anna Brown [00:11:14] Yeah I think so.

 Jacquelyn Benson [00:11:15] Particularly that idea of here's what survived. You know here's what made it through. But the media really grab on to that to the idea of like we've had the battle royale and here's the here's the ones that are coming out of the woods.

 Archival [00:11:27] To legalize marijuana in New Hampshire is limping toward the legislative finish line. Key issue for budget writers going forward will be forecasting state taxes.

 [00:11:35] Democrats in Concord gave final approval to a bill banning firearms in Safe House committee's budget rejected many of Governor Sununu top priorities including a new forensic hospital and further business tax.

 Anna Brown [00:11:46] And you'll see big moments like in 2013 marijuana legalization. You know it's like oh my gosh is that going to go forward or not. Also back in the day casinos it did come out of the house on Crossover Day on Crossover Day. That was the big debate in 2014.

 [00:12:00] So usually you'll have those big moments where it's a clear victory or it's a clear death.

Ben Henry [00:12:07] Crossover is a perfect time for regular people to check in on what their politicians are up to and which bills stand a chance of becoming law.

 Anna Brown [00:12:15] I would also say if you want to get involved if you want to go to a hearing or find issues that are important to you and let your legislator know how you feel well if you wait until after Crossover Day you know you won't be wasting your time on anything that's not has having a good chance of going forward.

 Ben Henry [00:12:32] Jackie had a different take on this.

 Jacquelyn Benson [00:12:34] I would actually make the argument and I base this on. I've actually just been in the process of interviewing a bunch of legislators kind of about this very subject that your input doesn't have as much impact after Crossover Day. And I say that because I think by Crossover Day the legislators are paying attention to they they're looking at what bills are coming out and the issues and how they're shaping. And so by the time you get to crossover day Dave probably kind of made up their minds what they think.

 Ben Henry [00:13:04] So the jury's out on when is the best time of year to go to speak at a public hearing. I think every time of year is the best time. Public hearings are great for legislators themselves. Of course the fun is not over after crossover. They buckle down to work on the bills that crossed over.

 Anna Brown [00:13:20] I think a lot of legislators take a deep breath and sigh of relief. And I think also there after Crossover Day it sort of that refining period because each body the House and the Senate can amend a bill that came from the other body.

 [00:13:36] And so you really see them start to forge what that final legislation is going to look like. It has a much less fantic feeling after Crossover Day.

Ben Henry [00:13:46] Usually they have cut down the number of bills by about half.

 Jacquelyn Benson [00:13:49] And I think the other thing is post Crossover Day the terms of the debate have been set more so when you get these really big complex issues like it's like school funding or family and medical leave so much that first half of the session is just OK we're looking at all of these different proposals for how to approach this and others that weren't even in a bill that again you could introduce is an amendment that are coming out because of hearing testimony that they're getting or lobbyists who are coming in and trying to bring different perspectives on the issues or feedback from citizens by Crossover Day. You've narrowed that down and it's not a matter of well we want to raise the minimum wage here's 18 different ways we could do it. It's here's the proposal that's that's potentially got legs are we going to run with this or are there any adjustments that we want to make to have because you can amend a bill that crosses over. Right. But if you do then it's got to go back to the other side and get another vote.

 [00:14:46] And they have to agree with how you amended it and if they don't then it goes to a committee of conference and you've got to hash out the differences so if you're going to change what already came your way you got to have like a really good reason for why you're going to that.

 Ben Henry [00:15:00] The budget however is different senators are not shy about writing amendments to the budget that the House passed.

 Anna Brown [00:15:07] Realistically the Senate is going to significantly change that puppy.

 [00:15:12] So in a way you could potentially make the argument potentially that it doesn't really matter what the House passes it does.

 [00:15:22] It does. You know that sets the tone it sets the starting point. But the Senate always makes significant changes.

 Jacquelyn Benson [00:15:29] The budget is an exception to the rule about significant changes after Crossover Day. It's like it will come back. So it's going to be different significantly different.

 [00:15:40] I mean for one thing they have different numbers about the money they have to see exactly when they get the revenue projections that include a lot of the business taxes that have come in as the spring has happened and tax season is here and so they have more money to play around with.

 [00:15:54] So right now we are living life after Crossover Day. All your legislators have caught up on sleep hopefully. So right back at it now after crossover legislators have another three months to do the whole process over again. Now of course they have fewer bills so it goes a little faster.

 [00:16:11] So it's technically until June 30th pretty much three months and three months. But most of it's going to be settled before the end of June with a possible overtime round in September for veto overrides. They can call a special session to get together and try to override the governor's vetoes which we pretty much know is coming this year because the Democrats are saying hey we're sending this to Sununu and Sununu says have fun. I'm gonna veto this and that's why a lot of this year what we're looking at is is this passing with enough votes to override that veto. When the time comes.

 [00:16:46] Keep your eye out for a good ole legislative overtime field goal a penalty kick sports metaphor. You get the point. That's it for today. As always if there's something you would like to know about New Hampshire politics just e-mail us and we'll try to figure it out. Civics 101 at PR dot org.

 [00:17:05] So it's one to one New Hampshire is created by me and Henry. Jackie Helbert and Daniela Alli. We have help from the KevinE.J. and Hannah McCarthy our executive producer is Erica. We are supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and for production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

 

 

 
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Department of Agriculture

New Hampshire may not have a reputation for farmland the way Midwestern states do, but agriculture is a pillar of our identity. The executive department that oversees New Hampshire farms does a lot more than just meat inspections (though they do plenty of those). Today, we take a trip inside the Department of Agriculture. 


Transcript

NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.

 Ben Henry: [00:00:02] If you're in the market for beekeeping equipment or some hay bales or if you need to hire someone to pull horseshoes off a horse. There is one publication where you can find out all of that stuff in New Hampshire. It's called The Weekly Market Bulletin. It comes out every Wednesday. It's got news and announcements and whatnot but the part I like to read is the advertisements. Anyone who subscribes to The Bulletin can put an ad in there. It's like Craigslist for farmers.

 Bulletin: [00:00:26] Custom lumber siding with wood Mizer portable saw mills 12 years of experience will travel seedless straw ideal for strawberries garlic lawns etc. Also good for bedding outside dogs. Spiked tooth harrow twenty five dollars J D planter 25 dollars.

 Ben Henry: [00:00:43] What I like about it is that it changes with the seasons in the spring you see ads for the first cut of hay in the fall you see the harvest in the winter you see firewood.

 Bulletin: [00:00:52] Complete sets of sap buckets. Approximately 80 sets five dollars each.

 Ben Henry: [00:00:57] The Bulletin is published by The New Hampshire Department of Agriculture markets and food and I might be one of the longest running publications in New Hampshire. The first bulletin came out in 1919. The department claims they have never missed a single Wednesday since then.

 [00:01:12] Hello and welcome to Civics 101 New Hampshire. Today we're going to talk about what the Department of Agriculture markets and food does besides publish a bulletin. This is a department in the executive branch that regulates New Hampshire's farms and it looks out for the safety of people eating the vegetables and meat that come from those farms.

 Shawn Jasper: [00:01:31] The way I like to put it is that we're really the whole department is really about consumer protection.

 Ben Henry: [00:01:36] This is Shawn Jasper. He is the commissioner of the Department of Agriculture. The department is made up of six divisions and they spend a lot of time inspecting things.

 Shawn Jasper: [00:01:45] Our Animal Industry Division is really about making sure that the meats that people are are buying there aren't pathogens in there that there aren't diseases in the animals that may spread to humans. So we do blood tests on all the poultry and all all the cattle in the in the state of New Hampshire.

 Ben Henry: [00:02:04] Employees from the department even go out and test the feed that farmers in New Hampshire buy for their livestock just to make sure there's nothing in there that shouldn't be in there.

 Shawn Jasper: [00:02:12] We license all the pesticides applicators in the state of New Hampshire and regulate the pesticides themselves to make sure that people who are applying pesticides are doing so according to the law and that they know what they're doing.

 Ben Henry: [00:02:25] The world is full of chemicals and diseases and stuff that you do not want in your food. And the Department of Agriculture is responsible for keeping that stuff out of your food. It's kind of a thankless job if they do it perfectly. Nobody knows.

 Shawn Jasper: [00:02:38] No that's that's true and we're very lucky in New Hampshire. I think we do a very good job. You don't hear about these foodborne illness outbreaks in the state.

 Ben Henry: [00:02:48] One thing that does cause a headache for farmers is not disease but birds eating their crops.

 Shawn Jasper: [00:02:54] It's not unreasonable say there could be up to a million dollars a year of damage just in in corn.

 Ben Henry: [00:03:00] It's something I've never thought about but yeah birds are out here eating money. Here's another thing I would never think to be worried about when you're filling up your gas tank and that meter takes upwards two gallons three gallons four gallons. How do you know that that's accurate. What if the gas station is ripping you off and not giving you the amount of gas that you pay for.

 [00:03:20] Well the Department of Agriculture are the cops on that beats. They have a division of Weights and Measures. Those folks regulate any type of commercial device that measures out the stuff you buy. So at the grocery store the scale that says how many pounds of bananas you're buying that has to be occasionally checked and calibrated by the department. So the department is everywhere. But although times have changed its core responsibilities aren't that much different than what they were 100 years ago when the department was created.

 Shawn Jasper: [00:03:49] Well I've always enjoyed history so one of the things that I learned in going back and looking at the Department of Agriculture reports from a hundred years ago that you know all things old or new again. Farmers markets started really World War One and I had never heard of kale until a few years ago.

 [00:04:11] But looking in that report finding out how much kale production there was in the state of New Hampshire.

 Ben Henry: [00:04:16] Starting in the mid 1800 New Hampshire had a Board of Agriculture which was just a group of farmers. But in 1913 it was replaced by the Department of Agriculture and the legislature began writing all these new laws to regulate farms to protect consumers. The heyday of New Hampshire agriculture was the 1930s and 40s.

 Shawn Jasper: [00:04:37] And we had some really big farms some huge truck farms and huge poultry operations that really were national in scope. You know we're just constantly trucking products into into Boston and we had a real impact on the market. The Hood family started producing milk here and in New Hampshire and dairy.

 Ben Henry: [00:04:59] Ever since those glory days the number of farms in New Hampshire has been going down partly due to competition from other parts of the country and partly because other industries are simply more attractive for workers these days.

 Shawn Jasper: [00:05:11] Getting people who want to work is a real challenge and that continues to be one of the largest challenges to agriculture because you can only charge so much for your product and you can only pay your help so much so it's it's a balancing act.

