Several 2011 legislative sessions across the country have seen progressives harnessing popular power to counteract more conservative legislation. Now, Republican lawmakers in New Hampshire are attempting to harness that same power for their own causes.
State Rep. David Bates (R-Windham) has proposed amending the state constitution to allow voters to overturn laws passed by the legislature. The proposal, which has been co-sponsored by state House Speaker William O'Brien (R-Mont Vernon), comes after similar provisions in Ohio and Maine have overturned laws close to the Republican governors this year.
"There have been examples in recent history as the balance of power has shifted between one party to the other that could be considered extremes in the legislation that has passed," Bates said.
Republicans took control of the 400-member New Hampshire House of Representatives last year and have proposed several measures which have been labeled extreme by local Democrats. These include a move to repeal marriage equality, a measure to allow guns on college campuses and introduced a bill partially changing the direct election of U.S. senators.
Bates declined to name any specific legislation that he believes qualify as "extreme," as his colleagues on the left have charged.
Under Bates' proposal, a petition signed by three percent of the number of voters in the last gubernatorial election would allow for a voter referendum to overturn a law. The referendum would temporarily suspend the law and place the issue on the ballot at the next general election.
"I would rather trust the people and not legislators," Bates told HuffPost.
Bates' comments differ from what he told the Associated Press in November when he said he was withdrawing his proposed constitutional amendment to overturn same-sex marriage in the state. At the time, he said he would rather allow for the legislature to take up a bill overturning the law, saying that he did not want the issue mixed into a statewide referendum with the potential for out-of-state money to fund campaigns. A sponsor of the marriage bill, Bates said he believed the legislative process would be quicker.
Bates told HuffPost that under the new amendment, he believes Granite State residents would be able to decide matters for themselves regardless of the campaigns waged by both sides in the debate. He said he does not believe the outside money issue should be considered in debating the veto amendment.
"I would feel more comfortable in trusting the citizens of our state," he said, noting the amendment would only impact new laws and not the marriage law.
Similar referendum provisions in Ohio and Maine led to the overturning of Maine's law eliminating same-day voter registration, which was signed by Gov. Paul LePage (R). Ohio's controversial collective bargaining ban, which was pushed by Gov. John Kasich (R), was also repealed through popular vote on this year's ballot. Ohio progressives who initiated the referendum to repeal the collective bargaining bill have recently succeeded as well in getting a referendum to repeal Kasich's changes to the state's election laws onto the ballot in 2012.
Bates said that the provisions track records in Maine and Ohio have concerned some of his GOP colleagues, who fear the measures they've pushed in recent months would fail among voters.
"Some members of my party are not happy," he said. "They're concerned that legislation like this would put some of our accomplishments in jeopardy."
While Bates, the election law committee chairman, did not indicate who is unhappy with the proposal, a list of his co-sponsors contains the House's Republican brass. In addition to O'Brien, co-sponsors include the chair of one of the finance committees, the chair of the resources and recreation committee and the vice chair of the rules committee.
"If the majority of the citizens of the state don't want the law, it should not be the law," he said.