Bar News - February 19, 2010
Uniform State Laws and the Uniform Law Commission
By: Michael Kerr
Uniform laws are no strangers to New Hampshire. As a matter of fact, the first Uniform Act was adopted in New Hampshire 100 years ago. The Uniform Negotiable Instruments Law, promulgated in 1896, was adopted in New Hampshire in 1909. And since then, New Hampshire has enacted more than 50 Uniform Acts, including the landmark Uniform Commercial Code, and in more recent years the Uniform Trust Code, the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, the Uniform Principal and Income Act, and the Uniform TOD Securities Registration Act. Even with all of the Uniform Acts on the books in New Hampshire, many still wonder: what are uniform laws?
Uniform laws are the product of the Uniform Law Commission (ULC). The ULC, a 118-year-old legal institution, has worked for the uniformity of state laws since 1892. New Hampshire joined the ULC in 1893.
The ULC is composed of practicing lawyers, law school professors, state legislators, government employees and both federal and state judges, appointed from every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Commissioners receive no salary or fees for their work with the ULC. Through its membership in the ULC, New Hampshire participates with all of the other states and territories promoting national uniformity in such areas as commercial law, family law, the law of probate and estates, the law of business organizations, and health law.
During its long history, the ULC’s work has brought consistency, clarity, and stability to state statutory law with such pivotal contributions to state law as the aforementioned Uniform Commercial Code, the Uniform Partnership Act, the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, and the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act, all of which have been enacted in New Hampshire.
The ULC’s major asset is its commissioners – more than 300 of the best legal minds in the country. Notable past commissioners have included President Woodrow Wilson, Supreme Court Justices Louis Brandeis, John Rutledge, and William Rehnquist; from New Hampshire, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter and former U.S. Senator Warren B. Rudman also served as commissioners.
New Hampshire’s current uniform law commissioners are W. Michael Dunn of Manchester and Michael D. Ruedig of Concord. New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney is a commissioner ex officio by reason of his office.
The procedures of the ULC insure meticulous consideration of each uniform or model act. The ULC spends a minimum of two years on each draft, but no act becomes officially recognized as a Uniform Act until the ULC is satisfied that it is ready for consideration by the legislators of every state. Work on large-scale projects, such as revisions to the Uniform Commercial Code, can take many years to complete. No single state has the resources necessary to duplicate this meticulous, careful, non-partisan effort.
The ULC works as a cooperative venture of all the states. It only functions as well as each state’s commitment to the uniform law movement. The Annual Meeting is the pinnacle of this process. It is an intensive working session lasting seven to eight days. All the important substantive decisions about uniform state laws are made at that meeting. The ULC convenes as a body once a year, meeting for a period of eight days, usually in July or August. In the interim between annual meetings, drafting committees composed of commissioners and ABA advisors and observers meet to prepare working drafts that are to be considered at the annual meeting. At each annual meeting, the Acts proposed by the drafting committees are read and debated, usually line by line.
The ULC receives the predominant portion of its financial support from state appropriations. In return, the ULC, through its commissioners, provides the states with two important services: drafting uniform laws on subjects where uniformity is desirable and practical, and then supporting efforts by the states to enact completed acts. Thus, the ULC mandated duty of each commissioner requires attendance at the annual and special meetings of the ULC and support for the introduction and enactment of Uniform Acts promulgated by the ULC that are appropriate for their particular states.
In 2009, three Uniform Acts were introduced in the New Hampshire Legislature, and one – the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) – was enacted. The UCCJEA is an extremely important state law that limits child custody jurisdiction to one state, thereby avoiding competing orders. The UCCJEA has now been adopted in all but two states. It is likely that between two and four Uniform Acts will be introduced into the 2010 legislative session.
The ULC works efficiently for all the states because individual lawyers and judges are willing to donate their time and expertise and because it is a genuine cooperative effort of all the states. The ULC, and all the states, benefit from this significant and unique cooperative effort. It is significant that, like virtually all states, New Hampshire state government has recognized the importance of New Hampshire’s participation in the ULC. The statutory authority governing the New Hampshire Uniform Law Commissioners can be found at N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 18.1.
For further information on any Uniform Acts, or for further information on the Uniform Law Commission, visit the ULC’s www.nccusl.org.
Michael Kerr is the legislative director and legal counsel for the Uniform Law Commission.