 Ben Henry: [00:05:27] New Hampshire will probably never be that dairy powerhouse that we once were. But farming is having a moment here. We've been riding the local food movement. People are willing to pay more now for food that's grown right here in New Hampshire. Shawn Jasper says the Department of Agriculture is one leg of a three legged stool that supports this resurgence of farms and New Hampshire. Another leg is the Farm Bureau which is not part of the government. It's a group that advocates for farmers in New Hampshire the third leg is theU.N. aged cooperative extension. This is like a side office of the university located in each county that does agricultural research and provides education about farming but also gardening science nutrition.

 [00:06:08] Kelly McAdam is a field specialist in the Belnap county office.

 Kelly McAdam: [00:06:11] And so I work with farmers in Belmont County really kind of their general agriculture questions and I've been working more and more lately the past few years with women farmers and also beginning farmers.

 Ben Henry: [00:06:25] Part of MacAdams job is to help people get started in agriculture. That means helping them navigate the Department of Agriculture is it regulations.

 Kelly McAdam: [00:06:32] So you know you can't just stick up a sign at the end of the driveway that says you know organic vegetables. There's regulations around that and they have to follow those procedures.

 Ben Henry: [00:06:43] The biggest hurdle for entering the industry though whether you want to grow apples or raise pigs is getting land to do it on.

 Kelly McAdam: [00:06:50] It's hard for a new farmer to be able to afford land in New Hampshire. I look at the Lakes region and I have some folks I want to start farming but they're like Well where do I go to buy land to farm in the lakes region because there's all these competing interests. You know you can put housing lots on it or build a second home. So I feel like the land access is a pretty big issue.

 Ben Henry: [00:07:22] Turns out the market bulletin that weekly publication is made by just one person. Hi I'm from New Hampshire public radio. Her name's Theresa Sheridan and meeting her felt like meeting a celebrity.

 [00:07:31] I'm a big fan of a market bulleting.

 Theresa Sheridan: [00:07:33] Thank you. I just wanted to say I appreciate for your work. Thank you. You like doing it. What what's your what's your favor like a section of the bill. I just like the layout putting all the different things and subjects and I've had to learn everything.

 
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Public Hearings

Before any bill can become law in New Hampshire, it has to withstand a dose of public scrutiny, in the form of a hearing to which absolutely everyone is invited. Today's episode is about the power, as well as the shortcomings, of public hearings. 


Transcript

NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.

Caroline Dillon: [00:00:00] I got there half an hour early. I got there at 830 so I just skipped school and figured that was more important.

 Ben Henry: [00:00:10] This is Caroline Dillon a senior at Spalding High School. She skipped class to make her mark on New Hampshire politics at a public hearing.

Caroline Dillon: [00:00:20] So we went into the room which was small because the Senate committee was only five people call to order first hearing in the days of.

[00:00:33] So they have their kind of like u shaped desk where they're all sitting and then there's one facing them and then there's a couple rows of chairs behind that and everybody sits in those rows of chairs.

 Ben Henry: [00:00:44] This was the House Education and Workforce Development Committee. That voice you heard was the chair of the committee Jay Kahn.

 Caroline Dillon: [00:00:51] There is a roster where you sign in and you say like what Bill you're there for if you're in favor of it or against it and whether or not you're speaking Caroline wrote her name on the roster and took a seat and she waited for her turn to talk.

 Ben Henry: [00:01:04] She's normally a shy person. Public speaking isn't really her thing. But this was her moment.

 Archival: [00:01:19] I'd like to ask is Caroline Dillon here and wishing to speak.

 Ben Henry: [00:01:22] Hello and welcome to Civics 101 New Hampshire. I'm Ben Henry. Today on the show public hearings. Before any bill can become law in New Hampshire it has to have at least one public hearing where anyone can show up and talk to their lawmakers face to face. You can tell them what you think about the bill. A lot of people myself included have never testified at a public hearing. It's kind of confusing to figure out when they happen and where they happen and how to participate. So to demystify the whole thing we're going to tag along with Caroline and see how she did it.

 [00:01:55] Because here's the thing. Lawmakers listen to your feedback. Not every time but sometimes hearings are kind of the best way to have a political impact in New Hampshire that nobody knows about.

 Anna Brown: [00:02:07] Not to be harsh but like honestly way bigger impact than voting sorry. As an individual not like going out and campaigning for someone or like whatever but like you and your opinion getting through hearings man hundred percent public hearing.

 [00:02:21] That's Anna Brown. She and her colleague Jacqueline Benson are joining us once again as our favorite two political wonks. Anna and Jackie welcome back Civics 101. Nice to be here. These two work at Citizens count a web site full of nonpartisan info about New Hampshire politics.

 Anna Brown: [00:02:38] Every bill that goes through New Hampshire House and Senate has to get a public hearing a public hearing is a time when the committee that is first assigned to the bill every committee has a specialization. They'll schedule a time and literally anybody literally anybody can show up at this time sign in and tell the legislators on the committee their opinion. It's called testifying which sounds very scary but all you're doing is you're just sitting at a little table in front of about you know 20 people if you're in the house and giving your opinion and they can ask questions if they have questions. Usually they don't ask many questions and then that's it. And your testimony is part of the official record and it's going to be included in all of the bill files for that forever.

 Ben Henry: [00:03:25] For Caroline. On that day she skipped school. She had prepared a couple of pages of stuff she wanted to say. You get three minutes to talk at a public hearing. That's it. This all started as a school project that involved researching a political issue.

 Caroline Dillon: [00:03:38] And I was just doing a Google search like women's issues today like have women achieved equality. And I came across the term period poverty and I was like oh what's that. So I researched it and you know it's lack of access to feminine hygiene products. And you associate that with third world countries and that type of thing. But the more research I did I realized it's like it's happening in America at an alarming rate and you know girls stay home from school.

 [00:04:08] They use socks or newspaper or ewuse products and you know risk for infection skyrockets. And I just thought that was horrible.

 Ben Henry: [00:04:18] It was not just happening in America. It was happening in her state in her school. She decided she had to do something about it at a summer program. She learned how to draft a bill.

 Caroline Dillon: [00:04:27] You know an act relative to blah blah blah it's a pretty short bill. So Senate bill 142 will put feminine hygiene products in all public high school and middle school bathrooms free of charge to the students.

 Ben Henry: [00:04:43] And she gave that bill to a senator who has worked on women's issues in the past. Martha Hennessey And long story short here she is sitting in a government building waiting to speak up. Every public hearing starts with the sponsor of the bill. The sponsor is a legislator who acts kind of like the personal champion of the bill. In this case Senator Hennesy who represents District 5.

 Archival: [00:05:07] Senator Martha Hennessey

 Ben Henry: [00:05:09] No relation to the cognac by the way.

 Archival: [00:05:11] I am bringing for you today. The Senate bill 142. I do want to tell you a little bit about how it got here.

 Ben Henry: [00:05:19] And Hennessy did what the sponsor usually does at this point. She explained what's in the bill and why she supports it. She also talked about Caroline who had emailed her last summer.

 Caroline Dillon: [00:05:30] Caroline introduced me to what is called period poverty which is very much like what it sounds like.

 Ben Henry: [00:05:37] After that Caroline was up.

 Caroline Dillon: [00:05:39] The committee calls like the first person on the roster. And so that was me and I got up and you sit down at the desk and most important thing to remember. You have to say who you are and where you are from.

 [00:05:51] You can't just start talking which seemed weird.

 Archival: [00:05:56] Please identify yourself. My name is Caroline Dillon. I'm from Rochester New Hampshire.

 Ben Henry: [00:06:00] Before the hearing, Caroline put some thought into how she wanted to address the committee what her strategy was.

 Caroline Dillon: [00:06:06] I'm in high school right now. You know a lot of obviously most of the people. On the Senate committee are in high school or have been in high school for a while. So I think a lot of times when you're in that sort of position it can happen that you're a little out of touch. So I was trying to really bring the perspective from high school girls. You know my friends people that I've met and really show them how difficult it is for people to go through that and make them understand from like the emotional standpoint why it's really important to us.

 Ben Henry: [00:06:39] This isn't the only way to participate in the hearing. You don't actually have to say anything. There is a sign in sheet at every public hearing where you put your name down and whether or not you support the bill.

 Jacquline Benson: [00:06:49] We were just talking to some reps this morning. They look at that they look at how many names how many people showed up and took the time come and actually like sign in on the sheet and say where they stood on this bill.

 Ben Henry: [00:06:59] Public hearings happen pretty early on in the life of a bill. So committee members might not have made up their mind yet. If you sway committee members they have a ton of influence over whether or not a bill will pass. Other legislators listen to their opinion on the bill.

 Jacquline Benson: [00:07:13] And I think it's important to mention here that like not all states do this right. Not all states give every bill a public hearing. In some states like the leadership of that state's legislature will kind of decide which bills are actually going to get to the point of having a hearing in which aren't or the committee chairs can exercise discretion over what bills get a hearing what don't. In New Hampshire doesn't matter if it's got one sponsor and is just completely off the wall it will get a public hearing which means people who have an opinion about that bill will have an opportunity to come in there and be like Listen I know this this ban on chicken trespassing sounds like it's really not a big deal but if you see with these chickens are doing to my yard you would understand how important this is.

 Ben Henry: [00:07:58] Given that we have hundreds of bills every legislative session you can imagine that some of those hearings for them are pretty sparsely attended.

 Anna Brown: [00:08:06] I've been at hearings where it's like three people one of which is the sponsor of the bill and then like two other people that'll happen a lot on a lot of bills. However this is a really hot button issue like right to work marijuana legalization any gun laws. I was actually at a hearing related to mandatory car insurance that went for like two and a half hours. I've seen hundreds of people show up for the marijuana legalization hearing. I was out last week was close to filling representatives Hall which is like 400 seats.

 Ben Henry: [00:08:41] On the day that Caroline gave her testimony. That same committee held four other hearing.

 Archival: [00:08:46] [Audio from hearings]

 Ben Henry: [00:09:11] During a hearing legislators on the committee can't speak for or against a bill. They are there to listen and to ask questions. The questioning happens right after you testify.

 Archival: [00:09:22] Thank you for your time and I hope you'll vote in favor of New Hampshire young women.

 [00:09:29] I'd ask products before they were installed in the women's bathrooms. They were available in the school somewhere else.

