New Hampshire:
Opening the Dam of Local Democracy


Many have the impression that New Hampshire, with its town meeting form of local governance, is closest to what this nation’s Founding Fathers envisioned and experienced when they spoke of “local democracy.” Here, like nowhere else, people participate directly in governing – in practice, not just in concept. Every citizen is a local legislator at town meeting.

Yet as Granite State citizens have discovered when they’ve endeavored to locally curtail corporate water withdrawals, fossil fuel pipeline infrastructure, unsustainable green-energy projects, toxic waste dumping, and water contamination, local democratic control has been stripped away by the combined effort of legislators who adopt corporate-lobbied laws, and the courts that uphold them.

Join the fight and become a champion for New Hampshire!

New Hampshire – like the vast majority of states – is under Dillon’s rule. For those unfamiliar with the term, it comes from an 1868 Iowa court ruling (upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1907), stating that local governments can only do what the state expressly permits them to do. The state is the parent, the municipality is the child. It’s a rule that dates back to the immediate aftermath of the Civil War.

It’s also a rule that seems contradictory to the spirit of the of the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Under the 10th Amendment, in theory, the powers to act democratically should be enlarged as they get closer to the people. Yet Dillon’s Rule permits state preemption to act as a dam against local democracy.

I wanted to protect my kids. I wanted to protect our community, and the beautiful, pristine rural environment that we came to love.
- Michelle Sanborn, New Hampshire Champion

For over a decade, communities across New Hampshire have partnered with CELDF to advance democratic and environmental rights, and protect their communities from harm. Nearly a dozen communities have adopted CELDF-drafted rights-based ordinances (RBOs). Today, even more communities are looking to CELDF and the New Hampshire Community Rights Network (NHCRN) to advance their rights and challenge our legal and governing system. Further, they are now driving forward a first-of-its-kind Community Rights state constitutional amendment.

Earlier this year, that amendment was debated and voted on in New Hampshire’s House of Representatives.

Michelle Sanborn, CELDF community organizer for New England

The proposed amendment, drafted with CELDF’s assistance and advanced by the New Hampshire Community Rights Network (NHCRN), recognizes the authority of people in towns throughout the state to enact local rights-based laws protecting individual and communities’ rights. It empowers people to use their local governing authority to protect the health, safety, and welfare of both humans and natural environments. It removes communities’ vulnerability to state and corporate power, safeguarding them from corporate exploitation, as well as state preemption and oppression at the hands of the very government that is charged to protect them.

Nine lawmakers championed the NH Community Rights Amendment, giving it bi-partisan sponsorship. It received support from a legislative subcommittee with a recommendation of “ought-to-pass”. And in its first attempt on the House floor, it received support from one-third of the body present and voting – more than halfway to the required three-fifths majority needed for advancement to the state Senate.

The NH Community Rights Amendment will be reintroduced in the 2019 legislative session because our quality of life, indeed our very lives and those of our children and future generations, depend on it.

Stay tuned for our next article Monica’s Story: We Don’t Want Any of the Harm – In Newmarket, “ground-zero” for two pediatric cancer clusters, a mother urges the town council to pass a local bill of rights protecting their drinking water sources.

You can become a champion TOO! help Community Rights spread statewide in New Hampshire.

Here’s what your help can do in 2019:

  • $25 covers postage for 2 bundles of 50 Common Sense newspapers.
  • $50 ensures a community member can attend a Community Rights workshop, teaching the tools needed to confront corporate control and state interference on a powerful single front: people’s and nature’s inalienable rights.
  • $100 covers travel expenses for our community organizer to speak at an event educating Granite Staters on Community Rights at the state level.
  • $250 allows us to print and distribute informational handouts on Community Rights and the state amendment process.
  • $500 allows us to provide 10 scholarships to community members to attend a Community Rights workshop.
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