Editorial: An avalanche of bills – with a bunch of bad ones

Published: 1/16/2020 6:01:02 AM
Modified: 1/16/2020 6:00:10 AM

We believe, but cannot prove, that New Hampshire residents enjoy more democracy than citizens of any other place on Earth.

Many communities still hold town meetings where, usually on one day per year, every citizen of age can be a lawmaker. The state also boasts the third largest legislative body, 400 representatives and 24 senators, in the English-speaking world, roughly one for every 3,500 residents.

The wealth of lawmakers makes for a lot of legislation. The watchdog group Citizens Count estimates that in 2019 and 2020 legislators will consider some 1,800 bills. Some of them are about as useful as a screen door on a submarine, others legal in the eyes of their sponsors but not the law.

Here, starting with one that could have a direct effect on all media, including this newspaper, are a few that never should have seen the light of day.

House Bill 1157, sponsored by Brookline Republican Rep. Jack Flanagan would require media outlets to update stories that involve criminal offenses with findings of acquittal, dismissal or not guilty. Failure to do so would make the media outlet liable for any damages suffered by the person named in the story.

The proposed law is unconstitutional. It’s also unnecessary, since media outlets routinely update stories, including crime reports whenever possible. The law would bizarrely punish newspapers for not publishing something. And it would not change the status of news reports that, once placed online, could exist anywhere and theoretically forever.

Unconstitutional Round Two. A group of senators who should know better have proposed a constitutional amendment that would make burning an American flag illegal, other than to dispose of it with dignity when worn. Where have they been? The Supreme Court in 1989 ruled that burning the flag is a form of symbolic speech protected by the First Amendment.

Probably unconstitutional, definitely dumb.

Franklin Republican Rep. David Testerman filed a bill that would make it a criminal offense to wear a mask or disguise one’s face while attending or participating in a public demonstration. While the bill doesn’t say what constitutes a “public demonstration,” it does say that to violate the proposed law the mask wearer must have the “intent to hide his or her identity,” as opposed to, say, the intent to entertain by wearing a Donald Trump or Richard Nixon mask.

Several proposed bills concerning pets deserve to be scooped up and disposed of. One, by Manchester Democrat Ellen Read, would ban discrimination against pet owners by landlords and people who sell or lease their property. Owners would no longer be able to say “No Pets Allowed.” What happened to private property rights? What about tenants who may be allergic to pets or afraid of them? How many boa constrictors or pit bulls would a landlord have to accept?

Another well-meaning bill would mandate that any vehicle operator who has a “collision” with a cat report it police, as is required when a dog is the accident victim, and then wait at least 15 minutes for authorities to arrive. What about squirrels? And why was the cat in the road? It should be inside instead of out eating birds.

House Bill 1593 would require that every kayak on public waters fly a reflective flag atop a four-foot pole, a safety measure that could capsize paddlers when the pole hits branches or impale fellow kayakers in a spill.

The list of half-baked bills is a long one. Fortunately most are quickly shot down by the drafter’s fellow lawmakers, the citizen legislators of the Granite State.

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