 Ben Henry: [00:09:39] Careline was ready for this question.

 Archival: [00:09:40] Yeah we had them available in the nurse's office but Kendra realized that especially for the girls who are really in need and don't have access as opposed to an emergency it would be very difficult to go to the nurse every single day for a week every single month.

 Ben Henry: [00:09:58] The committee seemed receptive to her answer. Some hearings get a little more contentious in the question asking session even though legislators aren't supposed to make statements.

Anna Brown: [00:10:07] The way around this is to ask a would you believe question and so you will get legislators who will say Would you believe and then you will get a nice long policy statement from them on exactly what they think about that bill and then having been the person who is sitting in that chair sometimes those questions you have to go. Yes I I would believe.

 Ben Henry: [00:10:31] Uh are there snacks.

 Anna Brown: [00:10:33] I wish there were not. How about how about enough seats for everyone. I've been hearing hearings where there's standing room only and they get very warm. The Legislative Office Building for anybody who wants to go to a public hearing it's very warm. It's just like they just like keep it slightly tropical dressed doctors sets in layers that you can take off. There are no snacks. There are more women's restrooms in the legislative office building than there are in the statehouse so that's good. You don't have to go up or down a floor to just find out where the ladies go.

 Ben Henry: [00:11:03] We've been talking about hearings in the legislative branch. But it's worth noting the executive branch holds public hearings to for example state agencies like fish and game or Health and Human Services when they change their rules. The public can weigh in.

 [00:11:19] Public hearings are one of the most direct ways you can take part in government hearings or just like any platform designed to give people a voice. Any of the machinery of democracy. Not everyone has equal access to them.

 Anna Brown: [00:11:35] They take place in the middle of the day. These hearings are at 10a.m. at a Tuesday or 1:00 on Wednesday. And a large body of people are at work during that time. We also had an interesting thing come up the other day. We were talking with the legislator and they were pointing out that the Family and Medical Leave hearing started at 1:00 and it went on for hours. So a lot of parents with kids had to leave by 3:00 because they had to be home for their kids so then you're sort of disenfranchising people who came up and wanted to talk in person.

 [00:12:06] So yeah I mean how about anybody from the north country traveling ever to Concord to get their voice in.

 [00:12:12] And it's not like there's a super easy way to know when there's a bill that has a hearing and what time it is and where it is.

 Ben Henry: [00:12:20] Remember how Carolyn had to miss school to come to the hearing. Hearings are sometimes scheduled just a few days before they happen. Meaning if you want to be there you've got to check the state legislature Web site constantly.

 Anna Brown: [00:12:32] This is why paid lobbyists have such a job in New Hampshire because they get paid to watch that stuff and track it and show up with you know just a couple of days notice with all their remarks prepared. And so you think about how many people are in the state versus those people showing up it's not a lot the people who do show up are going to be people who have jobs that allow them flexibility. So maybe business owners you know as opposed to lower level employees it's going to be some stay at home parents some retirees. That's one demographic.

 Ben Henry: [00:13:02] Another accessibility issue is just how hard it can be to find information about hearings.

 Jacquline Benson: [00:13:07] First thing you have to do is decide what issue you care about and then find the bill that matters. Right. And you can do that through the General Court Web site.

 Ben Henry: [00:13:18] That's gen G-E-N court dot state dot nh dot us.

 Jacquline Benson: [00:13:23] But it's a lot easier if you go to our website. Not that I'm trying to do a shameless plug here but.

 Ben Henry: [00:13:28] That's citizens count dot org. You can also look for news articles about issues NHPR dot org for example wherever you go you're looking for the number of a bill that's irrelevant or whichever issue you care about. It will be something like HB 10 or SB 11. HB for House Bill SB for Senate bill.

 Jacquline Benson: [00:13:47] Then you do have to go to the General Court Web site. Eventually you have to deal with them they are eventually going to have to go there. Don't do it on a mobile phone don't use a desktop or a laptop for all that's holy. Yes. Because you'll just cry. You'll be doing a lot of like from squinting. So you have to take note of your bill number and you basically got to go like every couple of days and plug your bill number in the gen court website and just watch for the hearing to be scheduled most of your hearings are going to happen in January and February. If you go one week and then you wait a week the hearing could be could be done. It could it coming on you wouldn't even see. Also protip check the Web site the morning of before you leave because the room numbers have to change. Yes that's an important protip. And then you're wandering around the Legislative Office Building going where. Where did they go

 Ben Henry: [00:14:35] Hearings are not always convenient to go to. They don't give you any snacks. So if you do show up you've got to wonder if the hearing will actually affect the outcome of the vote.

 Jacquline Benson: [00:14:45] Legislators can walk into a public hearing thinking that they know how they're going to vote on a bill and points will be brought up by people that are testifying at the hearing that just completely change the picture or bring up aspects of how this bill could impact things that nobody in the committee has sought of yet. So and it can be one person speaking that makes that difference.

 Anna Brown: [00:15:08] I think that if it is a really well known pretty simple issue legislators are already going to have their mind made up. So I do think that testimony makes a big difference in more complicated bills and in lesser known bills because once again you go back to legislators don't have a ton of staff to be researching these issues for them so they're going to rely on members of the public and lobbyists and other subject matter experts in the case of Carolands Bill.

 Ben Henry: [00:15:36] Most of the people who testified were in support of the bill. One woman was opposed. She brought up funding for the bill.

Archival: [00:15:42] Here to speak in opposition to this bill in Hopkinton. The school budget is a constant issue. Please don't give us one more thing that we are required to do when we're already struggling to find the.

 Ben Henry: [00:16:00] Caroline was a little surprised by this. But she knew that line of criticism would be coming. From her perspective. Schools already supply these products in the nurse's office. So it's not much of a new expense. The committee as far as Caroline could tell seemed receptive. I asked Jackie and Anna how to give a good effective testimony at a hearing. Their first tip was type up what you want to say. You can give the committee a paper copy of that testimony and that will be part of a public record.

 Anna Brown: [00:16:29] If you have written testimony they're going to ask you not to read it verbatim since they're all going to get copies. So that's up to you. Edits can be as long as you want but if you have your written if you do have something you want to read out loud. Keep in mind three minutes. So definitely no more than a page.

 Ben Henry: [00:16:43] Second tip don't repeat things people have said before you.

 Anna Brown: [00:16:46] Don't repeat things people have said before you legislators get very just sort of like I already heard this bothers them so if you see things that you were going to say you can you just kind of mark those off and say I don't want to repeat you know I agree with many of the things that have also been said in favor of this bill.

 Ben Henry: [00:17:06] Last tip. Figure out what your strategy is.

 Anna Brown: [00:17:09] I think that it depends on the legislator. I've heard legislators who say I want the personal story I want to know how this has impacted you personally. I've heard legislators say I don't care about your sob story. What are the statistics. What are the facts. But I do think that the idea is that this is a bill about town government. Were you at a town meeting. Have you served as a town clerk or something like that. This is a bill related to education. Were you a teacher. Do you have students in the schools and use that as the perspective to help them see from your point of view.

 Jacquline Benson: [00:17:39] There's going to be a reason you go to the trouble of going to this hearing. There's a reason you care about this bill. Get to the heart of that. That's what matters. Whether it's personal whether it's objective whatever it is there's going to be somebody there who's going to be interested in hearing it.

 Ben Henry: [00:17:57] Caroline strategy when she testified was to impress upon a committee of mostly men that they needed to talk about tampons.

 Caroline Dillon: [00:18:04] You can. Tell that they're kind of struggling with it internally. I see it when I talk to my dad. But there's this really cool moment when you see that they're struggling with it and that man just takes a deep breath and closes his eyes and decides I'm going to talk about it. It needs to be talked about. We're just going to get this over with.

 Ben Henry: [00:18:25] A week and a half after Caroline sat down in front of that u shaped desk to testify. The New Hampshire Senate brought her bill up for a vote. She watched it happen on the Senate's live stream.

 Caroline Dillon: [00:18:36] The discussion took a while it took half an hour.

 Archival: [00:18:39] I support the principle in this bill but I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. There is no funding mechanism in this bill. I can't go back to my district and tell them you have to do.

 [00:18:51] We have thought carefully about whether this is an unfunded mandate. This is a matter of gender equity and equal access. And they took their votes. Call. The road.

 [00:19:04] Senator French Senator Ward. Yes. Six senators voted against the bill. Senator con. Yes Senator channelise 17 voted for the bill and it passed. The ayes have it. The motion of to pass as amended is adopted stepping down to the.

 Ben Henry: [00:19:21] Now it will move out of the Senate and go to the house.

 Caroline Dillon: [00:19:23] Yeah I'm going to go back and testify for the House committee just like I did for the Senate committee.

 [00:19:29] And then if it passes through there then the House will vote on it. And I will probably live stream that like a live stream the Senate's vote.

 [00:19:37] If you want to find out what happens to Caroline's Bill. Follow us on Twitter at Civic's 101 pod. And we'll let you know as soon as we find out.

 [00:19:47] If there is something you would like to know about how the government works and how you interact with it here in New Hampshire. Email us Civics 101 at NHPR dot org

 
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Town Meeting

Town meetings are a New Hampshire institution. It’s where all the year’s town business is voted on by citizens in town halls, gyms, and community centers around the state. But for the uninitiated, town meeting can be confusing. Daniela Allee breaks down the history and function of this annual tradition.


Transcript

NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.

Daniela Allee: [00:00:00] Maybe you're a Gilmore Girls fan. And if you aren't I don't blame you. The hit TV show centers on the life of a mom and her daughter in smalltown Connecticut. And like a lot of small New England towns there are these things called town meetings.

 Archival: [00:00:14] Previously proposed statutes with no procedural delay, so...

 Daniela Allee: [00:00:19] People get together on the local issues.

 Archival: [00:00:25] All those opposed. People what's going on? People?

 Daniela Allee: [00:00:33] So is that what town meeting is like in New Hampshire?

 Tricia Peone: [00:00:37] No that is I think a very sort of comical representation of really a very serious and important event in a town where you know the voters have this opportunity to be part of the process.

 Archival: [00:00:52] [Audio from town meetings]

 Ben Henry: [00:01:02] Welcome to Civics 101: New Hampshire. Today on the show, Daniela Allee peels back some of the layers of this venerated New Hampshire institution town meeting. How did it start. How does it work and in today's era. How are people participating in their communities.

 Tricia Peone: [00:01:20] So it's interesting because people usually think of town meetings as very democratic institution.

