The State of New Hampshire has a republican form of government modeled after the Government of the United States, with three branches: the executive, consisting of the Governor of New Hampshire and the other elected constitutional officers; the legislative, called the New Hampshire General Court, which includes the Senate and the House of Representatives; and the judicial, consisting of the Supreme Court of New Hampshire and lower courts.
The New Hampshire state capital is Concord. The capital was Portsmouth during colonial times, and Exeter from 1775 to 1808. The Governor's office, some other executive offices, and both legislative chambers are in the State House. The Legislative Office Building is behind the State House in this photograph; the state Supreme Court and other agencies are in an office park on the other (east) side of the Merrimack River.
The 1st Congressional District consists of Carroll and Strafford counties; Alton, Barnstead, Belmont, Center Harbor, Gilford, Gilmanton, Laconia, Meredith and New Hampton in Belknap County; Bedford, Goffstown, Manchester and Merrimack in Hillsborough County; Hooksett in Merrimack County; and all of Rockingham County, except Atkinson, Salem and Windham.
The 2nd Congressional District is the remainder of the state, lying to the west and north of the 1st District.
(For historical districts, see here.)
|Chamber||District||Official||Party||Term began||Term expires|
|U.S. Senate||Jeanne Shaheen||Democrat||2009||2021|
|U.S. Senate||Maggie Hassan||Democrat||2017||2023|
|U.S. House||1st||Carol Shea-Porter||Democrat||2017||2019|
|U.S. House||2nd||Ann McLane Kuster||Democrat||2013||2019|
Based on the total number of its Congressional delegation, New Hampshire has four votes in the Electoral College. The state awards its electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis.
New Hampshire is governed by its constitution of 1783. The constitution is in two parts, a Bill of Rights and a longer Form of Government. Unlike the United States Constitution, amendments to the New Hampshire Constitution are not set out afterward but edit the text. It is one of the few state constitutions that acknowledge the right of revolution.
The state constitution is one of the few that do not expressly require public schools. However, in 1993, the state Supreme Court ruled in the first Claremont suit that a constitutional duty to "cherish the interest of...public schools" required the state to define and fund equal public schools statewide. The legislature complied slowly; in 2008, the Court ended its supervisory role because the original laws had been replaced, but it did not reverse its earlier finding.
The state constitution has many expressions concerning the character of the people and the criteria that should guide their election of officials. It also forbids the legislature from appropriating pensions for longer than the current year, although state employees now do have conventional employment contracts and a retirement system deemed "deferred compensation."
The current codification of state law under the constitution is the New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated of 1955.
New Hampshire is the only state with no law requiring wearing of seat belts nor use of motorcycle helmets. (The law now does make these demands of those under 18.) A driver does not need to have vehicle insurance but must provide "proof of financial responsibility" to the state after an accident. Failure to do so can result in loss of driving privileges until the injured party is paid in full for their loss. Unlike the neighboring states, New Hampshire has no "bottle bill."
New Hampshire had no law against having an open container of alcohol in a car until 1990, though it has since cracked down on alcohol in numerous ways, including a 2008 enactment that makes underage possession of alcohol include possessing it inside one's body.
New Hampshire is a constitutional carry state, allowing open and concealed carry of all guns while not requiring any permits. New Hampshire also allows the protection of oneself or property with stand your ground laws expanding the castle doctrine.
Civil unions became legal in New Hampshire at the start of 2008, giving all the rights associated with marriage in the state to same-sex couples. On January 1, 2010, same-sex marriage became legal in New Hampshire, overriding the civil union law.
The state retains the death penalty for specific categories of homicide. The last execution was conducted in 1939. In 2008, a jury voted to impose the death penalty for the first time since 1959.
New Hampshire was the last state in the country to require public kindergarten, which was mandated in 2007.
Rules that agencies issue, as authorized by statute, are collected in the New Hampshire Code of Administrative Rules.
