Should NH state reps be paid in silver coins?
CONCORD, NH – The Legislative Administration Committee of the New Hampshire House of Representatives met Monday. Here’s a summary of what they discussed.
Michael Moffett (R-Loudon) returned to address an issue that has become a perennial issue: allowing state legislatures to allow local and state governments to proceed with recall elections.
Part II, Article 5 of the New Hampshire Constitution establishes how governments are formed in New Hampshire, so this would need to be changed before the state legislature could enact enabling legislation giving counties and localities the ability to choose whether they want to continue remembering elections. Currently, counties and municipalities only have the power to legislate within the limits given to them by the legislature.
Moffett said that this bill focuses primarily on locally elected officials with terms longer than three years, as one of the objections he’s heard to the concept is that state-level offices last only two years and elections are de facto called recall system could serve. He said Belknap County has four-year terms for its officers, and Carroll and Rockingham County are also considering four-year terms.
However, the wording in his bill did not discuss terms longer than four years, with Moffett telling the committee that this bill referred only to the Constitution itself, not the process that might follow an amendment to the Constitution.
The committee’s chairman, Gregory Hill (R-Northfield), asked about the wording in the constitution that could now appear on ballots, which contained a variety of random things like references to wood. Moffett reiterated that the primary focus of this bill is to advance discussion by amending the Constitution. Moffett repeated this when Hill asked who would pay for the new election.
Janet Wall (D-Madbury) said that in her experience, elected officials who commit misconduct at the local level often resign in shame and questioned whether this process would make things less contentious. Moffett said that should this process go ahead, it would provide a way forward in situations where that person does not step down.
Beth Richards (D-Concord) asked Moffett if he was approached by specific organizations encouraging him to create this law. He replied that these efforts arose from informal conversations.
Next was another long-discussed topic, but one that gets discussed a little more often.
CACR 4 would amend Part II, Article 15 of the New Hampshire Constitution, increasing legislators’ salaries from $200 per term to $5,000 per term and increasing chairmen’s salaries from $250 to $6,250. The daily rate would increase from $3 to $75 for a maximum of 15 days during emergency or veto sessions.
The bill also adds cost of living adjustments (COLAs) administered by the legislature and state agencies.
Walter Stapleton (R-Claremont) said that the New Hampshire legislature last saw a pay raise in 1889 and that the main focus of legislation during that session was to do with trains.
He briefly discussed what other states pay their lawmakers, with the average averaging around $40,000 a year and some states like California paying their lawmakers over $100,000 a year, and stressed that New Hampshire’s neighboring states pay their lawmakers pay a lot more than New Hampshire.
He added that low pay discourages many citizens from serving in the legislature.
The only other person who testified on the bill was a Lakes Region resident named Joseph Haas.
Haas believed that paying lawmakers in currencies not backed by gold or silver was unconstitutional. The United States ended the practice of individuals exchanging dollars for a certain amount of gold in 1971.
Matthew Santonastaso (R-Jaffrey) built on Haas’ premise and testified to his bill, which would pay legislators 200 troy ounces of silver in compensation as originally stated in Part II, Article 15 of the New Hampshire Constitution when it was adopted into effect in 1784.
Santonastaso told the committee that silver and gold adjust for inflation and that it is liquid and can be used as currency.
Stapleton opposed the bill, noting that the Constitution now uses dollars instead of troy ounces of silver when considering lawmakers’ salaries.
“We have to work with what we have instead of reinventing the wheel,” he said.
Haas returned and reiterated his previous claims, also saying he will file ethics complaints against House Republican Leader Jason Osborne (R-Auburn) and House Democratic Leader Matt Wilhelm (D-Manchester).
Stephen Pearson (R-Derry) asked whether coins would be accepted for payment under the proposed law if they were not pure silver. Santonastaso replied that the American Eagle coin was the only pure silver dollar coin and therefore the only “real” dollar coin.
Although the coins themselves would be valued at one dollar, the value of each dollar coin would actually be worth more than one dollar, creating confusion.
In a New Hampshire Treasury Department tax bill, it could cost $4,792 to give each legislature 200 coins, along with additional utilities.
House clerk Paul Smith told the committee that he neither opposed nor supported the legislation, but noted that previous New Hampshire Supreme Court cases prohibited changing the pay of lawmakers without a constitutional amendment. Smith said if this bill didn’t allow for $200 denominations of coins instead of 200 coins that could be worth well over $200, it could face trials without a constitutional amendment.
The final bill of the day came from Hill, who was his main sponsor. This bill aims to clarify conflict-of-interest rules for lawmakers, which emerged from a study committee formed from a similar bill last year.
Hill added that this bill aims to clarify conflict-of-interest rules for lawmakers, which he says can be vague and difficult to ascertain in tense moments just before a choice of words.
If this bill goes into effect, what is now defined as a “special interest” in any matter that could directly or indirectly affect the decisions of the legislature would be converted into an “actual or perceived financial interest” or a “non-financial personal interest.” “changed”, further defining these two interests.
The bill also removes family references to conflicts of interest, as Hill noted he has family members who would not sway him from a decision and non-family members who would. Instead, the bill replaces family members with a definition of “someone important to lawmakers.”
Hill said that while the bill currently has only Republican sponsorship, he hopes to see amendments from Democrats based on that wording.
Stephanie Payeur (D-Hopkinton) asked if other states made references to “someone the legislature cares about,” and Hill said other states’ requirements for disclaiming conflicts of interest were not uniform, but lawmakers generally encourage them seem more likely to vote than not to vote.
He also referenced Moffett’s testimony earlier in the day and a point where he used the term “politician” to refer to some elected officials but not others, and expressed frustration at any perception that he was comparable to one “Washington politicians” Therefore, the actions of one elected official can affect the perception of all elected officials.
“How you behave here affects us all,” he said.
An upcoming study of the bill is scheduled for February 13