 Daniela Allee: [00:01:26] You know town meetings are direct democracy. The people make the decisions you all you and your neighbors in a school gym voting on the budget and other town ordinances. In fact in New Hampshire the law says that at these meetings citizens are the legislators.

 Tricia Peone: [00:01:41] But its origins are actually theocratic meaning a rule by a religion or religious group.

 Daniela Allee: [00:01:47] That's Tricia Peone. She's a New Hampshire historian and program manager at New Hampshire humanities. Remember the Puritans. They were the folks who left England in search of religious freedom eventually colonized Massachusetts and made their way up to New Hampshire.

 Tricia Peone: [00:02:02] The point of it was to have a group of Congregationalism that's the Puritan church. So the members of the congregation people who are in good spiritual standing with the church making all of the decisions for the community.

 Daniela Allee: [00:02:13] In the Church of England decisions were made only by the hierarchy of bishops and priests under the Queen and the Puritans wanted something radical. They wanted a say in how their church worked. That was the main reason why they had sailed all the way to the New World. Once they made it across the Atlantic it wasn't exactly a utopia quality. The decision makers in the Puritan church were men only men land owning men.

 Tricia Peone: [00:02:40] So they take that church model the Congregational Church model of of church government and they apply that to town government.

 Daniela Allee: [00:02:46] These landowning men would get together pretty frequently and make decisions for the town around how to divide up the land how much to pay in taxes to the church to support the minister and back in the 17th century who have to allow into the town because they would want to know is this person someone who regularly attends church. Are they in good spiritual standing. Are they cool like us. And some of the positions we have today in New Hampshire like this like board or the executive branch of a town. Go all the way back to the 17th century.

 Tricia Peone: [00:03:18] The highest ranking people in the town people with the most well most wealth and status would likely be the selectman.

 Daniela Allee: [00:03:26] There were other jobs besides the selectmen that people ran for.

 Tricia Peone: [00:03:29] You know like the hog reave and like the the guy who asked check every fence in the town. There's position there are some town would have a position where someone was required to just you know basically catch all the animals that got loose and that person would be elected every year.

 Daniela Allee: [00:03:46] Dunbarton still has this position and formerGov. John Sununu held it back in 2007. Town meeting has evolved since then it became more democratic as other groups were allowed to participate slowly. White men without property. Women after 1920. People of Color. Back in the 17th and 18th centuries enslaved people would hold their own form of term meaning electing black kings or governors for their own community. On the same day all the white men had their elections. And nowadays it's not just when the good old church boys wanna and get together that a town meeting happens to start Town Meeting is once a year.

 [00:04:26] It's been that way since the 19th century and to make sure it all happens you need a town moderator a select board warrant articles a spot for the registered voters in the town to get together. Usually that happens in a school gym.

 Archival: [00:04:41] We have a bunch of things to go through today...

 Daniela Allee: [00:04:50] This is from a livestream of Kingston New Hampshire's deliberative session of their town meeting a few weeks ago at the back of the gym. There's this long table and a projector screen in the background sitting around the table are men and women mostly middle aged a couple guys are sporting Patriots jerseys and one woman commands the groom's attention. She is the town moderator. This is the elected official in charge of the town's election process. Their role on Town Meeting Day managed the meeting set the rules for the session. For example how long a voter gets to speak and even defusing any tense moments.

 Harold Bragg: [00:05:27] We remind people at the beginning of the meeting that we are neighbors and we will be neighbors tomorrow.

 Daniela Allee: [00:05:34] This is Harold Bragge Town Moderator of Kensington New Hampshire. He's been in that role for about nine years and town government for about 40 like the Kingston Town Moderator Harold reads each warrant article to the voters. These warrant articles are the agenda for Town Meeting.

 Margaret Burns: [00:05:50] The warrant. The reason it's called a warrant is because it is actually supposed to be a warning to the voters of the subject matter that's going to be discussed and deliberated and ultimately voted on at the town meeting.

 Daniela Allee: [00:06:04] That's Margaret Burns again director of the New Hampshire Municipal Association. There are two ways you can get something on the agenda. The Select Board which again is the executive arm of town government decides what will be a work article say buying a new fire truck.

 Margaret Burns: [00:06:20] But the other way that articles get on the warrant is through petitions warrant articles and in fact the voters have the ability to garner a certain number of signatures and to require an article to be placed on the warrant.

 [00:06:33] One that the selectmen may or may not be you know in favor of.

 Daniela Allee: [00:06:37] Before Town Meeting Herald gets together with Kensington's Select Board to talk about the warrant articles.

 Harold Bragg: [00:06:44] I always ask them if they feel based on their meetings if anything that they are proposing is contentious.

 Daniela Allee: [00:06:50] Town moderators can choose to go to annual workshops put on by the New Hampshire Municipal Association.

 Margaret Burns: [00:06:56] Then we're also sort of providing general guidance on good practices with regulating Town Meeting Rules of Procedure sort of things they have to anticipate or be ready for a town meeting because that's a big part of it for a moderator or you know being ready. You know expect the unexpected.

 Daniela Allee: [00:07:12] Town Meeting is a public forum. The people speak their minds about the issues at hand zoning ordinances noise ordinances creating a town Heritage Commission.

 Stephen Buckley: [00:07:21] The other areas that I've spent some time on in the training programs is dealing with the First Amendment.

 Daniela Allee: [00:07:27] This is Stephen Buckley Legal Services counsel at the New Hampshire Municipal Association.

 Stephen Buckley: [00:07:32] The First Amendment applies to Town Meeting. How does Town Meeting cope with those who wish to express their views. They could be voters or nonvoters can they wear t shirts expressing an opinion on a particular article.

 [00:07:45] Yes they can. Can they hand out flyers. Yes. And what is the relationship between those who are attending who are not residents.

 Daniela Allee: [00:07:53] The moderator does place some rules on what folks can say especially when it comes to speech that might disrupt the meeting someone saying the same thing over and over again or threatening folks with physical violence. Both of those are big No's. It's a balancing act for moderators. Let everyone have a fair chance to speak their mind and get through all of the warrant articles.

 [00:08:23] The central tenet of town meeting is that the voters are the legislators in their town and not legislating power comes in the form of amendments so someone can propose a change to a warrant article. Let's say there is an article that says Are you in favor of allotting hundred thousand dollars for road reconstruction.

 Harold Bragg: [00:08:42] The debate goes on at the meeting and there are people who say I don't think that we ought to be spending that kind of money on the roads and there are those that I think we should be spending more money on the roads.

 Daniela Allee: [00:08:52] Let's say the person who doesn't want to spend the money on the roads like really really does not want to spend this money gets up waits their turn in line to talk and says.

 Harold Bragg: [00:09:02] I'm proposing an amendment that's the one article I read that the town. Are you in favor of spending zero dollars for road construction in the community.

 Daniela Allee: [00:09:12] Someone second amendment proposed byMr. if it ain't broke don't fix it. And then the amendment goes to a vote.

 Harold Bragg: [00:09:19] If the Romney supports it then the mouth is zero.

 Daniela Allee: [00:09:22] And that's the final version of a warrant article that's voted on.

 Harold Bragg: [00:09:26] Again it's the New Hampshire tradition of the people have the last word.

 Daniela Allee: [00:09:40] While this form of local governing has been lauded as the lifeblood of civic participation in New England that this is what democracy is all about. Participation in town meeting actually started to decline by the end of the 20th century because traditional town meeting is old long affair sometimes going on until midnight on a weeknight or for most of a Saturday.

 [00:10:02] The warrant articles are read people debate proposed amendments to those articles and on that same day vote.

 Stephen Buckley: [00:10:07] People are leading busy lives and they are less inclined perhaps to do these kind of things that build in their relationship with their community. Because you go to a town meeting you get to know your neighbors and get to know what's going on in your town and you can feel a part of what's going on in your community when you do that kind of thing.

 Daniela Allee: [00:10:26] On the other hand some towns were also growing a lot and not everyone could fit into the school gym. So in 1995 the New Hampshire legislature decided there could be another form of town meeting. It would split up the two major parts of town meeting the debating or deliberation and the voting to two different days.

 [00:10:45] This is a Senate bill 2 model, or for shorthand. SB 2 The deliberative session takes place about three weeks before ballots are cast about 72 of New Hampshire towns use the two day model. Other New Hampshire towns either follow the traditional town meeting structure everything happens on one day or have gone to a town council format which means those towns don't have a town meeting. Instead there are elected town representatives who make the decisions. Which is sort of like a city council. Some say even with this new format the turnout at the deliberative session is still pretty low and that can lend itself to interest groups in town getting more of a say than other folks.

 Stephen Buckley: [00:11:27] There are always going to be interest groups and those interest groups will drive the people who are connected to that group to come to the town meeting so if are a strong supporter of the library you're going to come out and support the library budget. Some towns have a great deal of social capital which means where there's a lot of interaction there's a lot of participation there's a lot of contact with the schools and committees and organizations in the town.

 [00:11:51] So it's a town by town.

 Daniela Allee: [00:11:59] The town and the townspeople are not all powerful and they've never existed in a vacuum.

 Tricia Peone: [00:12:05] Each town meeting really had its own authority from the colonial legislature. So in New Hampshire the General Assembly.

 [00:12:11] This is historian Tricia Peone again. So the towns had to share some paver with the General Assembly. Those lawmakers would give towns instructions.

 Tricia Peone: [00:12:19] Towns were also very jealous of their rights. They guarded them very carefully. So towns would would actually rise up against you know the royal royal authority or against the state authority or the colonial authority of the assemblies any time they felt like their rights were being usurped that tension between towns and the man still exists today. And while towns have control over a lot of what happens within their town boundaries.

 Anna Brown: [00:12:44] We're a state where towns can only enact ordinances or laws that relate to very specific subjects.

 Daniela Allee: [00:12:52] This is Anna Brown director of research and analysis at Citizens count a nonpartisan nonprofit group. And here's a law that spells out what's under a town's control.

 Anna Brown: [00:13:02] Chapter 31 powers and duties of towns. So this has a list of things that they are. Allowed to operate so noise regulations. The observance of Memorial Day regulation of the use of mufflers upon boats and vessels fires kindling when people can use fires. Operations of vehicles on different roads. So for example you know you know you can't go certain speed limits or you can't drive here or what have you.

 Daniela Allee: [00:13:35] All that to say towns have to look to state law to give them the authority to do things other states have something called Home Rule where towns are given a direct grant of power to govern themselves. But in New Hampshire there is no home rule. It isn't a free for all. Here's Margaret Burns again.

