On March 12th, the NH House of Representatives voted to amend the Rules which govern our body and the way we do business, to include a provision that would allow for modification of our schedule given the emerging public health threat of COVID-19. The rule change (65b) required concurrence of leadership of both parties. A true bipartisan agreement had emerged after a winter of partisan wrangling.
That day, the Speaker of the House, Steve Shurtleff, announced that he would be forming a bipartisan committee to oversee the processes involved in keeping the House operational during the public health crisis. Members of both parties would serve on the committee. On Tuesday, March 17, an email was delivered from the Speaker’s chief of staff with the details for the “Committee on Legislative Continuity”. The duties of the committee were to “investigate any necessary legislation, changes in House Rules or possible constitutional amendment.”
The committee met once, briefly, over the phone. A subsequent meeting was cancelled, and no other meetings have occurred since March. Republican leaders received one-on-one phone calls from time to time from the Speaker, but that fell short of our expectations, to say the least.
We had the chance to meet, work on these issues, identify priorities, and build consensus within our respective caucuses based on the continuity committee’s bi-partisan work. That process was abandoned and the Speaker made decisions exclusively with the Democrat leadership team, and told us what they decided to do (or not do) after those decisions had already been made. That was not how this was supposed to work.
When Republicans supported the change to Rule 65(b) it was with the understanding and promise that Democrats were acting in good faith and would include Republicans in this crisis response process. It was with the understanding that they would proactively seek Republican input to achieve the concurrence required in Rule 65(b). We have seen very little attempt at seeking Republican input. And rather than work within the terms of Rule 65(b) we now see Democrats doing an end-run around it by proposing to adopt new rules and deadlines without having even solicited input from Republicans.
Republicans have several concerns about the proposed scheduling within the Democrats’ schedule just released days ago. It sets forth a very quick time frame for public hearings on Senate Bills. We are not fully briefed on how those hearings will occur, but we can only assume that they will be done remotely.
The House held its first remote public hearing on a bill this past week and there were several concerns brought to my attention about its function and execution. How can we reliably administer dozens of these hearings in a short time frame? The Democrats’ timeline skips very important steps in the legislative process, including committees of conference. This says to us that they are more interested in expediency than thoroughness.
Republicans have a roadmap forward and a sincere desire to achieve it. We have a realistic and comprehensive set of dates for deadlines that we believe meets the needs of a thorough legislative process. It does not skip steps.
We are not here to obstruct – we agree that the people’s work needs to be addressed. But we are here to ensure the spirit of bipartisan cooperation, the spirit of 65(b) is not pushed aside during this pandemic.
Perhaps if the continuity committee meets sometime in the immediate future, we can work these things out rather than be presented with an all-or-nothing vote on one party’s proposed dates.
Here is what is at stake. Only the Speaker can adjourn the House from this year’s session. If Republicans choose to reject the Democrats’ proposed schedule, we have all summer and fall to come to an agreement and seek a bipartisan compromise. We will not lose the chance to work on legislation, assuming that Democrats end their one-party decision-making process.
The narrative that all legislative business will cease is false. If a vote to adopt a new schedule of deadlines fails on June 11th, we will still be taking up several important pieces of legislation. We will be precluded from acting on the 32 remaining House bills that have not been sent over to the Senate yet, but we will be voting on the Governor’s veto, and several House bills that the Senate has acted on and is sending back to the House.
If the session on June 11th ends without compromise, Republicans are willing to go right back to the virtual negotiating table to see if bipartisan agreement can be reached, and at a prospective House session this summer, a thoroughly vetted plan could be adopted with a bipartisan vote.
My Republican colleagues and I are genuinely eager to complete the work we were elected to do. We take issue with the Speaker and his leadership team excluding our party and our membership from nearly every process during this public health crisis. It’s time for the Speaker to fulfill his duty of representing the entire House of Representatives, not just take orders from his partisan leadership team. There is still time to work collaboratively, and Republicans have the will to do so.
At the end of the day, Republicans will always vote to stop the Democrats’ radical agenda, which includes an income tax, stripping away election integrity laws, chipping away at Second Amendment rights, and endangering bank transactions and security screenings by giving undocumented people the same drivers’ license you have.
Republicans are working for you. Democrats are hoping you don’t notice them trying to take advantage of the crisis to rush through their bad ideas.