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.
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.