 Margaret Burns: [00:13:53] Even a town meeting even that local democracy they can only pass by laws and ordinances and other things that state law says a town can pass.

 [00:14:04] So things like zoning ordinances noise ordinances the town budget and school budget raising local taxes salaries for town employees and voting for local officials like the town clerk or Town Moderator.

 [00:14:15] The Select Board a few things towns can't do. They can't impose term limits indoor smoking regulations that are stricter than state law or implement rent control. And remember how Margaret basically said that these meetings are no laughing matter. Here is the perfect example of how dead serious citizens take them.

 Archival: [00:14:35] Millions of people are bracing and they are bundling up as the third nor'easter in two weeks pummels the northeast right now Boston really getting the brunt in 2013 when I nor'easter hit some folks cross country ski to cast their ballots.

 Daniela Allee: [00:14:49] 2017 also saw a huge snow storm and that year while some folks braved the weather.

 [00:14:55] About 70 towns decided to postpone the town election that led to the question do towns have the power to reschedule town meeting. Secretary of State who's in charge of elections said no towns don't have that power. The whole issue is ongoing and still unresolved. And at this point most folks are crossing their fingers for good weather this year.

[00:15:20] Some of this might sound intimidating and Margaret says that's one reason people give for not going through a deliberative session. But towns usually put out voter guides on their websites breaking down what's on the warrant and the warrants also available online.

 [00:15:35] Here's Steven Buckley's suggestion.

 Stephen Buckley: [00:15:37] Get the town report and read it. Every town must publish which has a wealth of information financial data reports from every board and commission all kinds of information from the town clerk and statistics is invaluable.

 Archival: [00:15:57] I know that the fire department has been working on this has been monitoring worn out and it's under control. It's nothing compared to what a takeover would be like.

 [00:16:10] It's a lot of work to do this. We understand that setting up the procedures and our policies is going to be huge.

 Daniela Allee: [00:16:16] At their heart town meetings allow average nonelected folks like you and me to make decisions that shape the laws we follow. Just like the Puritans wanted and as memorialized in the Gilmore Girls comical representations of town meetings.

Archival: [00:16:30] It's not good right. All right everybody who agrees that we would not feel good about that say aye. Aye. Meeting adjourned, good night.

 
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Governor

You don’t have to be a political junkie to recognize their face. The governor is everywhere: kissing babies, giving speeches, so on and so forth. On today’s episode, we break down precisely what power the governor holds and who constrains that power.

We spoke with R. Stuart Wallace, a professor of New Hampshire History at NHTI.


Transcript

Ben Henry: [00:00:00] Outside the New Hampshire state house, next to the road, there is a low granite wall. Good place to sit, except on snowy days like today. About 90 years ago during the Great Depression people would sit here and ask for money from passers-by. And there was a story that the governor of New Hampshire at the time, John Gilbert Winant, would walk by this wall every day and he would hand out money.

[00:00:25] That might be just a story. But the point is, Winant was that kind of guy. The state was in a crisis, and not just an economic one. It was an identity crisis. The mills that once drove the economy could no longer compete with mills in the South. Farms in New Hampshire had long been out competed by farms in the Midwest.

[00:00:49] State government was not running smoothly: We had 52 different state agencies, which is crazy given how small the state government was. All of these agencies were tangled up with each other and their responsibilities overlapped. It was very confusing. Something had to be done and Winant realized he, the governor, was the only person who could do it.

Daniela Allee: [00:01:15] Hello and welcome to Civics 101: New Hampshire. Today we're talking about the head honcho, the queen bee. We're talking about the powers and the limitations of the governor of New Hampshire. Producer Ben Henry is going to take us on this trip into the executive branch.

Ben Henry: [00:01:35] So John Winant, in the bleakest years of the Depression, asked a think tank, the Brookings Institution, to advise him how to make the government more efficient. First thing they said way too many agencies, consolidate them. Way too many boards and commissions. Get rid of them. Next they said empower the state government to audit town budgets. In other words give the state more financial influence over towns.

[00:02:00] Winant took that advice and reorganized the whole state government. He transformed it from the type of small and weak state government that was common in the 19th century into a more powerful government that could cope with the industries and the bureaucracies and the demands of the 20th century. He also rewrote his own job description. Previous New Hampshire Governors all worked part time. There just wasn't that much for an executive to do in a small government. Winant came in all day every day.

[00:02:32] Eventually he moved on to bigger and better things.

Archival audio: [00:02:36] The newly appointed American ambassador to Britain, Mr. John G. Winant arrived in England...

Ben Henry: [00:02:40] But his legacy lives on in New Hampshire. I want to talk today about the powers that the governor has with somebody who has just buckets of knowledge about New Hampshire history and politics.

Stu Wallace: [00:02:52] Okay I'm R. Stuart Wallace. I've been director of the State Historical Society and director of the Division of Historical Resources and I'm currently a full time faculty in Concord's Community College where I teach history courses particularly in New Hampshire history courses.

Ben Henry: [00:03:10] Almost anyone in New Hampshire can be the governor. As long as you've lived here at least 7 years and you are at least 30 years old, you can run for governor.

Stu Wallace: [00:03:19] Well the governor and his five member council head up the executive branch.

Ben Henry: [00:03:25] If you win that election you have a lot of new powers. But there are two main powers. The first one is that you get to write the first draft of the state budget.

[00:03:37] And we talked about this in our two part episode about the state budget. The governor gets the conversation started then legislators are the ones who hammer out the final details. So overall the governor only has moderate influence over the whole budget process.

[00:03:53] But they can veto the budget if they really don't like it. In most other states, the governor vetoes individual pieces of the budget which is called a line item veto but not in New Hampshire. Here it's all or nothing if you want to veto one thing in the budget you have to scrap the whole thing. So it's inconvenient to do and it looks bad. And the governor does not do this very often.

[00:04:18] Speaking of vetoes it's not just the budget. The governor can veto any piece of new legislation.

Stu Wallace: [00:04:24] Every governor has their own style, however. Some governors basically are somewhat more laid back and let the legislature do their thing. Other governors get heavily involved in the legislative process making sure that the various committees that are deciding on amendments and changes in legislation know what the governor will or will not accept. This way the legislature knows beforehand what's likely to be vetoed or what and what is not.

Ben Henry: [00:04:48] The second main power the governor has is to nominate people for important positions within the government like the commissioners that lead state agencies. There is a catch though the executive branch of the New Hampshire government is not overseen by just the governor. It's also overseen by an executive council. So after the governor nominates somebody they need to get the approval of the five person executive council.

Stu Wallace: [00:05:12] And what the council does is they have divided the state into five regions by population, one council member per region, and their job is to approve appointments and approve contracts. And it's not just appointments to the top spots, its appointments to all of these various bodies that we have out there. I don't know that anybody loses any sleep over the next appointment to taxidermy councils or what have you. But but some of those appointments are ripe plums and as a result the council has clout. Some of those appointments are politically motivated.

Ben Henry: [00:05:45] Like with most of the stuff that the governor does the council can shut down if they want.

Stu Wallace: [00:05:49] That by itself is very unusual. Other governors with one or two exceptions have no counsel and their councils have no powers.

Ben Henry: [00:05:56] New Hampshire's governor is probably the weakest executive in the entire country. It goes way back to the roots of our state government almost as long as we've had a governor we've had an executive council looking over their shoulder. We are also one out of only two states in which the governor has just a two year term rather than four.

Stu Wallace: [00:06:17] And so they're running for re-election the day they were inaugurated.

Ben Henry: [00:06:19] Two years just isn't very much time to get stuff done. Although here's a plot twist. New Hampshire voters almost always elect their governor to a second term. Since the 1930s only two governors lost their first re-election. Possibly two years isn't enough time to get tired of somebody.

[00:06:40] Now although the governor has pretty limited power in a practical sense. If you check out the state constitution there is a lot of stuff they're allowed to do but don't actually do.

[00:06:51] They can declare a state of emergency.

Stu Wallace: [00:06:54] Here in New Hampshire we have we have lucked out. No tsunamis no huge fires or floods tend to be small and local so we haven't had too many problems.

Ben Henry: [00:07:03] They can pardon someone of a crime. They usually need support from the Executive Council to do that. They are also New Hampshire's commander in chief. They could raise an army if we were to ever go to war as a state which realistically won't happen unless we decide to invade Massachusetts, which we might do.

[00:07:23] So those are the powers that are written down in the Constitution and in law about what the governor can do. But there are other kinds of power. There is soft power. The governor is the most prominent public figure in the state. If they want the voters or the legislature or the courts to start thinking about an issue, all they have to do is talk about it.

Stu Wallace: [00:07:45] Governors jump in with both feet. Governors have gotten involved heavily in the opioid crisis or homelessness and homeless shelter issues.

Ben Henry: [00:07:53] The State of the State speech is a prime example of the governor's built-in platform.

Stu Wallace: [00:07:58] I don't know that many people actually watched the State of the State speech.

Archival audio: [00:08:02] New Hampshire has among the highest rates in the country of drug and alcohol abuse and dependence.

Archival audio: [00:08:09] Our mission to reverse the terrible effects of this epidemic it rests on our ability to embrace a spirit of cooperation innovation compassion.

Archival audio: [00:08:17] But at the bottom in accessing treatment.

Stu Wallace: [00:08:22] What department heads try to do and various advocacy groups and lobbyists try to do is to get a good line or two in the governor's speech because then what they've done is say they've hooked the governor if you will as committed to helping with better roads or opioid crisis or better early childhood education or whatever they throw into the speech. That adds some clout to future legislation.

Ben Henry: [00:08:54] One of the little perks to being a governor is you get a mansion. It's known as the Bridges House. It is 21 Mountain Road on the outskirts of Concord. Sort of the White House of New Hampshire. It's not white. It's made of brick. It's also not really a mansion. It's got two bedrooms. Most governors don't actually choose to live there. Hopefully they stay one or two nights there whenever they're feeling fancy.

 
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Secretary of State

Our lives leave behind a paper trail: birth certificates, marriage licenses, businesses licenses. So we’re not just sharing landmark moments with the people we love. We’re also sharing them with the Secretary of State’s office. But besides keeping keeping records, what else does this office do? And what role does it play in our day to day lives?


Transcript

NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.

