By Rep. Susan Emerson
Thursday, February 25, 2016
(Published in print: Tuesday, March 1, 2016)
As the primary sponsor of CACR 14, providing that the people of New Hampshire have the right of local community self-government, a proposed amendment to our State Constitution, I want to speak with you about the need for this improvement to our organic law.I want to address the obstacles municipalities face when, in good conscience and with a sense of deep responsibility to their communities, to future generations, and to the natural environment on which their health and safety depends, they are blocked from living up to those responsibilities by habits of law and jurisprudence that seem to them unresponsive and, frankly, unjust.
When we in the Legislature and the good people in our judiciary treat community governments as simple subdivisions of the state by preempting and overturning local laws that the people or their local representatives deem necessary for their safety and well-being, we sometimes inadvertently trespass upon sacred rights retained by the people.
The citizens never delegated to us the authority to deprive them of the power and authority to legislate locally for the protection of unalienable rights and the health, safety and welfare of the human and natural communities that dwell within the jurisdiction of our state’s municipalities.
Let me be clear that this proposed constitutional amendment will not strip from the state the power to override local laws that interfere with mere matters of legitimate statewide concern. It is not written to eliminate state preemption of local laws, but to temper that exercise of state power by making immune from preemption those local laws that specifically protect unalienable, basic rights.
It seems beyond imagination that any member of this distinguished body would support habits of governance that would be destructive to the unalienable rights of the people or deny their authority to engage democratically for the protection of those rights. And yet, in the eyes of many constituents, whom we serve and do not have authority to command, the power of preemption over local laws too frequently creates this very outcome.
Corporate industries, be they big wind, extension cords, pipelines, electronic voting software, smart meters, big box stores, water bottling, etc., use the same playbook. The playbook they use involves clever “truths,” financial payoffs, dividing and conquering the communities of New Hampshire by picking winners and losers, and using whatever means possible to bully communities into hosts for their profit-making projects. They will continue this approach until the People say, “No more!”
Town meeting 2016
Some New Hampshire communities have done just that by enacting a rights-based ordinance that declares their inherent and unalienable right of self-governance to protect the health, safety and welfare of residents and natural ecosystems by prohibiting corporate activities that would threaten their right to protect their communities from becoming unwilling resource colonies. Sugar Hill, Easton, Plymouth, Barnstead, Nottingham, Atkinson, Grafton, Danbury, Alexandria, and Hebron currently have RBOs in place, with Barrington and Mason looking to enact RBOs during their 2016 town meetings. These communities and others, have become increasingly aware of the structure of the system used by corporations to bully communities into compliance using state and federal laws lobbied by industry lawyers to override their right to protect their health, safety and welfare.
This is why I have sponsored the proposed Amendment CACR 14 to the New Hampshire Constitution that would add Article 40 Right of Local Community Self-Government to the Bill of Rights part of our constitution. This amendment simply recognizes an inherent and unalienable right we were all born with: the right to self-govern.
The purpose of CACR 14 is to provide new guards against the oppression of the people, wittingly or unwittingly, by a central government, and to secure their right to chart their own course, where their fundamental rights are at issue, for the future security of their communities, their homes, their families and future generations.
This amendment has received bipartisan support from cosponsors and constituents from communities all across the state. As an elected official, I am representing my constituents because I see the value of presenting to the people the choice to have their right of local community self-government recognized and respected within our state constitution.
I have witnessed how the interests of big corporations are considered and the rights of my constituents are ignored, and how often wealthy corporations threaten to bankrupt towns that stand up to them in an attempt to protect themselves.
The people are the experts regarding what is best for the water they drink, the air they breathe, the soil that grows the food they eat, how they vote, their energy resources, and what is best for their local economy. Sustainable environmental and economic development can be achieved only when the people affected by governing decisions are the ones who make such decisions. Local lawmaking does not mean the mere local administration of state-made regulations. Such ministerial governance, where the local officers act as the administrative arm of the central government, was justifiably rejected by our patriot forebears, including Sam Adams and Thomas Paine.
Local administration of laws not made by the people they govern was then, and remains now, a mockery on the unalienable right of self-governance by the people.
To my colleagues who might be concerned that such language challenges federal court supremacy, let me be clear: It is the securing of the inalienable rights of the people that justifies the existence of government, including the courts. These rights are the highest law, and no court can legitimately rule against or create new legal constructs that violate those rights.
To reiterate Article 3 of the New Hampshire Bill of Rights, “When men enter into a state of society, they surrender up some of their natural rights to that society, in order to ensure the protection of others; and, without such an equivalent, the surrender is void.” What is done by the courts or any branch of government to endanger the natural rights retained by the people is void.
What cannot be voided, by the people or their governments, are the unalienable rights that belong to them and to future generations. Not by us through preemptive laws, not by the courts through creative interpretations of written law, nor through procedural denials of those rights, as with Dillon’s Rule which purports to strip local governments of the authority to represent the self-governing rights of the people in protection of their health and safety.
The people of New Hampshire rely on the General Court as their representatives to place before the people needed reforms. Article 32 of our state Bill of Rights tells us that, “The people have a right, in an orderly and peaceable manner, to assemble and consult upon the common good, give instructions to their representatives, and to request of the legislative body, by way of petition or remonstrance, redress of the wrongs done them, and of the grievances they suffer.”
We have been asked by the people of New Hampshire communities to place this amendment before them for a vote. Article 8 of our state Bill of Rights says plainly that, “All power residing originally in, and being derived from, the people, all the magistrates and officers of government are their substitutes and agents, and at all times accountable to them.” Because we take these responsibilities to be our sacred duty, we the sponsors of this proposed amendment, bring it to the attention of the General Court.
We hereby call on every New Hampshire lawmaker to support referring CACR 14 to the people for their consideration and public vote.
Rep. Susan Emerson (R-Rindge) represents Cheshire County District 11.