You live in New Hampshire, you’re pro-life, and you want your legislators to get the message. Here are the nuts-and-bolts of getting that job done with the help of the General Court website, which covers the state House and Senate. Bookmark this post so you can refer to it during this session.
I will create a separate page on this blog with the same information, so you can find it easily in the blog’s menu anytime.
No other voters in the nation are closer to their elected representatives than those of us in New Hampshire. Twenty-four senators, and 400 state representatives: you probably already know at least one of them for your town. If you don’t, it’s likely a simple matter to meet one. Take advantage of that.
Big change in 2023, reflecting the fact that the House is split 201-198: Most House committees are evenly split, with eight to ten members from each party. I expect some interesting outcomes.
By the way, I usually write “reps” rather than representatives. That does not reflect any disrespect for the position of a House member. It’s a matter of efficiency, not flippancy. When I’m flippant, you’ll know it.
If this information looks familiar, you’ve already got the tools. Let sharpen them.
Ways to communicate
- Face-to-face, neighbor to neighbor. In most states, with smaller representative bodies, this can be nearly impossible. In New Hampshire, it’s essential. Getting to know a rep as a neighbor, as someone whose kids go to the same school as yours, or as a town-team parent will yield benefits that go way beyond the representative-constituent relationship. When neighbor speaks to neighbor face-to-face about a problem, it’s personal.
- Face-to-face, constituent to representative. This is the next best way to build a relationship with your elected officials and thus to get your message across. As important as legislative hearings and floor sessions may be, that’s the tip of the iceberg as far as policy is concerned. Especially where the life issues are concerned, I’d say that 80% of elected officials have already made up their minds on a bill before the hearings ever begin. Private conversations long before the hearings have helped them form and cement their inclinations and beliefs. It’s imperative that you become part of those conversations.
- Phone calls. Keep them courteous and brief. Remember that for state reps, the phone number you see on the House roster is likely to be their cell number or even their home number. These people don’t have offices. Don’t abuse their openness to their constituents.
- Email. State-level elected officials get an overwhelming volume of email – as in “thousands” – when life-issue bills come up. Two things to remember: reps need to hear from you, and they’re not likely to read very far into an email. Properly used, email can get you on the record with a rep. Your subject line has to convey your message in just a few words, such as “from a constituent: please support HB xxx.” Always include your contact information in case the recipient wants to follow up.
- Handwritten letters and postcards. Next to private conversations, this may be the best way to express your concerns, especially if you have a story to tell or detailed information to convey. An email will be a drop in the bucket. A handwritten or printed message delivered with courtesy and compassion will have more impact. Think in terms of how you can make their jobs easier by equipping them with persuasive information and anecdotes.
- Participating in hearings online and/or in person. Sometimes, only showing up will do. A hearing on a critical piece of legislation is going to attract press and social media coverage, and don’t let any elected official tell you they don’t pay attention to that. Believe me, they do. Your presence at a hearing is a message in itself. So is your online sign-in. The pro/con numbers will be read into the record.
The basic legislative website: identifying members
Spend a few minutes exploring the General Court website (gencourt.state.nh.us). “General Court” is simply the formal name for the elected officials in New Hampshire’s legislative branch.
Note that a separate website operated by a non-government group, gencourtmobile.com, is also very handy, and has a feature letting you follow any piece of legislation throughout its process.
- New Hampshire House members page (gencourt.state.nh.us/house/members): you can select your town from a drop-down menu and find out the name and contact information for each of your state representative. Your town or ward might have only one rep or more than a dozen. Make sure you know who they are, regardless of party or voting record. Each and every one of them is accountable to you.
- New Hampshire Senate members (gencourt.state.nh.us/senate/members/wml.aspx): select your town from the drop-down menu to get your senator’s name and contact information.
- Finding bills: the left side of the General Court homepage will help you look up a bill by its number, a keyword (text), or sponsor’s name. I’ll be covering certain bills in detail on this blog, but with hundreds actually under consideration, you might be interested in others. This General Court homepage is your portal to all of them.
- The House standing committees (gencourt.state.nh.us/house/committees/standingcommittees.aspx) page will give you a link to each policy committee – Education, Judiciary, Health and Human Services, and so on. That’s where to find the names of each committee member.
- Likewise, the Senate has a committee page (gencourt.state.nh.us/senate/committees/senate_committees.aspx).
The House and Senate calendars, published weekly in printable PDF format, list all the public hearings for the coming week. The calendars are usually available online on Thursday evenings. Each chamber (House and Senate) maintains a digital calendar as well.
Starting this year, you can subscribe to have the calendars and journals delivered to your inbox as they’re published. Very handy. Look for the “subscribe” links on the House and Senate sites.
