Intense and thorough

Intense and thorough

A freshman legislator describes reporting, interrogation, and other processes from inside the State House

ROCKINGHAM — As we near the end of the session, I have been thinking how to give you a flavor of what it's like to be a legislator.

Prior to being a member of the Legislature, I had never been aware of the process of bills being reported. The reporter of the bill has a crucial role and is responsible for informing the House of the intent of the bill and how the provisions will address the problem.

The process starts with first reading. This is when a bill is introduced to the House and assigned by the Speaker to the committee of jurisdiction.

If it is a policy issue, it will go to a policy committee, such as Health Care. Testimony is taken, the bill is likely revised or amended, and if there is money attached to it, it will go to Appropriations. If there is a fee or a tax attached to it, it will go to Ways and Means.

Those committees will analyze the implications and make recommendations in their reports to the House. The main communication of the intent and provisions of the bill takes place at second reading. This report to the full body is done by the bill reporter (or reporters, if it is a long and complex bill).

Being the reporter of a bill can be extremely stressful. The reporters have to be completely knowledgeable about every aspect and implication of the bill, from the intent to its provisions. They need to be familiar with every witness testimony.

Once the report is completed, the reporter is then “interrogated” by any member of the body. The interrogation goes through the Speaker of the House. Members never talk directly to each other; they never mention other legislators or witnesses by name. The goal is to keep it impersonal and keep the focus on the issue before us.

When the bill passes the House in second reading, it is referred for third reading. Questions that were not answered during second reading can be answered prior to third reading, which takes place the next legislative day.

Once the bill passes third reading, it is referred either to the Senate, or, if it's a bill that's already been through the Senate, to the Executive Branch.

One afternoon, I listened to the second reading debate on a bill titled “An act making miscellaneous changes in education law” (S. 115) presented by the Education Committee. The debate went on for over two hours, including on an amendment offered by a member not on the committee.

The 20-page bill is expansive, addressing issues such as upgrading financial software for all school districts, creating a work group to support our libraries, requiring availability of menstrual products in our junior and high schools, and other provisions.

The bill had 18 sections, and four people reported on it. The House Education Committee heard from more than 36 witnesses. The interrogation was intense and thorough.

The amendment was discussed in depth and failed, and then the bill passed by a voice vote.

Also up for second reading recently was a very important bill, S.20, banning PFAS (perfluoroalkyl substances) and other chemicals like it from various aspects of our lives.

These substances remain in our environment and in our bodies forever. They are toxic and carcinogenic and can be found in many places like in ski wax, in firefighting foam, and in the carpets that our babies crawl on.

The reporter of the bill, a freshman, did an incredible job with this extremely complex topic. He expected significant interrogation and, although he got several questions, it was very benign.

The House then passed the bill on a roll call, which meant that each member was called by name and had to vote “yes” or “no.” These votes were recorded in the House Journal. I voted “yes” on this bill, and I'm proud to say the House passed it unanimously.

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So you may be wondering if I will report a bill. The answer is “yes!”

S. 22 is a six-page bill that came to the House Health Care Committee from the Senate. It is a consumer protection bill asking clinicians who provide stem cell treatments not approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration to obtain informed consent.

I was asked to report the bill by the chair of my committee because of my health care background. My report is written, but I haven't delivered it yet - I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will be a kind interrogation.

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