 Daniela Allee: [00:00:00] There are milestones in life. Getting married, starting a family, starting a business, or running for office. And we archive these moments on Instagram, photo albums or if you're really old school, newspaper clippings. Our lives leave behind this paper trail of birth certificates, marriage licenses, business licenses. So really you're not just sharing landmark moments with the folks you love. You're also sharing them with the New Hampshire secretary of state's office.

 [00:00:28] You might say the office is sort of like a filing cabinet. One you didn't know you had. Your filing cabinet might just sit there gathering dust for a lot of the time but God knows when you need to dig something out of there like to think a little bit more that will file cabinet.

 Ben Henry: [00:00:45] This is Civics 101: New Hampshire. Today producer Daniela Allee who is herself so much more than a file cabinet, will unpack the secretary of state's office. Who are they. What do they do. And what role does this office play in our day to day lives.

 [00:01:06] Dave Scanlan has been deputy secretary of state for the last 16 years.

 Dave Scanlan: [00:01:09] There are no two days that are the same.

 [00:01:12] This is an old office. It's been part of New Hampshire government since the state constitution was ratified in 1784. So the secretary of state is basically an administrator for state government and they're going to oversee statewide and federal elections in New Hampshire. And say you want to start a business. You've got to file it with them. The office is also the state record keeper. So it archives vital records like birth certificates and those sort of things. And back in the day the secretary of state's job was a little less complicated.

 [00:01:43] Here's what article 68 says.

 Archival: [00:01:45] The records of the state shall be kept in the office of the secretary and he shall attend to the Governor and Council in the Senate and representatives in person by deputy as they may require.

 Daniela Allee: [00:01:57] New Hampshire is just one of three states where the legislature votes for the secretary of state and anyone can run. You don't need previous experience as a legislator or politician.

 Anna Brown: [00:02:08] But in most other states it's going to be appointed by the governor or elected by the voters in the public.

 danie: [00:02:14] That's Anna Brown. She's director of research analysis for the nonpartisan organization Citizens count by day an amateurM.A fighter by night. For the last 43 years the New Hampshire legislature has elected the same man for this office. Bill Gardner to give you an idea of how much power the secretary has. He is called the King bill by some and he is currently the longest serving secretary of state in the country. His claim to fame apart from time in office is making sure that New Hampshire has the first presidential primary in the nation. It's in our state law.

 Jacqueline Benson: [00:02:47] We have to try to set our primary date before anybody else.

 Daniela Allee: [00:02:51] That's Jacqueline Benson. She's a swashbuckling feminist historical fiction writer and content editor for citizens count. In 1975 both parties were tired of national politics. Watergate had just happened. The Vietnam War was going on and interest in the presidential primary was lagging.

 [00:03:09] But State Rep Jim Splaine wanted New Hampshire to maintain its first in the nation status. He thought it was important that candidates would have to talk to everyday people. So he sponsored the bill that would become law. And it also helped that Governor Meldrim Thompson was planning to run for president. And while he pointed out it won't be too bad if the state kept that first in the nation primary status. The bill garnered a lot of support after that. Since then New Hampshire's presidential primary has always come first and built Bill Gardner's already looking towards the next one in 2020. He's talked with plenty of presidential hopefuls and here's his piece of advice from 2015 for how to campaign in the Granite State.

 Archival: [00:03:49] Get out there. And. Be comfortable. In your own skin and let people see you because a campaign. Is. It's part of what keeps a democracy healthy because candidates learn they learn about their government.

 [00:04:10] But the presidential primary isn't the only election. The secretary coordinates their statewide elections every two years. Special elections and general elections for each one the secretary of state maintains a list of registered voters prints ballots and provides official results to the legislature. If there are changes to election law Gardner has to make sure folks on the local level are all on the same page. The poll workers the moderators the town clerks.

 [00:04:38] In the past few years the topic of voter fraud has become a central talking point in elections. President Trump put together a committee to investigate it which Gardner was a part of. And that wasn't without controversy within New Hampshire the secretary of state now has the ability to investigate alleged incidents of voter fraud. The office does the initial investigating and hands those cases over to the attorney general for any kind of final investigation or action.

 [00:05:05] And then there's campaign finance. The secretary of state provides a system for candidates to report expenditures. All those receipts are filed away. And all of this requires a lot of delegation along with the other records kept by the Department of State.

 Jacqueline Benson: [00:05:24] So the secretary of state is like Anna says, the administrator it's like your your office business manager who takes care of all the paperwork for everything.

 Daniela Allee: [00:05:34] This office oversees a lot. Administration Archives and Records Management Corporation division Elections Division securities regulation uniform commercial code. And last but not least vital records some of these divisions register people who want to say justices of the peace athlete agents notaries financial advisers.

 Jacqueline Benson: [00:05:56] The reasons for all of these different registration requirements are going to be varied delightfully varied.

 Daniela Allee: [00:06:03] They can lead to negative legislative history. Take for example the hawker and peddler law passed by the legislature in 1931 during the Great Depression. Folks who wanted to sell things on the street had to get a special license and register with the office. It was a steep price for people trying to make their living on the streets.

 Jacqueline Benson: [00:06:22] And I'm guessing they were trying to make it so there weren't any hawkers and peddlers.

 Daniela Allee: [00:06:26] The Great Depression ended. But this law is still on the books and as with most registrations at the secretary of state's office they have to pay some fees.

 Jacqueline Benson: [00:06:34] For hawking and peddling you have to come up with fifty dollars for your state license.

 Daniela Allee: [00:06:38] Those licensing fees to be a hawker and peddler or to be a financial adviser in the state. Well they add up.

 Dave Scanlan: [00:06:45] We raise a lot of money for the state of New Hampshire.

 Daniela Allee: [00:06:47] That's Dave Scanlan again. Deputy Secretary of State. In fiscal year 2017 the departments revenue was about 48 million dollars. But that department's budget was about ten million dollars.

 [00:07:08] This office is also one way the public can keep tabs on what the legislature is doing and how a bill changes as it makes its way to the governor's desk.

 Dave Scanlan: [00:07:16] There is a folder that is assigned to each piece of legislation.

 Daniela Allee: [00:07:20] The secretary of state keeps track of every single change shuttling bills between the House and Senate as they work on it and add amendments.

 Dave Scanlan: [00:07:28] Whereas if we were not involved you might not know whether the bill is sitting in the drawer of the speaker of the House or the Senate president or somebody else.

 Daniela Allee: [00:07:38] As though the office wasn't keeping track of enough. The secretary also keeps minutes of the Executive Council and Governor meetings and prepares those meeting agendas.

 Dave Scanlan: [00:07:47] The secretary of state's office is in charge of keeping the state's records.

 Daniela Allee: [00:07:52] That means historical documents housed in the state archives and agency records from say the Department of Justice or the Department of Environmental Services and regular folks like you and me we can access a lot of these records. Say you want to figure out some family history. You can go to the genealogical research center on ratification way and search through birth and death records.

 [00:08:13] If you have a question or complaint you could make the call or walk into the office on the second floor of the Capitol building. All of this just scratches the surface of the daily grind at the Department of State. But checking lists counting beans and pushing paper is essential.

 Anna Brown: [00:08:32] Do you want a government that works. Then you need a secretary of states because otherwise nobody knows who's running for office or doing business. Or born or dead.

 
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The State Budget: How It's Made

Here’s the thing - we here at Civics 101 are not money people. We don’t really do “math” and we avoid opening our bank apps at all costs. That’s why, in the first two episodes of Civics 101: New Hampshire, we decided to grab the fiscal bull by the horns and learn about New Hampshire’s budget. We have a lot of questions, like, um, what is the budget? Who writes it, and what do we spend money on? And how are New Hampshire’s spending decisions different from other states?

In part one, we trace the life of the budget, from when it's a glimmer in the eye of a state agency to a full-grown piece of legislation. We speak with Anna Brown and Jacquelyn Benson from Citizens Count, a source for nonpartisan political information in New Hampshire.


Transcript

NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.

Jacqui Helbert: [00:00:00] Money is sexy.

[00:00:16] But the word "budget" reeks of responsibility.

[00:00:28] Even if I try to drown it and Axe body spray the word budget would still be off putting. But today you're going to hear that budgets can be drop dead gorgeous. Or at least worth checking out.

[00:00:50] The New Hampshire operating budget is such a large hairy beast, we had to cut it up into two separate parts.

Ben Henry: [00:01:02] This is Civics 101 New Hampshire. We are digging into the state budget. In part one, Jacqui Helbert tears apart the budget. What is it? Who writes it? And How does it get passed?

Jacqui Helbert: [00:01:27] To help us get to the bottom of how it all works we enlisted the help of Citizens Count, a nonpartisan group that provides information about things like issues, bills, and politicians. They make it easy for New Hampshirites to get involved.

 Anna Brown: [00:01:48] The budget is important to understand because it's how we set our priorities.

 Archival audio: [00:01:54] Marijuana: the burning weed with its roots in Hell.

 Anna Brown: [00:01:58] Marijuana legalization is a huge issue that's coming up and it's all about the dollar signs. What's the cost of enforcement. What's the cost. The revenue we can get from the taxes.

 [00:02:09] My name is Anna Brown. I'm director of research and analysis for citizens count which means I'm kind of a political wonk. I follow all the bills I profile all the legislators.

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:02:18] Do you have any fun facts about yourself?

 Jacquelyn Benson: [00:02:20] Oh we've got some fun facts.

 Anna Brown: [00:02:26] I'm also an amateur MMA fighter.

 Jacquelyn Benson: [00:02:28] And I am Jacquelyn Benson and I am the editor of citizens count. I am also a historical fiction writer.

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:02:35] The New Hampshire state budget is a document that's rich with policy.

 Jacquelyn Benson: [00:02:39] If the legislature decides this year listen it's a priority. We need to be providing more money to these struggling schools. They've got to find that money somewhere. That's the budget. You know the budget is what will dictate where that falls in terms of policy.

 Archival audio: [00:03:00] Funding for special education transportation and food services are in question along with teacher and staff jobs. You know I'm here right now where we stand and we're being asked we're being told that we're looking at teacher layoffs. This is just making my stomach turn.

 [00:03:22] Michelle Parker and educator in the Timberland school district since 1997 stepped in front of a packed school board meeting to say she is not being offered a letter to return. Essentially she's been pink slipped.

 [00:03:36] I'm also one of the many who are not being offered a letter of agreement for the upcoming school year.

 Jacquelyn Benson: [00:03:45] Because there's going to be a ton of other things that are all competing for this money. Mental health, addiction services. You've got a finite amount, where are you going to spend it?

