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Organization Day is approaching – what’s next?

gavel photoAs the New Hampshire state election recounts come to a close over the next week, one of the next key events in state government will be Organization Day. Pursuant to Part II, Article 3, of the New Hampshire Constitution, this will occur on December 2nd – the first Wednesday in December. While no legislation will be heard that day there are important activities that will occur including the election of the Speaker of the House and Senate President.

While these are important positions and can influence the outcome of legislation through actions such as committee assignments, the NHLA has historically chosen to not get involved in endorsing candidates for House Speaker or Senate President and this year will be no exception. The selection tends to be dramatically partisan and therefore not aligned with our mission. More importantly, members of the General Court will be selecting individuals for these roles based not only on their positions on liberty but also on their ability to plan and execute general court business in a fair and efficient manner.  Neither our candidate survey nor prior legislative voting record provides objective information that would inform us as to the suitability of an individual for the role.  As a result, we will be taking no position on the candidates for these positions. As always, we do of course encourage NHLA members to engage with the legislative process and make their opinion known to their representatives if they have reasons for supporting or opposing individual candidates.

 

 

Team handing out gold standard at state house

Make an Impact!

This November, “The most important election of our lifetime”TM will take place. No – not that one. I of course speak about the election for the NH Liberty Alliance Director of Research.  Though clearly the opening statement is tongue-in-cheek, it is fair to say that the selection of board members for our organization is important not only to our members, but also to the prospects for long term liberty in the state.  According our bylaws, the duties of the Director of Research shall include, but not be limited to: bill review oversight; documentation of NHLA position on key legislative issues; developing the Liberty Rating for board approval; developing candidate surveys. I thought it might be worthwhile to discuss these duties in a little more detail to help prospective candidates for the role understand the nature of the position.

When we talk about bill review oversight, the first thing that comes to mind for most people is the technical expertise required read and understand complex legislation. In a typical year, nearly 1,000 bills will be generated that require review and the fact is that a majority of these are quite simple to read and often are only a few sentences or at most a couple of pages. While even apparently simple bills can have hidden underlying technical complexity, the truth is that the most challenging portion of this aspect to the role is not technical complexity but rather the effort required to coordinate the activities of a diverse pool of bill review volunteers. As luck would have it, this is also one of the more rewarding aspects of the role.

In 2020, at least 50 NHLA members volunteered their time to complete at least one bill review. Some completed just a handful of reviews while others pushed deep into double or triple digits for the number of reviews. Every one of these reviewers is volunteering a portion of their time to help the organization and advance the cause of liberty.  At times, there can be disagreements on positions in certain bills and a key portion of the role is to approach each of the inputs with an open mind and understand the perspective of the individual reviewers. Much is often made about the level of disagreement within liberty learning circles but over the years I’ve found that vast majority of our review volunteers are level-headed but passionate about their positions and it has been very rewarding to work with a group of such dedicated volunteers. Bill review season typically kicks off in December as the first pieces of text for the following year’s session start to appear in the state system and continues throughout the legislative season until ~June as bills are amended as they make their way through the process.

Team handing out gold standard at state houseUltimately, the inputs from the bill reviewers along with information from recorded or live witnessed public hearings and summary data from the legislative committees must be distilled into an NHLA position for each impactful bill and documented in the Gold Standard publication. Here again, you will be aided by a smaller core group of volunteers including current and former legislators to formulate the liberty position on key legislation.  Mentoring and training that of the bill review volunteers can pay off significantly each week as you work pull together a concise set of recommendations for each bill. This role typically requires weekly investment of time from about January through June. The NHLA has a great group of dedicated volunteers who distribute the Gold Standard each week at the state house (when sessions are run at the state house!) thus while having availability to go to Concord to support the distribution could be helpful, it is by no means a requirement of the job. The regular tempo during the legislative season can certainly be challenging but at the same time, this fast-paced work is also exciting.

