Bar News - February 17, 2016
NH Bar Association Legislation Committee Monitors Bills
As a unified bar, the NH Bar Association maintains a legislative program that is more likely to provide background information to broaden legislators’ understanding of law than up-or-down advocacy.
Each year, when appointing members to the NHBA Legislation Committee, the Bar president strives to include members representing all major practice areas. When the legislative session opens, the Legislation Committee must, in a very short time, sift through a large number of introduced bills to determine their relevance to the legal community and recommend to the NHBA Board of Governors whether to take an informational or advocacy role.
Both the Legislation Committee and the Board of Governors evaluate the appropriateness of advocacy or opposition to a bill according to the guidelines of two court decisions that address issues regarding the unified bar and legislation.
A 1990 US Supreme Court decision, Keller v. State Bar of California, found a legitimate public policy purpose in a state requiring attorneys to belong to a bar association and then set forth general restrictions on political or legislative activities. The NH Supreme Court, in the 1986 Chapman decision, set specific limits on the NH Bar’s legislative activities.
Chapman limits the Bar’s advocacy on legislation to issues relating to the efficient administration of the judicial system, the composition and operation of the courts, and the “education, ethics, competence, integrity and regulation, as a body, of the legal profession.” The decision notes that “where substantial unanimity does not exist or is not known to exist within the bar as a whole, particularly with regard to issues affecting members’ economic self-interest, the Board [of Governors] shall exercise caution.”
The NHBA Legislation Committee reviews a list of bills screened by the Bar’s legislative representative, attorney John MacIntosh, focusing on the bills of general interest to the legal community or courts. In this session, they winnowed down nearly 1,000 introduced bills to about 80. On a small number of bills, the Committee recommends either opposition or support under the Chapman guidelines.
For a larger number of bills, the Committee may decide to recommend that the Association take an “information” position. On these bills, the Committee is suggesting that advocacy is not suitable but believes that the Bar Association can help lawmakers by noting potential unforeseen or unintended consequences. The Legislation Committee’s recommendations are then forwarded to the NHBA Board of Governors which has final say on the recommendations. Once the legislative positions have been voted on by the Board of Governors, MacIntosh is authorized to convey those positions to the Legislature.
In a large legislature with many members unfamiliar with the complexities of particular areas of law, the Bar Association’s legislative representative often is consulted by committee leaders and members to determine a bill’s potential impact if it were to become law.
The bills reviewed by the Legislation Committee, their recommendations and the Board of Governors’ decisions, are available on Legislation Watch, which members can access via the association’s website.