House Finance division approves plan to limit governor’s power to declare emergencies

PLAN PASSES FIRST STEP IN PROCESS ALONG PARTY LINES. Republicans on the New Hampshire House Finance Committee appear to be moving toward limiting the governor’s current unilateral power to keep a state of emergency in place indefinitely.House Finance Committee Chair Kenneth Weyler on Wednesday brought forward a last-minute budget trailer bill (House Bill 2) amendment to Finance Division III that would put in the hands of lawmakers the power to continue a state of emergency beyond 21 days.Weyler said he brought up the amendment because other House Republicans told him it was a condition of getting their votes in favor of the budget when the full committee issues a vote in the coming weeks and when, eventually, the full House votes.A significant segment of the House GOP caucus, and other libertarian-minded activists outside of the Legislature, have been strongly at odds with Gov. Chris Sununu continuing to keep a state of emergency — and the restrictions that come with it — in place.Reacting to the amendment, Sununu said: “This amendment restricts management of the state in a time of crisis and puts the health and wellbeing of our citizens in danger.”It’s shaping up as an intra-party GOP dispute, but the plan has several hurdles ahead of it before it is passed into law as part of the trailer bill. Weyler’s amendment was approved by Division III on a 4-3 party line vote, with the three Democrats – Reps. Mary Jane Wallner, Sharon Nordgren and Katherine Rogers — opposing it because they said it was not well-thought-out, created too many unanswered questions and was brought up at the last minute without a public hearing.Last year, House and Senate Democrats went to court, unsuccessfully, to try to reel in the governor’s unilateral authority to spend federal CARES Act funding by requiring approval of the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee. The Weyler amendment will be hashed out further when the full Finance Committee begins its budget deliberations. Currently, Finance subcommittees — known as divisions — are wrapping up their work on specific parts of the budget.The Weyler amendment would boost the Legislature’s authority and role during emergencies – an authority that Weyler said many lawmakers believe has been minimized during the current COVID-19 crisis.Under the amendment, the governor would have the authority to declare a state of emergency for a 21-day period only once.After that, the Legislature would have the authority to renew the declaration by passing concurrent resolutions “as many times as it finds is necessary to protect the safety and welfare of the inhabitants of this state,” according to the amendment.Under the amendment, only if the clerk of the House or Senate certifies that at least half of the members of either body are “incapacitated or missing” can the governor then unilaterally renew the declaration.Weyler said that unless the amendment is changed before being added to the budget and passed into law, its provisions would take effect when the budget takes effect – on July 1. House Democrats charged that means the Republican move would effectively “rescind” the current state of emergency.“We have been working in Division III on our section of the budget for weeks now, and yet Republicans waited until the absolute last minute to bring forward a poorly written and confusing amendment to end the governor’s state of emergency,” Wallner said in a statement after the meeting. “There is no honest reason to sneak a new amendment in the budget in such a non-transparent way.”During the meeting, Rep. Rogers pointed out that another bill, virtually identical, was approved Wednesday by the House Executive Departments and Administration Committee. “They had a public hearing on that bill, which this bill did not, and that bill is quite extensive,” Rogers said.Weyler said that if both measures pass, “We’re going to rely on the Senate to work this all out … They will probably not keep both of them. But until that happens, I feel like ‘belt-and-suspenders’ is a good way to go.”“For now, this is a request, and I ceded to it and said I would put it in,” Weyler said. “It’s like two bites at the apple.”Weyler did not try to couch his motive for bringing the amendment forward.“I have to try to get people to vote for the budget,” Weyler said, “and if this is something that I can get them to agree to to vote for the budget, then I’ll put it in there.”He said the goal of the amendment “is to get more people involved to try to have a hand in this” – re-authorizing emergency declarations.Weyler agreed with Republican Rep. Jess Edwards that under the state constitution, the governor has limited power and that currently, many lawmakers believe the Legislature’s role has been minimized because current laws on emergencies do not have a significant role for lawmakers.Edwards asked: “After watching the way the state of emergency has played out, do you share as I do the idea that there does not appear to be any firm metrics that the public currently understands to be the conditions under which the state of emergency will be lifted?” “Yes,” said Weyler.Without those metrics, Edwards asked, “Isn’t it potentially possible under our current statutes that the state of emergency will last in perpetuity?”“It could happen, unless there was some control,” said Weyler.“Isn’t it reasonable to believe that since the budget is our only legislative check on the governor,” Edwards asked, “that we use the budget process as a way of refining and reestablishing the appropriate balance between the Legislature and the governor?”“Yes, it’s our most important tool,” Weyler said.And, Edwards asked, “If this were truly important to the Legislature, and if it was of chief importance, wouldn’t it actually be better to put it into the budget than into a (stand-alone bill) because it would be harder for the governor to veto the budget, if it came to that?”“Yes,” said Weyler. Nordgren called the move of bringing forward the amendment at the last-minute “sort of an embarrassment to the public that we’ve conducted it this way today. I’m deeply saddened.”