The General Court is the third-largest legislature in the English speaking world, behind only the British Parliament and the United States Congress, respectively; and the New Hampshire House of Representatives is the fourth-largest individual chamber (exceeded in number by the United States House of Representatives, the British House of Commons and the British House of Lords). The legislature at one time grew to 443 members due to population growth, but a 1942 constitutional amendment set its size at from 375 through 400 members. There is one Representative for about every 3,300 residents. In order for the U.S. Congress to have the same representation, there would need to be approximately 99,000 Representatives.
The legislature apportions legislative seats based on the decennial U.S. Census. The problem of allocating 400 legislators to 259 municipalities and ensuring equal representation is solved with floterial districts. For example, a city due more than five representatives but not quite six might elect five representing the city itself, and one more in a floterial district that includes some neighboring towns.
State legislators are paid $200 for their two-year term, plus mileage, effectively making them volunteers. The only other benefits are free use of toll roads and of state-owned resorts. A 2007 survey found that nearly half the members of the House are retired, with an average age over 60.
The Executive Branch consists of the Governor, Executive Council, and state agencies. The executive branch implements and enforces the laws of the state. The Governor is the supreme executive and is afforded the title of His or Her Excellency, though the Constitution only provides for "His Excellency".
Unlike most other states, the Governor shares executive power with the Executive Council, which the Governor chairs. The Governor and Executive Council must concur on state contracts over $5,000, high-level agency appointments, and pardons. The Governor's veto power and command of the National Guard are not dependent on the Executive Council. The Governor and Councilors are elected to two-year terms. New Hampshire and Vermont are the only states that still elect governors to two-year, rather than four-year, terms. Agency appointments are generally for terms of four or five years, which means that a New Hampshire governor is unable to form a new cabinet when first taking office.
New Hampshire does not have a Lieutenant Governor as most states do. The Senate President serves as Acting Governor whenever the governor is out of the state or otherwise unable to perform the duties of the office. After the Senate President, the Speaker of the House, Secretary of State and State Treasurer are next in line to serve as Acting Governor.
The state's highest and the sole appellate court is the New Hampshire Supreme Court. The Chief Justice is the head of the judiciary and, with the other justices of the supreme court, oversees the judicial branch. New Hampshire has three additional courts and one division:
The Democratic Party, the Libertarian Party, and the Republican Party are the only official parties, for which the state lets a voter register, holds a primary election, and gives a column on the general-election ballot. Minor parties must poll 4% in a statewide or Congressional election to become official parties, and they lose that designation if they cease to poll 4%. The Libertarian Party had official party status from 1990 to 1994, but did not regain it until the 2016 election.
A voter who is registered in an official political party cannot vote in a different party's primary election. A voter who is registered "independent" can vote in any party's primary, but is automatically registered in the party in which he or she votes. The voter can change registration at the polls after voting, and can also change registration in periodic meetings of a town's Supervisors of the Checklist or at the City Clerk's office. These rules are designed to impede the casting of a cross-over vote for a different party, which may have the goal of sabotaging its nomination. Registering in a party constrains a voter's choice of ballot, but demonstrates support for the chosen party, and is a prerequisite to being a candidate of that party.
Nominations for all other partisan offices are decided in a separate primary election held in September of election years. In Presidential election cycles, this is the second primary election held in New Hampshire.
New Hampshire comprises 13 cities and 221 towns, plus 25 unincorporated places. These governments conform to Dillon's Rule; that is, they are creatures of the state whose powers are limited to those expressly granted to them by law (NH RSA Title III). Municipalities also have powers necessarily implied by those express powers, and those essential to the local government's existence, but this authority is narrowly construed, in contrast to the practice in most of New England. For statistics on New Hampshire municipalities and comparisons to municipalities elsewhere in New England, see New England town.
In towns, the executive power is the Board of Selectmen, except that some towns, especially larger ones, are governed by a Town Council. The Town Meeting is effectively the municipal legislature, of which every registered voter is a member. Town Meeting approves, amends, or rejects the items on the warrant, which must be published in advance. Articles can be placed on the warrant by the town's executive board or by citizen petition.
