The NH Business Review recently observed that Secretary of State Bill Gardner seems to be involving himself in legislative deliberations this session, more than in the past (June 7 – 20, 2019 issue). Here’s what the publication had to say relative to HB 651:
“Is it only in the imagination, or does it seem that SOS Billy Gardner is putting in his 2 cents a lot more the last couple years?
The most recent one came when the SOS carped about a bill that would allow campaign contributions to be spent on child-care costs. The goal, say backers, is to make it easier for young parents to run for office. But the main point is that it’s also something that the Federal Election Commission has already endorsed for federal campaigns.
Apparently that’s not enough for the SOS, who opposed the NH bill on the grounds that it would be unfair to donors.
Starts to make you wonder if he’s just a grudge against young people.
Nah, couldn’t be.”
On Thursday, June 13, the House concurred with the Senate’s amendment to HB 651 and the bill is headed to the Governor.
As a member of the House Election Law Committee, I can attest that the Secretary of State or the Deputy Secretary of State attended almost every public hearing of our committee during the 2019 session. Often, their testimony began: “We are not taking a position on this bill, but…” and the office would then bash elements in the proposed legislation without making recommendations on how to fix any “weaknesses” they perceived in the bills. On one occasion, a subcommittee had spent considerable time working on an amendment to HB 408, relative to the postponement of town meetings and local elections (due to inclement weather), and the Secretary of State walked into a subcommittee meeting 10 minutes prior to its deadline to report and said the bill wouldn’t work because some towns sometimes have concurrent state elections to fill vacancies in a state office and town moderators did not have the right to postpone state elections. He had had multiple opportunities to raise this concern during the public hearing on this bill and during an earlier subcommittee work session, but did not do so. As a result of this last-minute objection, the House Election Law Committee had little choice but to ask the committee to retain HB 408. Fortunately, a similar bill had been introduced in the Senate (SB 104). The Senators took the work of the House Election Law Committee, addressed the Secretary of State’s point, and passed SB 104. The House concurred with that bill.
Yes, Secretary Gardner has been very active in trying to influence legislative policy in public and behind the scenes during the current legislative session. Guidance, advice, and interpretation of proposed legislation from the Secretary of State is appropriate and welcome. However, the development of legislative priorities, procedures and policies is the purview of the General Court — the House and Senate — not the Secretary of State.