House Democrats recommend axing controversial Redress of Grievances Committee
Rep. Pam Tucker, R-Greenland, raises her hand to speak in opposition of banning guns in the State House. The House Rules Committee voted to recommend that the full House ban guns in the House chamber, the gallery, and the adjacent areas. They also recommended eliminating two committees during a meeting on Thursday afternoon, December 20, 2012, (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
Two House committees, including the controversial Redress of Grievances Committee, should be eliminated, the new Democratic majority on the House Rules Committee recommended yesterday.
Both the redress committee and the Constitutional Review and Statutory Recodification Committee were created two years ago when Republicans won control of the House. Democrats retook the majority in the Nov. 6 election, and are now set to eliminate those panels.
Changing the House rules to do so was recommended yesterday by the rules committee on a 6-4 vote, with all six Democrats in favor and all four Republicans, including Minority Leader Gene Chandler of Bartlett, opposed.
The full House will take up that and other proposed rule changes Jan. 2.
The state Constitution grants citizens the right to petition the Legislature for “redress of the wrongs done them, and of the grievances they suffer.” The Redress of Grievances Committee was revived after the 2010 election to handle those petitions, with most coming from people unhappy with the outcomes of family-court cases.
The committee heard 28 complaints, and determined that 20 of them were valid and seven were unfounded (one was withdrawn). But Democrats and other critics dismissed the panel as a kind of kangaroo court.
Rep. Lucy Weber, a Walpole Democrat and member of the rules panel, said the Legislature doesn’t have the power to rewrite individual court decisions. The normal legislative process can be used to correct problems in state government, she said.
“To do otherwise seems to me to be bad policy, but on an individual level, unspeakably cruel to people who come to the Legislature thinking that their individual problem is going to be overturned or overwritten by this Legislature, and who then find that that’s not going to happen,” Weber said.
But Rep. Pam Tucker, a Greenland Republican who served as deputy speaker during the last session, said both committees served valid purposes. The constitutional review panel helped determine whether proposed laws were constitutional, she said, and the redress committee provided a forum for citizen complaints that could reveal real problems with state government.
“This is a committee that would help us find those problems,” Tucker said. Without it, she added to applause from some in the audience, “Where (is) their recourse going to be, if we take away this constitutional right from them?”
Several dozen people turned out to yesterday’s meeting and more than a half-dozen videotaped the proceedings. But the committee didn’t take any public testimony, which Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff, a Penacook Democrat, said was in line with the panel’s past practices.
“I’m really disappointed that members didn’t get a chance to speak,”said Rep. George Lambert, a Litchfield Republican who served on the redress committee, outside the meeting. “I know I was here with some information about Redress of Grievances. I prepared an entire set of written testimony and things like that. It’s supposed to be a rules hearing, and I didn’t even get a chance to speak. So it’s really frustrating.”
Other changes recommended yesterday by the House rules panel included:
∎ Eliminating the House Committee on Legislative Administration’s three subcommittees, on elections, mileage and enrolled bills.
∎ Requiring a full House vote, instead of a vote by the rules committee, to issue a subpoena.
∎ Allowing the House to table a proposed constitutional amendment by a majority vote instead of requiring a three-fifths vote, which is the threshold for passing an amendment.
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or email@example.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)