By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
The new legislative session will not begin in earnest until later in the month, but six proposed changes to the state constitution have been drafted to date. More will be coming.
Several of the proposed changes are reaction to the US Supreme Court’s decision overturning its original Roe vs. Wade decision and sending the issue of abortion rights to the states to decide with a dozen already essentially banning the health care procedure and others imposing greater restrictions.
While attempts were made last session to enshrine abortion rights into state statutes, supporters were unsuccessful.
This session CACR 2 (constitutional amendment concurrent resolution) would put into the constitution people’s right to make their own reproductive rights decisions.
Sponsored by 10 Democratic House members and two Democratic Senators, the proposed legislation says, “That an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course and shall not be denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling state interest achieved by the least restrictive means.”
The wording that would go before voters in the next general election in 2024, would read, “Are you in favor of amending the first part of the constitution by inserting after article 2-b a new article to read as follows:
[Art.] 2-c. [Reproductive Liberty.] That an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course and shall not be denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling state interest achieved by the least restrictive means.”
For a proposed constitutional amendment to change the constitution, it must receive a three-fifth majority of House members present and voting and a three-fifth majority of the 24 Senators.
The proposal does not go to the governor for action, but is placed on the ballot of the next general election where it needs a two-thirds majority of those voting.
A bill to provide the same protections of individual rights will also be heard this term, and will require a simple majority of the House and the Senate and the approval of the governor either through his signature or by allowing it to become law without his signature.
Similarly CACR 5 would protect the right to marry as a fundamental right under the state constitution.
When the US Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested the court may want to consider future reviews of earlier decisions granting the right to marry for same-sex individuals as well as the right to contraception.
The Roe vs. Wade decision is the first time the US Supreme Court has nullified a fundamental right an earlier court decision granted.
CACR 5 is sponsored by Rep. Dan Hynes, R-Bedford, and would ask voters “Are you in favor of amending the first part of the constitution by inserting after article 5 the following new article:
[Art.] 5-a. [Right to Marry] The right to marry shall be a fundamental right.”
Currently the right to marry is not in the state constitution.
CACR 4 would increase lawmakers’ pay from $200 for the two-year session to $5,000 and increase the presiding officers’ — i.e. the House Speaker and Senate President — salaries for the two years to $6,250.
The change would increase compensation for lawmakers from $85,300 to $2.14 million for the two-year session.
Not that most lawmakers are underpaid at $200 per two-year session, but you could argue a very small number are overpaid who never show up or spend more time in the State House cafeteria than committee rooms.
Other attempts to increase lawmakers’ pay have been unsuccessful, but among the 50 states the current compensation package is an anomaly.
Those supporting the changes say it could bring fresh faces to the State House instead of the vast majority of retired or wealthy members.
This attempt is sponsored by a bipartisan group of young and elderly lawmakers.
Another group of bipartisan House members seek to establish the position of Lieutenant Governor in the state constitution.
Under the provisions of CACR 1, the new position would be elected during the state’s general election along with the governor and other state and federal officers.
The Lieutenant Governor would need to be a resident of the state for seven years before he or she could be elected and would assume the duties of the governor if he or she is incapacitated, absent from the state, dies, is removed from office, or resigns.
If the new office is approved, the line of succession would change in the constitution as well, with the Lieutenant Governor first in line, then the Senate President, House Speaker, Secretary of State and State Treasurer.
In the past, the succession line seldom went beyond the Senate President, but during the Craig Benson administration, the state Treasurer was the acting governor for a day or two when all the other leaders were out of state during the winter break.
CACR 3 would establish recall elections for citizens to remove an elected official before his or her term expires.
Under the proposed amendment proposed by Rep. Michael Moffett, R-Loudon, and Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, the legislature would establish a procedure “to provide a recall procedure to permit citizens to remove an elected official before the end of a term of office,” among many other duties outlined in the state constitution.
New Hampshire has never had the recall provision unlike a number of states, most recently the unsuccessful attempt to remove California Gov. Gavin Newsom comes to mind, or citizen referendum to change state law.
In New Hampshire, legislators are not paid much but they like to hold on to every bit of power they have and not designate it anybody.
A former state Supreme Court chief justice, Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Windham, is the prime sponsor of CACR 6, which would change the mandatory judicial retirement age in the constitution from 70 to 75 years old.
Two attorneys, Senate Minority Leader Donna Soucy of Manchester and Rep. Dan Hynes, R-Bedford, are also sponsors of the proposal to add five more years to judicial service before they have to retire.
Lynn was forced to retire several years ago, before he ran for the House in 2020.
The state’s mandatory retirement age for judges at 70 years old has been in place since 1792 and has survived a number of attempts to change it including in 2021 when Lynn first sponsored a proposed constitutional amendment to increase the mandatory retirement age to 75.
The change would affect all judges and judicial masters in the state’s court system.
This, like all proposed constitutional amendments, needs a three-fifths majority of House members present and voting, of Senators and a two-thirds majority of voters at the next general election to change the constitution.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.