Note: the COVID-19 restrictions of 2020 have included closing the State House to visitors. During the restrictions, hearings and votes are taking place online. Hopefully, the people’s State House will be open once again by the time the 2021 legislative session begins.
While the State House is closed, you can watch a video tour courtesy of C-SPAN.
Here’s what you need to know before you go to Concord to visit the New Hampshire State House or the Legislative Office Building (LOB). If you have a chance, treat yourself to a free State House tour; call the Visitor Center for more information at (603) 271-2154.
If you have any questions while you’re in the State House or LOB, you’ll find that staffers and legislators alike are very helpful. Remember that New Hampshire legislators are basically volunteers, earning only $100 per year for their service. They’re neighbors.
Location and parking
The State House and LOB are a few blocks west of I-93 exit 14 in Concord. From either direction getting off I-93, turn west (toward the golden dome, away from the Merrimack River). Go under the highway and through the next two traffic lights, then turn left onto Main Street. The State House is a block ahead on the right; the LOB is behind the State House, a block further away, on State Street.
Always allow at least ten minutes to find a parking space in downtown Concord, especially on days with House/Senate sessions or on days with hearings on high-profile bills. Read the City of Concord’s parking information; that page includes a useful map. Some spaces and garages have kiosks at which you’ll pay for parking time; those machines can take coins or credit/debit cards. If a space has a conventional meter, you’ll need quarters. The PayByPhone app (available from Google Play and the App Store) allows for cashless transactions.
At this writing (January 2020), on-street parking is $1 per hour, and garage parking is $0.50 per hour. Maximum time varies with meter location. I always pay for at least two hours, even if the hearing is only scheduled for 30 minutes. That allows for late hearings and for walking time from parking spot to hearing room.
Voice of experience here: if you get a ticket, you can pay it at the police station on Green Street, behind the LOB. I like to clear mine up before I head home.
In wintry weather, you’ll usually find the downtown sidewalks to be in worse shape than the sidewalks outside the State House/LOB. Choose your shoes accordingly.
For both the State House and the LOB, enter through the front door of the building. Exception: the State House wheelchair ramp is on Park Street, entering the building on its north side.
There is no security screening. May there never be a reason to change that. You may bring signs into the building as long as they’re not mounted on anything (i.e. no sticks or poles).
There’s a pedestrian tunnel connecting the State House and LOB, with a fine cafeteria at the State House end.
In both buildings, there are coat racks for public use in the hallways.
Attending a hearing
You can find out the hearing schedule for a bill you’re following by consulting the General Court (i.e. legislative) website, or you can get information from a group (or blog, for that matter) that is concerned with the bill.
Most hearings are scheduled for the Legislative Office Building on State Street, on the first, second, or third floors. A few committees meet in on the first floor of the State House. Only about 20 public seats are available in LOB rooms; standing is permitted but not in the area where the committee is seated. Occasionally, larger rooms (and rarely, the 400-seat Representatives Hall) are used if a hearing is expected to be well-attended, but always be prepared to stand for awhile.
If you want to register your opinion on a bill but do not wish to testify: Sign the committee’s sheet on the bill. It will be a blue sheet for a House hearing, and usually a white one for a Senate hearing. The sheets will be available on a table near public seating. You may see several sheets, one for each hearing scheduled that day; be sure to check the sheet’s heading for the correct bill number. Put your name, your town, and check off whether you’re supporting or opposing the bill. These sheets will become part of the public record for the bill, and your opinion definitely counts.
If you want to submit written testimony but not testify aloud: While a single copy of your statement is sufficient, do the committee clerk a favor and bring 20 copies for a House hearing and 10 copies for a Senate hearing. The material goes to the committee clerk, but you can hand it to any committee member who will pass it to the right person. Be sure your testimony at the top of the first page clearly includes your name, your town, the bill number, and whether you support or oppose the bill. You can use the format of a letter or memo addressed to the committee as a whole, or you can be less formal. I’ve seen testimony in handwritten notes.
You can also email a committee before or after the public hearing. See the General Court website for contact information.
If you want to give spoken testimony (with or without supplementary written material):
- You will fill out a pink card when you enter the hearing room. They are usually available next to the sign-in sheets described above. In addition to your identifying information, you’ll note on the card the bill number, whether you’re in support or opposed, and how long you estimate you’ll need to speak.
- It is up to the committee chair to determine how much time you’ll actually have to speak. Three to five minutes is typical.
- You can choose whether or not to take questions from legislators after you speak.
- If you have written testimony, don’t hand it in until you’re done speaking. That way, the legislators will be paying attention to you and not to your piece of paper.
- The general rule for all communication with legislators is keep it brief, keep it clear, and remember you’re talking to a neighbor (no matter how distressing that neighbor’s voting record might be). Courtesy counts.
- Personal stories are more persuasive than statistics, as a rule.
- If you have particular expertise in the subject of the bill, give your credentials when you introduce yourself at the beginning of your testimony.
After the hearing
The committee will vote on the bill in an executive session, which is open to the public although testimony will not be accepted. For House bills, executive sessions are usually held a week or more after the public hearing. The Senate has what I call “rolling execs,” where the committee can vote on a bill anytime, even immediately after its public hearing.
The committee can vote Ought to Pass (OTP) or Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL). Occasionally, the vote might be Interim Study or Retain/Re-Refer.
Then it’s time to contact your town/city’s state legislators (House or Senate) and urge them to vote the way you prefer: Ought to Pass if you want the bill to pass, or Inexpedient to Legislate if you want the bill to be killed.
House members have no offices, so the phone numbers they provide on the General Court site are their home or cell phones. Conduct yourself accordingly: brief, clear, courteous.
Each bill gets a vote in the full House or Senate (depending on where it originated). In New Hampshire, unlike other states, committees can’t kill bills. They can only make recommendations. Watch House and Senate calendars for a list of bills to be voted on at each House or Senate session.
Remember to thank legislators whose votes are constructive or who have helped you through the legislative process.