PLAN PASSES FIRST STEP IN PROCESS ALONG PARTY LINES. Republicans on the New Hampshire House Finance Committee appear to be moving toward limiting the governor’s current unilateral power to keep a state of emergency in place indefinitely.

House Finance Committee Chair Kenneth Weyler on Wednesday brought forward a last-minute budget trailer bill (House Bill 2) amendment to Finance Division III that would put in the hands of lawmakers the power to continue a state of emergency beyond 21 days.

Weyler said he brought up the amendment because other House Republicans told him it was a condition of getting their votes in favor of the budget when the full committee issues a vote in the coming weeks and when, eventually, the full House votes.

A significant segment of the House GOP caucus, and other libertarian-minded activists outside of the Legislature, have been strongly at odds with Gov. Chris Sununu continuing to keep a state of emergency — and the restrictions that come with it — in place.

Reacting to the amendment, Sununu said: “This amendment restricts management of the state in a time of crisis and puts the health and wellbeing of our citizens in danger.”

It’s shaping up as an intra-party GOP dispute, but the plan has several hurdles ahead of it before it is passed into law as part of the trailer bill.

Weyler’s amendment was approved by Division III on a 4-3 party line vote, with the three Democrats – Reps. Mary Jane Wallner, Sharon Nordgren and Katherine Rogers — opposing it because they said it was not well-thought-out, created too many unanswered questions and was brought up at the last minute without a public hearing.

Last year, House and Senate Democrats went to court, unsuccessfully, to try to reel in the governor’s unilateral authority to spend federal CARES Act funding by requiring approval of the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee.

The Weyler amendment will be hashed out further when the full Finance Committee begins its budget deliberations. Currently, Finance subcommittees — known as divisions — are wrapping up their work on specific parts of the budget.

The Weyler amendment would boost the Legislature’s authority and role during emergencies – an authority that Weyler said many lawmakers believe has been minimized during the current COVID-19 crisis.

Under the amendment, the governor would have the authority to declare a state of emergency for a 21-day period only once.

After that, the Legislature would have the authority to renew the declaration by passing concurrent resolutions “as many times as it finds is necessary to protect the safety and welfare of the inhabitants of this state,” according to the amendment.

Under the amendment, only if the clerk of the House or Senate certifies that at least half of the members of either body are “incapacitated or missing” can the governor then unilaterally renew the declaration.

Weyler said that unless the amendment is changed before being added to the budget and passed into law, its provisions would take effect when the budget takes effect – on July 1.

House Democrats charged that means the Republican move would effectively “rescind” the current state of emergency.

“We have been working in Division III on our section of the budget for weeks now, and yet Republicans waited until the absolute last minute to bring forward a poorly written and confusing amendment to end the governor’s state of emergency,” Wallner said in a statement after the meeting. “There is no honest reason to sneak a new amendment in the budget in such a non-transparent way.”

During the meeting, Rep. Rogers pointed out that another bill, virtually identical, was approved Wednesday by the House Executive Departments and Administration Committee.

“They had a public hearing on that bill, which this bill did not, and that bill is quite extensive,” Rogers said.

Weyler said that if both measures pass, “We’re going to rely on the Senate to work this all out … They will probably not keep both of them. But until that happens, I feel like ‘belt-and-suspenders’ is a good way to go.”

“For now, this is a request, and I ceded to it and said I would put it in,” Weyler said. “It’s like two bites at the apple.”

Weyler did not try to couch his motive for bringing the amendment forward.

“I have to try to get people to vote for the budget,” Weyler said, “and if this is something that I can get them to agree to to vote for the budget, then I’ll put it in there.”

He said the goal of the amendment “is to get more people involved to try to have a hand in this” – re-authorizing emergency declarations.

Weyler agreed with Republican Rep. Jess Edwards that under the state constitution, the governor has limited power and that currently, many lawmakers believe the Legislature’s role has been minimized because current laws on emergencies do not have a significant role for lawmakers.

Edwards asked: “After watching the way the state of emergency has played out, do you share as I do the idea that there does not appear to be any firm metrics that the public currently understands to be the conditions under which the state of emergency will be lifted?”

“Yes,” said Weyler.

Without those metrics, Edwards asked, “Isn’t it potentially possible under our current statutes that the state of emergency will last in perpetuity?”

“It could happen, unless there was some control,” said Weyler.

“Isn’t it reasonable to believe that since the budget is our only legislative check on the governor,” Edwards asked, “that we use the budget process as a way of refining and reestablishing the appropriate balance between the Legislature and the governor?”

“Yes, it’s our most important tool,” Weyler said.

And, Edwards asked, “If this were truly important to the Legislature, and if it was of chief importance, wouldn’t it actually be better to put it into the budget than into a (stand-alone bill) because it would be harder for the governor to veto the budget, if it came to that?”

“Yes,” said Weyler.

Nordgren called the move of bringing forward the amendment at the last-minute “sort of an embarrassment to the public that we’ve conducted it this way today. I’m deeply saddened.”