Political Speech Regulation Bill against House Rules; 2/3 vote needed to pass

By Grant Bosse on June 1, 2010
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(CONCORD) A last-minute compromise on a controversial bill to require registration of political speech violates New Hampshire House rules, and could complicate passage of the measure should it reach the House floor.

A House-Senate Committee of Conference accepted a modified version of HB 1459 last week which would require companies and certain non-profits to register with the Secretary of State’s Office before they could engage in political advertising. Part of the compromise was inclusion of a study committee to examine the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision on New Hampshire elections. That study committee must report back to the Legislature by November 1, 2011, but House rules prohibit the formation of any study committee with a reporting date past November 1st of this year.

Sen. Maggie Hassan outlining HB 1459 compromise last week.

According to House Rule 36(g):

Any study committee, commission, task force or any other like entity created and/or authorized by chapter law shall file its report and dissolve by November 1st of the second-year session. Only legislators shall be members of any such entity.

On Wednesday, the New Hampshire Senate will consider HB 1459. Its rules do not address the reporting dates of study committees. The Senate approved HB 1459 by a vote of 14-10 on May 13. At the time, the bill contained a far more sweeping set of registration requirements on political speech, introduced by Senator Maggie Hassan (D-Exeter). Should the Senate again approve the measure, it would head to the House for consideration, where the study committee reporting date could complicate its prospects for passage.

The House may suspend its rules by a 2/3 vote. Barring super-majority approval, any bill containing any provision in violation of House rules would not withstand a Point of Order against it.

“The whole bill would fall,” says House Clerk Karen Wadsworth.

Because deadlines for holding Conference Committees have passed, and because the Conference Report on HB 1459 is not open to amendment by either chamber, the study committee provision may not be removed or changed without 2/3 approval of the House. The Legislature could revisit the issue, without violating House rules, should the Governor and Executive Council call it back into session to address the state’s $300 million budget deficit, which it is expected to do tomorrow morning.

The bill has drawn criticism from both the right and left as an improper restriction on free speech that would chill New Hampshire companies from exercising their First Amendment rights. Hassan and other supporters argue that disclosure requirements are necessary to prevent corporations from unleashing unlimited and anonymous ads in order to sway New Hampshire elections. Governor John Lynch has indicated support for HB 1459 should the bill reach his desk.

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