As the season comes to an end, the position requires developing the Liberty Rating that scores legislators based on roll-call votes on matters that appeared in the Gold Standard. While the rating is the world’s easiest ‘open book test’ development of the rating is key as scores from the rating along with scores from the candidate survey developed by the Director of Research are key inputs to the Political Director to help determine endorsements in future elections.

Finally, any role in an all-volunteer organization ends up with a non-trivial portion of the effort falling into the “but not be limited to” category of the by-law role definition. While some tasking is very directly aligned with the role (e.g. supporting the political director and chair in the generation of the weekly activist alert heading into bill public hearings), other aspects may vary substantially based on the interests and amount of time that a person can dedicate to the position.

Ultimately, serving on a public-facing volunteer board is likely to be both more challenging and more fulfilling than you might initially imagine. It also is likely to help hone skills that will be useful in other aspects of your life. Most importantly, serving in a role like this can be one possible realization of a personal goal to apply the fullest practical effort toward the creation of a society in which the maximum role of government is the protection of individuals’ rights to life, liberty, and property.

 

Missed Opportunities and Second Chances

Since at least the 1800s there has been a legal maxim that states that hard cases make bad law. This adage recognizes that it is possible that in responding to a particularly horrific and recent circumstance, there is a risk of drafting legislation that is a poor basis for the wide array of circumstances that may be encountered. The recent death of George Floyd during the arrest by Minneapolis police for allegedly making a purchase with a counterfeit bill has elevated numerous issues including whether the state currently grants appropriate powers to police. While both future cultural and novel legislative solutions may be appropriate, it is worth looking at legislative approaches that have been recently offered and rejected.

One recent legislative attempt was New Hampshire HB218 (2019). This bill sought to modify authorization for the use of deadly force by law enforcement. The change would have only authorized deadly force to defend the officer or a third person from the imminent use of deadly force; or to prevent the escape from custody of a person who the officer reasonable believes has committed or is committing a felony involving the use of force or violence, and is using a deadly weapon in an attempt to escape or is otherwise likely to seriously endanger human life or inflict serious bodily injury unless apprehended without delay.

While several changes to the existing law were a part of this bill, the section that repealed RSA 627:5, VIII was one of the most significant changes as it eliminated a section that indicated “VIII. Deadly force shall be deemed reasonably necessary under this section whenever the arresting law enforcement officer reasonably believes that the arrest is lawful and there is apparently no other possible means of effecting the arrest.”

Courts have shown great deference to police with respect to “reasonable beliefs” and thus the inclusion of this section of law effectively provides carte blanche for an errant officer to use deadly force to complete an arrest for something as simple as – passing a counterfeit bill.

With the large number of legislators speaking out against police violence in the wake of recent events – particularly given that those events were far from the only use of excessive force, one would logically conclude that HB218 would have received broad support in the NH house of representative. But in fact, it failed rather spectacularly with 277 voting Yea on a motion to kill the bill with only 62 members Nay to keep the bill alive. Failure of the bill was not a surprise as the Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee had voted 18-1 to recommend that the bill be killed with only representative John Burt (R) – Hillsborough – District 39 (Deering, Goffstown, and Weare) voting to remove the authorization for the use of deadly force by police against in non-violent suspects. (As a side note, representative Burt went on to be the NHLA Legislator of the year in 2019). The committee majority recommendation includedIn the current climate where officers are more likely to be resisted by offenders using deadly force it makes no sense to restrict our protectors by denying the officer the means to complete the arrest.” This recommendation ignored the fact that the existing law would still have allowed the use of deadly force in the defense of the officer or a third party.

We suggest the re-introduction of this bill, or a similarly worded bill in the 2021 legislative session. In addition, it is worth recognizing that with or without this improvement, enforcement of every law comes with a risk of death or injury as an outcome of the encounter. While many seek to discount this possibility, the very fact that the majority of house members sought to retain the option of deadly force for arrests for even trivial crimes demonstrates that they are aware of this potential outcome. Whether the issue is seat belt laws, tinted windows or the failed war on drugs, every demand by the state to enforce a victimless ‘crime’ is a potential opportunity for a negative outcome.