Hearings: in person and online
While you need to attend a hearing in person in order to offer spoken testimony, you can listen to hearings online. Click on the House or Senate digital calendar to find the committee or bill whose hearing you want, and you’ll find a link to the livestream.
Testifying on bills, and the critically-important remote sign-in procedure
If you want to give oral testimony to a committee, you need to get yourself to Concord. Your presence, especially with likeminded neighbors, can make a powerful statement even if you don’t say a word. That’s not your only way to testify, though.
You can sign up remotely online to register your opinion to committee members on a specific bill. This is a very important development in public participation, and it was triggered by the need for remote participation during Covid. During a hearing, the committee clerk will read aloud the tally of online sign-ins, pro and con. If a life-issue bill has 600 people registering one way and only 30 registering the other, that’s going to be news.
Remote sign-in on a bill is available as soon as the bill is posted in the calendar, and you should sign in no later than 30 minutes before the scheduled start of a hearing to make sure the committee clerk has your name.
- Become familiar with the House sign-in form.
- Become familiar with the Senate sign-in form. The Senate site also provides detailed information on how to testify either in-person or remotely.
When you fill out the online sign-up form, you should get a confirmation page with instructions for submitting written testimony if you want to indicate more than simply support/oppose.
Anyone – whether testifying in person, signing up remotely, or doing neither – can submit written testimony to any committee on a bill being heard by that committee. If you email the committee at its address (remember those committee pages I mentioned above), the message will automatically go to each committee member. You can also use postal mail sent to a committee or its individual members, which might make your message stand out. Every elected official is flooded with emails, particularly when the topic is a life issue.
Submitting testimony that can be read by the public
This is distinct from emailing the committee, as described in the previous paragraph. That can still be done, and your message will go to each committee member. The link in this paragraph will not only send your testimony to the committee but also make it readily available to the general public, where your personal stories and documentation will reach a larger audience.
Here is the link for submitting your public testimony: http://gencourt.state.nh.us/house/committees/remotetestimony/submitted_testimony.aspx
Brevity, clarity, charity
Here’s the classic threesome to keep in mind when you reach out to a legislator.
- Keep it brief. If you’re testifying in person, you’ll probably have no more than three minutes. If you have a relevant personal story, talk about that. Your written testimony can be longer, and it can include documentation or data to augment your spoken testimony. Once a bill gets to the full chamber for a vote and you’re contacting each one of your reps, it’s best to be brief once again. Let them know you’re happy to offer more information, but for the most part, they’ll only have time to read a short message.
- Keep it clear. Your call to action needs to come first: “please support [bill number] or “please oppose [bill number].” Don’t say “vote yes” or “vote no” unless you’re absolutely certain on what motion a committee or chamber is voting on; a “yes” vote on an “inexpedient to legislate” motion is a vote to kill a bill. If you want a bill to pass, say “please support this bill.” If you want a bill to be killed, say “please oppose this bill.”
- Keep it polite. Regardless of your feelings about a particular rep or the rep’s party, you’re talking to a neighbor whenever you communicate about a piece of legislation. Someday, your courteous message might be the one to spark a constructive one-on-one conversation with a rep who is usually not supportive of pro-life policy. Be courteous, say please, and send a thank-you when a rep gets a vote right.
Take a State House tour – and allow time to find parking
At some point, take a State House tour! Our State House is on the small side, it could use some tech upgrades, and it is not a modern building. Don’t be put off: it’s a gem. At a minimum, if you’re up there, stop at the Visitor Center on the first floor. The team there can give you a brochure for a self-guided tour, or you can book a tour in advance. Street address: 107 North Main Street, Concord.
If you’re going to a hearing in the Legislative Office Building (LOB), it’s across State Street from the rear of the State House. Street address: 33 North State Street, Concord.
There’s a pedestrian tunnel connecting the LOB and the State House, which can be handy if you have business in both places. There’s a cafeteria down there at the State House end.
Parking in Concord near the State House can be a challenge. However much time you think it’ll take to get to Concord, add another fifteen minutes for finding parking and then walking to the State House or LOB. The city of Concord has a web page dedicated to downtown parking which includes a map of parking areas along with information on the handy Pay by Phone app (requiring a smartphone). If you don’t use the smartphone app, be sure to bring quarters. The city enforces its parking regulations.
For more information, contact your reps
Constituents who wants to learn more about state government can ask one of their reps, after looking up a representative’s name and contact information. It’s a good thing when a rep realizes someone’s interested in the process. It’s also a good way to initiate a conversation with an elected official, if you’ve never done so before.