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:04:03] So how much money does New Hampshire have.

 Jacquelyn Benson: [00:04:05] The two year budget for the last biennium I think was like eleven point five. Total.

 Anna Brown: [00:04:12] Eleven point seven billion.

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:04:16] That's around six billion dollars a year because New Hampshire is a high maintenance little thing and has a bi annual budget.

 Jeanne Shaheen: [00:04:24] The biennial budget. That means we do a budget every two years so we do the budget in the off year after the election.

Jacqui Helbert: [00:04:32] We are one of only four states still proudly have a bi annual budget. This is Jeanne Shaheen not only this her poetic name roll off the tongue that Jeanne Shaheen also has a stellar resume.

 Jeanne Shaheen: [00:04:45] Right now I'm the senior U.S. senator from New Hampshire. That means long serving. Before that I was the governor from 1997 to 2003 and before that I was in the state Senate from nineteen ninety one to 1997.

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:05:01] Jeanne Shaheen has seen how the sausage gets made.

 Archival audio: [00:05:04] Coming up with a spending plan for the state of New Hampshire is certainly not glamorous but it's definitely important to the economic health of the state. The task is not easy.

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:05:15] In phase one every agency within the government creates its own state budget requests.

 [00:05:23] They had to predict how much money they'll need. As far as three years into the future. Agencies making requests for funding include the board of economic development the Board of Dental Examiners and my favorite the Board of Registration of funeral directors and embalmers.

 Archival audio: [00:05:43] Let's turn to our agenda. First time our agenda is number one.

 Anna Brown: [00:05:47] The agency heads, so people working under the governor....

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:05:50] The big dogs.

 [00:05:51] Are going to come to the governor and they're going to say okay there are two options here. Here's the budget. That is exactly what we need to keep operating. And here's the budget we would like to really do our job better.

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:06:02] Mixed Martial Artist Anna Brown.

 Anna Brown: [00:06:05] And you can imagine that's going to be a little more money.

 Archival audio: [00:06:07] Thursday Concord budget writers more than a dozen agency heads who collectively have already submitted a wish list totaling twelve point seven billion dollars. That's more than 20 percent higher than the last budget.

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:06:18] I was surprised by how short the agency hearings are. The Boxing and Wrestling Commission got 15 whole minutes. While the Office of the Child Advocate got 5.

 [00:06:31] Altogether the last state budget requests were four thousand four hundred and thirty five pages long. That's as big as a page count for the entire Harry Potter series plus the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

 Anna Brown: [00:06:54] Hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of lines of just dollar signs.

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:07:01] A real page turner. It's now the governors responsibility to comb through every single line of the request and craft a spending plan.

 Jeanne Shaheen: [00:07:19] For me that will be a total deal breaker.

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:07:23] Jeanne Shaheen is into it.

 Jeanne Shaheen: [00:07:25] Because you originate the budget, you have a chance to at least put down the draft that people walk from.

 Archival audio: [00:07:33] Those requests total far more than our taxpayers and our economy can afford.

 [00:07:40] Governor has already told him to try again.

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:07:45] The governor isn't holed up underground all alone polishing their precious budget. They have an entire office of experts who are also polishing the budget. The budget office.

 Anna Brown: [00:07:58] Here's one really important thing that does set new hampshire apart. Many other states. New Hampshire you have to have a balanced budget. So you cannot say we're going to borrow this money. We think this money will be here or we're going to bet against the future. If you are looking to spend money you have to say exactly where the money's coming from.

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:08:17] Where does New Hampshire his money come from. Well a lot of different places.

 Archival audio: [00:08:22] New Hampshire is home to 11 Powerball and hundreds of megabucks jackpot winner. Some Granite Staters are opening up their property tax bills this week and they're doing a double take. New Hampshire Liquor and wine outlets its new superstore Route 3 Exit 6 Nashua New Hampshire.

 Jacquelyn Benson: [00:08:37] That's that's the deal. We can't take out a loan we can't go into debt to fund something in the budget and that's in our state law. So if they ever wanted to change that they'd have to change the law.

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:08:55] At. Last. The four thousand pages that the governor started with, has now been condensed down into 800 ish pages which is the page count of only the first three Harry Potter books. Good job guys Thank you.

 Archival audio: [00:09:14] Good to see everyone here braving it braving the elements this budget proposal.

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:09:20] It's unveiled in the televized state budget address. TV cameras everywhere adoring lawmakers standing up and clapping. Must see TV.

 Anna Brown: [00:09:32] At that point, the governor doesn't have any say anymore at that point it's in the hands of the legislature specifically 800 hands attached to the members of the House of Representatives just like any other piece of legislation.

 Jacquelyn Benson: [00:09:49] It is a bill, it goes through the legislative process like any other how a bill becomes law is how a budget becomes law. There are special steps in this process but at the end of the day it's a bill and it has to be voted on and approved by the legislature and signed by the governor just like any other bill.

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:10:07] The clock is ticking. The house is on a shorter deadline. The governor had five and a half months to polish. But the House only has a month and a half to create their own version unlike the governor.

 [00:10:21] They don't have their own budget staff. They don't even have their own desks. The budget bill starts racing through a maze of commitees, House Ways committee, finance division 1 committee, finance division 2 committee.

 [00:10:39] The committees hold their own hearings with agency heads the big dogs again explain what they need to keep operating and what they would like to do their jobs better.

 [00:10:50] This next step is something that makes the granite state not extra but extra special.

 Jeanne Shaheen: [00:10:57] You know one of the things that we have in our legislature that I think is very important for our citizens is every bill that's introduced and the legislature gets a hearing. You can't as in some states the leadership or the committee can't decide well we're not going to have a hearing on this. We're not going to give the public a chance to have input. And I think that's really an important part not just of putting together the budget for the state but of how we deal with issues in New Hampshire.

 Jacquelyn Benson: [00:11:27] You as an ordinary member of the public can show up in front of the House Finance Committee in front of the Senate Finance Committee and have your personal opinion about this whatever it is you're passionate about that you think we should or shouldn't be spending our money on. You can go there and you can have your say.

 Jeanne Shaheen: [00:11:44] One of the things that I can remember having a big impact on the budget process was there were efforts to cut funding for the disability community and that community turned out in great numbers.

 Archival audio: [00:11:59] That's hurting the disabled community, it's hurting the mental health community.

Jeanne Shaheen: [00:12:03] And convinced legislators that that was not what we should be doing cutting funding for their need a significant pain in the budget.

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:12:14] The House Finance Committee passes it to the full House of Representatives. Do you like me. Check yes or no.

 Anna Brown: [00:12:22] At that point, the budget then goes to the full House of Representatives for a vote just like any bill. Just like any bill the House is going to vote on that. They might make a couple changes on the floor. It's usually a really long voting day when the budget comes to the floor because a lot of legislators are going to get really up in arms about what they want to spend on. But at the end of the day it'll pass.

 Archival audio: [00:12:43] This is a great win for the state of New Hampshire. This budget will do a lot of good things.

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:12:49] Keep in mind the budget that the House passed could be nothing like what the governor handed them and then it goes to the Senate. The civically the 48 hands of the senators and the whole process starts all over again like it's stuck in a time loop like it's stuck in a time loop.

 Anna Brown: [00:13:07] So the Senate Finance Committee is going to do the same thing, they're going to look at the budget. They're going to hold public hearings. Any member of the public can come agency heads can come and give their opinion. The governor can show up and give his opinion. Anybody were all equal on that that Senate floor then the Senate Finance Committee will make their recommendation what they think that it should look like.

 [00:13:30] Once again although there are some wildcards sometimes what happens when you put it on the floor a majority of the Senate will vote to pass the.

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:13:43] When the smoke finally clears. We're looking at two different budget proposals. A Senate budget and a House budget neither can live while the other survives.

 Jeanne Shaheen: [00:13:56] The challenge is not Democrats versus Republicans. The challenge is the House versus the Senate. You do have to compromise because you want to get a budget you want to keep the government operating.

 Anna Brown: [00:14:08] So the House and Senate have to agree the way they do this is they set up a committee of conference that's a selection of House of Representatives members and Senate members they'll come together in a committee and They'll hash out what they think the budget should be. That final document the conference committee budget will once again get a vote from the full House and the full Senate.

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:14:30] They all have to agree.

 Anna Brown: [00:14:32] And then it goes back to the governor.

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:14:34] Back into the two hands sit lovingly shaped it. All it needs now is one of those hands to give a teeny tiny signature.

 Archival audio: [00:14:43] Before officially giving a thumbs up to the budget agreement a sign that it was done came in the form of a few congratulatory handshakes from the governor. We don't want to count our chickens for they're hatched here but I am very encouraged by the compromise and the collaboration.

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:14:56] But this is politics. The governor doesn't have to sign it.

 Archival audio: [00:15:01] I am here this morning to reiterate my intention to veto the fiscally irresponsible Republican budget.

 Jacqui Helbert: [00:15:09] They have veto power.

 Anna Brown: [00:15:11] For whatever reason maybe they don't think that there's going to be enough revenue to match what the budget is spending on. Maybe they opposed some of the priorities.

Jeanne Shaheen: [00:15:18] As you do the math. You know that you don't have the money in the bank account to actually pay for services at the level that this budget says it's paying for.

Jacqui Helbert: [00:15:28] The governor can't line veto a budget which means they can't say no on a specific purchase. It's either veto the entire budget or vetoed nothing. Live free or die.

Anna Brown: [00:15:41] Then it's up to the legislature to pass a temporary spending bill while they scrambled to figure out what they're going to do.

[00:15:48] Usually they'll just keep on spending levels from the previous two years and then they'll gather later in the summer or the early fall to either override the governor's veto or pass another revised budget.

Archival audio: [00:15:58] That's on for a while there sure seem like the budget battle was destined to head into the summertime but it roughly 3 8 AM this morning a tentative deal was struck by lawmakers and every couple of hours sleep there are back at it this morning to wrap it all up.

Jacqui Helbert: [00:16:12] If a budget can't be passed then the government will shut down but that's not really something the worry about.

[00:16:19] New Hampshire has a good track record. The last time anything that dramatic happened was around 1960.

Archival audio: [00:16:25] Everybody didn't get everything they wanted. All of us are going to walk away with some little piece that we're disappointed in. But on the whole I think all of us walk away with I we can be proud of.

[00:16:35] We're happy because.

Anna Brown: [00:16:37] The whole budget writing process takes a year. So you have a year of writing the budget. And then one year where maybe we get other things done I suppose and then it's all over again.

