NH won’t have Wisconsin Runaway Problem

By Grant Bosse on February 28, 2011
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(CONCORD) New Hampshire lawmakers won’t have to worry about their colleagues fleeing the state and camping out in hotel rooms in Lowell, Massachusetts and White River Junction, Vermont. Even as outnumbered Democrats in Indiana are following the example of Wisconsin’s runaway Senators, New Hampshire’s Constitution prevents the minority party from shutting down either the House or the Senate by walking out.

Wisconsin Republicans hold a 19-14 majority in the State Senate, but Senate rules require 20 Members to be present in order to take up budget bills, such as the controversial budget fix championed by Republican Governor Scott Walker. The legislation, which would dramatically limit the ability of public sector unions to bargain collectively, has sparked massive protests from the state’s unionized workers, and counter-protests from Tea Party and tax groups. Walker’s plan has already passed the State Assembly, and would easily clear the Senate if it came to a vote. But Senate Democrats have left the state in order to prevent being forced back to the State House.
But New Hampshire rules would make a similar walkout pointless. Under the New Hampshire Constitution, the House and Senate need only a simple majority in order to have a quorum.

However, if attendance in either chamber drops low enough, the remaining members would need a super-majority in order to get anything done. In the House, if attendance falls below 2/3 of the total body, which currently stands at 399, the remaining lawmakers would need a 2/3 vote to pass any motion.

In the 24-member State Senate, if fewer than 16 Senators are present, 10 votes are required. Republicans currently hold a 297-102 majority in the House and 19-5 in the Senate. That means that even if every Democrat in both chambers left the state like their Wisconsin counterparts, Republican lawmakers could continue working, and would not even trip the super-majority requirements in the Constitution.

The quorum busting tactics used by Wisconsin Democrats are hardly new. In 2003, Texas Democrats fled first to Oklahoma and later to New Mexico to avoid votes on a redistricting plan pushed by Republicans. And Abraham Lincoln, then a member of the Illinois Legislature, once climbed out of a window in an attempt to avoid a quorum.

(New Hampshire Watchdog would like to thank House Clerk Karen Wadsworth and Senate Clerk Tammy Wright for their cooperation with this report.)

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