Wednesday, August 3, 2016

It's Time To Take A Step Back

New Hampshire's state legislature is unique in many ways, one of the most prominent being its size – 400 members of the House and 24 members of the Senate. That makes it the third largest legislative body in the world, with only the UK's Parliament and the US Congress being larger.

One of the other things that used to make New Hampshire different from many other states was that its legislature only met every other year. That meant the legislators had to 'take care of business' because they knew they had limited time to get everything done before the legislative session ended.

That all changed in 1984 when a group of citizens and legislators made a pitch to switch to annual legislative sessions. Their reasoning behind the change was that the 5 to 6 month biennial session was too long and that shorter annual sessions would be less of a burden.

They sold us a pig in a poke.

Those 5 to 6 month long biennial sessions have turned into 5 to 6 month long annual sessions. The promise of shorter annual sessions never materialized. The cost of annual sessions was more than twice that of the biennial session. In that time a lot of useless legislation has been filed and wasteful spending has been passed. There were no savings in either time or money. Annual sessions are far more of a burden on both legislators and taxpayers than biennial sessions.

We were conned and I think it's time to do something about it.

It's well past time to amend the state constitution, specifically Part II, Article 3 - When to Meet and Dissolve - and go back to biennial sessions. Annual sessions have failed to live up to the promises made by its proponents and it's time to admit that we made a mistake. It's time to take a step back.

I already know the argument will be made that we can't go back now, that we can't possible handle the state's needs meeting only every other year. But I can counter that by looking at the biggest state in the continental US – Texas - which has a single 90-day legislative session every two years and it seems to be able to handle all of its business in that time. New Hampshire is a fraction of the size of Texas (9,349 sq miles vs 268,596 sq miles) with a fraction of the population (1.33 million vs 27.97 million), but we won't be able to handle the state's business in 5 to 6 months every 2 years? I'm not buying it. That implies that either the people in Texas are a heck of a lot smarter and work harder, or we've gone stupid and are incapable of doing what we once could do. I'm not buying that either.

The 'experiment' of annual legislative sessions has failed. It's costing us money and not living up to its promise. It's time to declare the experiment over and get back to something we know works and works well.

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