Jacquelyn Benson: [00:16:49] It's an enormous task. It's an enormous task.

Ben Henry: [00:16:51] What we decide to spend our money on mental health care, education, children's advocacy, or wrestling is a direct reflection of our values as people and as the Granite State.

[00:17:13] That's it for our show today. This episode was produced by Jacqui Helbert our staff includes Daniela Allee, Jack Rodolico, and me, Ben Henry. Our executive producer is Erica Janik.

[00:17:30] Big thanks to Dean Lacy, Phil Sletten, and Michael York for their help. The music in this episode is by Blue Dot Sessions and Monplaiser. Civics 101: New Hampshire is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. We're a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

 
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The State Budget: Where the Money Goes

In our second episode about New Hampshire’s state budget, we crack open the budget and look at what exactly we spend all our money on.

We spoke to Anna Brown and Jacquelyn Benson of Citizens Count, a nonpartisan source for civic information in New Hampshire.


Transcript

NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.

Ben Henry: [00:00:00] There's no good way to ask someone else for money. You know? Unless you're the governor of New Hampshire, in which case,, every two years you give a speech and that's what you do. You aske the state legislature for some money.

Archival audio: [00:00:13] Good morning, Madam Speaker, mister senate president.

Ben Henry: [00:00:18] The state of New Hampshire spends about 5 or 6 billion dollars every year which is a lot of money. But you would be surprised at how fast it goes.

Archival audio: [00:00:27] My fellow citizens this budget provides level funding to school districts. This budget puts 15 more troopers on the road. We are going to double grants for towns roads and bridges.

Ben Henry: [00:00:40] Now if the governor gets to make this big speech and let's be honest the way they talk about it you might think they are the ones who make all the big decisions.

Archival audio: [00:00:49] New Hampshire stands at the threshold of a bright new future.

Ben Henry: [00:00:57] Truth is, not really.

Jacqui Helbert: [00:01:03] This is Civics 101: New Hampshire. Last episode we talked about how the state budget gets made. In part 2, Ben Henry takes a closer look at exactly what it is, we spend that money on and why.

Ben Henry: [00:01:19] The people who really make the hard decisions about the budget are people like Cindy Rosenwald.

Cindy Rosenwald: [00:01:24] Hi.

Ben Henry: [00:01:25] Hi. Where are you right now?

Cindy Rosenwald: [00:01:27] I've been in my car. I'm on 93 heading south back to nashua.

Ben Henry: [00:01:33] Rosenwald lives in Nashua and reps the 13th district in the New Hampshire Senate. Before that she was in the house on the Finance Committee.

Cindy Rosenwald: [00:01:41] I was on the Finance Committee for four terms.

Ben Henry: [00:01:45] After the governor gives their speech and gets the applause Rosenwald is one of the few people who actually sit down and read the budget. They only have about five weeks to go through it all.

[00:01:56] So like reading the budget must take for ever. Are you like taking this thing home and reading it in bed at night?

Cindy Rosenwald: [00:02:02] Yes exactly. My husband made me because I see propped up in bed with a supple budget. We've pulled all nighters which I haven't done since college.

Ben Henry: [00:02:16] Are you asking yourself questions like Is this a responsible use of taxpayer money. Like is that what's on your mind.

Cindy Rosenwald: [00:02:24] That's one question. Sure. What was hardest for me was my first term on the Finance Committee.

Ben Henry: [00:02:33] It was 2011. The recession. They chose to cut funding to nursing homes. She got calls about it.

Cindy Rosenwald: [00:02:40] Those phone calls were really hard because I had a mother. She was in her 90s. I understood what the life of a very old person and could be like.

Ben Henry: [00:02:57] New Hampshire has a smaller budget than most states per capita. It's not just recession years. Every year the budget is tight.

Cindy Rosenwald: [00:03:05] You have to make hard choices. Yeah. But you did the best you can.

Ben Henry: [00:03:13] Today our tour guides to the state budget are going to be our friends as citizens count a nonpartisan source for civic information in New Hampshire.

Anna Brown: [00:03:20] My name is Anna Brown and I'm director of research and analysis for citizens count. So I read and summarize the thousand bills that go through and try to make them understandable.

Ben Henry: [00:03:30] You might remember Anna from last episode. She's the one who spends a lot of time reading bills.

[00:03:35] Also an amateur MMA fighter.

Jacquelyn Benson: [00:03:37] And I am Jacqueline Minson and I'm the editor of Citizens Council. I track about 100 New Hampshire policy issues over the course of the year.

Ben Henry: [00:03:45] In her spare time Jackie writes swashbuckling historical fiction. So let's just start big picture overall when we're looking at the budget. What are the main things that we're spending the most dollars on.

Anna Brown: [00:03:57] So over half of the money we're spending on goes to two areas health and social services which is going to include things like Medicaid. And then the other big one is education. So that's primarily funding for all the schools across the state and other social services. So for example services for people with developmental disabilities.

Ben Henry: [00:04:16] So that's more than half. And then what's the rest of the money what are some of the big players that are soaking up money.

Jacquelyn Benson: [00:04:22] Well things like the court system paying for the court system and you're talking paying the salary of judges judges public prosecutors the whole system keeping the buildings up and running. Yeah that's a whole branch of government. So there's a there's. They're busy. State police are in there. Then we have the Fish and Game activities. So resource protection state parks you know.

Ben Henry: [00:04:47] I used to think of the state government as like the mom and pop version of the real government, the Federal Government. Turns out it's not a small operation.

Jacquelyn Benson: [00:04:56] I'm looking at the budget from last year right now and it is 840 pages long.

Ben Henry: [00:05:01] How much do you think the state spends on its phone bill. Fourteen million dollars out of state travel. Four million. Heat and electricity. 31 million. Health and retirement benefits for employees. Three hundred and sixty million. You want to get these numbers about how the budget is allocated. They're not just written down in that huge document. You've got to crunch the numbers yourself the state publishes a big old spreadsheet of the budget. So I went in there did some addition.

[00:05:30] About 10 percent of the entire 2013 budget just pays the salaries of government employees. Fun fact those employees were paid 26 million in overtime pay in 2018. That's a lot of overtime. And I respect the hustle. OK. So those numbers were from 2018 but how about the next budget or the one after that.

Jacquelyn Benson: [00:05:51] It's going to change from year to year. You heard a lot in the last budget was about addiction services. I think that we will hear about that again this year. But you didn't hear quite as much about the education funding in the last couple of years and now that's definitely going to be on the agenda this time around.

Anna Brown: [00:06:05] And these agencies are just trying to survive on the limited revenue they have.

[00:06:10] So you'll see the budget numbers might go up a little bit but they'll stay pretty level or things that just become screaming priorities.

Jacquelyn Benson: [00:06:17] We've got you know a lot of red listed bridges that bridges that need really intensive intervention.

Ben Henry: [00:06:23] Legislators have to focus on those pressing issues of the day the crumbling bridges but the little changes that they make every two years add up in the long run. If you look back 20 years ago the budget was about two thirds the size it is today. Every year it gets a little bigger although during the recession overall spending went down and it still hasn't recovered.

[00:06:44] For example the amount we spend on education is still declining whereas the amount we spend on social services and healthcare that has bounced back to where it was before the recession. And we're not the only state that spends a ton on health care. Nationwide the cost of health care has skyrocketed.

Anna Brown: [00:07:01] So the biggest dollar sign that you're going to see in the health care budget is Medicaid Medicaid.

Ben Henry: [00:07:07] Basically if you don't make very much money if your income is below a certain level the government will pay for things like doctor visits surgeries medication things like that. The cost of Medicaid is split between the federal and state governments.

Ben Henry: [00:07:20] Another big chunk of that healthcare spending is mental health care.

Anna Brown: [00:07:24] And for a long time mental health was kind of put on the back burner because we had a lot of other things going on in 2008 state revenue crashed with the economy and we still needed to do things like pay for schools give students an education. And it was actually a lawsuit that brought mental health back to the forefront.

Jacquelyn Benson: [00:07:43] It's one thing to say here's all these agencies and they've told us what and what they want and we're going to meet their needs and that's great. But when you have to start deciding who's getting it that's often where the individual values of particular legislators are going to come into play.

Ben Henry: [00:08:02] Cutting the budget that's just part of the budget process and New Hampshire is known as a pretty fiscally conservative state but it is possible to go too far. Legally speaking. Some federal laws require the state government to pay for certain stuff like the Americans With Disabilities Act for example we have to make sure public buildings are accessible for everyone and if they're not we have to pay for the upgrades. The New Hampshire Constitution also requires the government to pay for certain things which is a lot of rules to follow and state lawmakers don't always follow them and that is when the lawyers get involved.

Jacquelyn Benson: [00:08:39] That's what put the women's prison on the agenda. We got sued because the women you know the female prisoners said that their treatment wasn't equal to male prisoners.

[00:08:48] And the courts agreed.

Ben Henry: [00:08:49] The state just built a brand new women's prison. Something similar happened with education funding schools in New Hampshire used to be funded at the local level. So wealthy towns could pay for good schools while other towns could not.

[00:09:03] That was a problem.

Jacquelyn Benson: [00:09:04] Because the New Hampshire Constitution says that the state is supposed to provide an adequate education. A couple of towns lawyered up. They took the state to court and they said you're not doing your job. You need to be making sure that we can afford to educate our children.

Ben Henry: [00:09:19] The towns won that lawsuit. You know how we spend all that money in the state budget on education. Yeah that's not because of the legislature making a spending choice. It came from a different part of democracy at work. It was the people taking the government to court and winning. So if you're writing a budget you've got to put out fires. You need to pay for the programs that are straight up falling apart. You've got to fulfill the core constitutional rights of your citizens. Behind every state constitution there's got to be a little bit of cash. That responsibility is not lost on Cindy Rosenwald the representative from Nashua.

Cindy Rosenwald: [00:10:08] Well it feels good to go back to my community and say we were able to get some reimbursements to pay Nashwa back for water and sewer upgrades.

Ben Henry: [00:10:21] That's the unglamorous life of a state legislator when your town gets reimbursed for a sewer upgrade. Pretty exciting.

[00:10:30] That is it for Civics 101: New Hampshire this show is produced by me Ben Henry along with Jacqui Helbert and Daniela Allee with help from Jack Rodolico. our Executive producer is Erica Janik. Civics 101 New Hampshire is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. We're coming to you from the studios of New Hampshire Public Radio.

 
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