Town Meeting meets annually, normally on the second Tuesday in March, to set the year's budget. Special Town Meetings can be called to deal with urgent transactions. The municipal election, which selects town officers for the coming year and may approve changes to local law such as the zoning ordinance, is thought of as a session of the Town Meeting.
Since 1995, a town may elect to govern itself by Official Ballot Referenda. This procedure is known as SB-2. In such towns, Town Meeting is a "deliberative" session that decides the wording of each warrant article; the binding decision is taken by secret ballot at the same time that the officers for the next year are elected. A 60% majority is required to adopt or to drop the SB-2 procedure.
Deliberative sessions are less well attended, in bodies that have adopted SB-2, than are plenary Town Meetings in bodies that have not adopted SB-2, as their decisions are not final. However, the final vote by secret ballot attracts more voters than Town Meetings do because of the shorter time requirement, and absentees can vote.
Deliberative sessions have been charged with "sabotaging" the intent of a ballot question; for example, changing a warrant article, "To see if the Town will raise and appropriate (amount) for (purpose)" to merely read, "To see." A 2011 law barred Deliberative Town Meetings from deleting the subject matter of a warrant article. In 2016, petitioners in Exeter submitted an article to place on the ballot an advisory "vote of no confidence" in a school official, and the deliberative session removed the word "no".
School districts are separate from municipalities and, if governed by a Town Meeting, have a separate budget and agenda and an elected moderator, who may be different from the municipal moderator.
A school district can be governed by Official Ballot Referenda just as a town can.
Towns often combine into School Administrative Units (SAUs), at least for the management of high schools and sometimes for all the schools. If a town is a member of an SAU but operates its own elementary school, voters have a say in both organizations.
New Hampshire is divided into 10 counties. Counties have a sheriff's department for rural law enforcement and a jail, and may have a nursing home, an extension service for farmers, social services, and other services. In the smaller towns and unincorporated places, the county may provide services that are usually municipal, such as health inspection of restaurants.
The legislature of a county is the County Convention, a single chamber consisting of the "delegation" of all the state representatives elected from that county. The county's executive power is an elected Board of Commissioners.
From time to time, it is proposed that county government be abolished and its functions transferred to the state or to municipalities.
All of the above local governments are funded primarily by a property tax. The government budget, as voted by the county legislature, the Board of Aldermen or City Council, or the town or school-district town meeting, is divided into the assessed value of all property in the respective region, so that each property owner pays a share based on the property value. Some or all of the tax is waived for certain types of property (for example, through religious, educational, and charitable exemptions) and for certain classes of taxpayer (such as the poor, elderly, and veterans). Large parcels will be assessed on their current use rather than their "best and highest use" if the owner cedes development rights. A property owner receives a tax bill that breaks out millage rates that apply to the following:
The appraisal of a property is controversial, as it directly affects the property tax. The state requires town-wide reappraisal at least every five years, typically conducted by professional consultants, to ensure that the valuations follow gradual changes in the real estate market and the general price of real estate. The municipality allows a property owner to challenge a reassessment.
If assessments in a town were uniformly increased by 10%, the millage would decrease by 10% and the tax to be paid would be unchanged, assuming that the money budgeted by the various government bodies were unchanged. Even this might be controversial, as the lower millage might eventually be used as an argument for new spending.
Separately, the fact that the assessment is an estimate of market value means that it reflects intangible aspects of the property, a phenomenon criticized as the so-called view tax.
New Hampshire's operating budget is set on a two-year basis, the latest period, July 1, 2007 through June 30, 2009, being FY (Fiscal Year) 2008 and FY2009. The FY2008 summary is as follows:
|Health and social services||$1,878,467,014|
|Administration of justice and public protection||$497,656,860|
|Resource protection and development||$232,532,423|
|Fish and Game funds||$12,364,494|
New Hampshire does not have a general income tax nor a general sales tax like many other U.S. states. It does have the following taxes:
Taxation is one of the more controversial issues in the politics of New Hampshire.
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