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Magna Carta bill fails to clear committee

Sponsor says legislation meant to be elective

A bill trying to link New Hampshire legislation to the Magna Carta didn't fly in the House's constitutional review committee yesterday.

The bill - which would require all new legislation 'addressing individual rights or liberties' to find its authority in a direct quote from the English charter signed in 1215 - went national in recent weeks, culminating with late-night TV show host Stephen Colbert making cracks about the attempt to revive the 800-year-old demands of feudal barons of King John of England.

Rep. Bob Kingsbury, a freshman Laconia Republican, told the committee he didn't mean for the bill to mandate the use of a Magna Carta quote on new bills, but rather to make it an elective gesture to highlight the document's upcoming 800-year anniversary. The Magna Carta was 'the first time the liberties that we enjoy were put down in written form,' he said.

'It's sort of like speed limits: if you wish to obey the speed limit, you're welcome to. But in this case if you exceed the speed limits, there's no penalty,' Kingsbury said.

Rep. Seth Cohn, a Canterbury Republican, said the 54th chapter of the document, originally written in Latin, states that 'no one shall be arrested or imprisoned upon the appeal of a woman for the death of anyone but her husband.' Today, women have more rights than only to be listened to when their husband dies, he said.

'With the understanding that the Magna Carta is a base on which we've built, is it possible that there will be bills with individual rights and liberties for which there is no relevant quote in the Magna Carta, that they hadn't thought of this issue but we consider it to be a right today?' Cohn said.

Kingsbury said that's why he intended to leave it up to the representative to include a quote from the document.

'So, representative, why does (the bill) say shall rather than may?' Cohn asked.

'Idiosyncracies of the writing process,' Kingsbury replied.

House Majority Whip Shawn Jasper, a Hudson Republican, said the House's Republican leadership didn't necessarily 'feel a compelling reason to be here' but wanted to address the bill because of the attention it has garnered.

Jasper said his ancestors signed the charter and he understands its importance in world history, but New Hampshire legislation should be guided by American documents like the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

'It's really not something that is appropriate for us to be referencing in our laws,' Jasper said. 'Our founding documents, while they may have been based on the Magna Carta, did not specifically even reference the Magna Carta.'

The House Constitutional Review and Statutory Recodification Committee voted 11-1 to kill the bill. The one vote in favor was from Rep. Joseph Krasucki, a Republican from Nashua, who said he supported the idea of the bill, knowing it was intended to be a nonbinding resolution.

'I voted on principle,' Krasucki said. 'I knew it wouldn't make it.'

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com.)