Amendment would secure local democratic and environmental rights


February 21, 2016

Michelle Sanborn

CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE: On February 18, for the first time in the United States, a state legislative committee held a public hearing on a Community Rights state constitutional amendment. Community members from across New Hampshire testified before the state’s House Legislative Administration Committee in support of the measure, which would empower community members and local governments to ban unsustainable development projects, and establish stronger environmental protections than in place at the state and federal level.

Article 40, the Right of Local Community Self-Government (CACR 14), was drafted by the New Hampshire Community Rights Network (NHCRN) in partnership with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). The measure is sponsored by House Representative Susan Emerson (R – Cheshire, District 11) and co-sponsored by Representatives Suzanne Smith, Mary Cooney, Stephen Darrow, and Wayne Burton, as well as Senator Jeanie Forrester.

The amendment is one of a growing number of rights-based constitutional amendments gaining momentum in states where communities are seeking to establish and protect their right to make the governing decisions in the places they live. Working through CELDF and their respective Community Rights Networks, Colorado and Oregon residents are also advancing Community Rights amendments, working through the citizen initiative process, aiming for the November 2016 ballot.

At the New Hampshire legislative hearing, there was a standing room only crowd of residents from communities facing unsustainable projects such as the proposed Northern Pass industrial energy project that would cut through the Mt. Washington National Forest, fracked gas pipelines, corporate water withdrawals, and industrial wind.  They spoke ardently of their rights to protect the places where they live from harm. CELDF has assisted communities across New Hampshire to prohibit such projects by advancing local Community Bills of Rights laws, which assert the right to democratic, community self-government – including the right to protect clean air and water.

The NHCRN is now bringing communities together to advance Community Rights protections to the state level.

At the hearing, Michelle Sanborn, CELDF’s Community Rights Organizer and the NHCRN’s Coordinator, stated, “If this committee, along with the House and Senate, do not approve of the New Hampshire Community Rights Amendment that expands and protects rights for people, communities, and nature, then in reality the people of New Hampshire are denied a legitimate democratic opportunity to cast our vote on a matter that directly affects and concerns the health, safety, and welfare of our communities, our children, and the natural environment.”

Testimony from supporters of the amendment went well past the allotted 45 minutes for testimony. Lobbyists representing the oil and gas industry attended the hearing; one testified, the only person to do so in opposition to the amendment. Claiming they  needed to move forward with other proposed legislation, the committee closed the hearing and ushered Community Rights supporters from the hearing room.

However, once the amendment supporters left the room, rather than moving to the next scheduled hearing, the Legislative Administration Committee held an executive session and voted unanimously to kill the rights-based state constitutional amendment.

The prime sponsor of the amendment, Representative Susan Emerson, stated, “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 their rights.”

Despite the committee’s actions, the amendment may next be advanced to a floor debate.

Community Rights supporters in New Hampshire and across the United States are determined to advance these rights, regardless of efforts to quash them. They are collaborating with CELDF, statewide Community Rights Networks, and local communities to do so.

CELDF’s National Organizing Director Ben Price stated, “We have no illusions about the lengths some members of our government and industry will go to keep communities from democratic, local self-governance. Regardless of what happens to CACR 14, this is not the end. It is just the beginning.”

Additional Information

About CELDF — Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is a non-profit, public interest law firm providing free and affordable legal services to communities facing threats to their local environment, local agriculture, local economy, and quality of life. Its mission is to build sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature.


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