Conscience Counts

By Representative Chris Balch

At a practice House session during my orientation as a legislator, a democrat and republican co-facilitated our group of freshmen. The democratic facilitator informed us that it was important to listen to committee reports, to consider your party’s leadership stance, and to listen to the floor debate on bills. The presenter went on to say, “Then vote your conscience.” The Republican facilitator shook his head at this and said, “One thing that really sets me off is when people don’t vote with the party leadership.”

A few weeks later, on Tuesday, February 19th, the Science, Technology, and Energy (STE) committee came to order in executive session to consider several bills. The bills, mostly focused either on developing renewable energy or reducing carbon emissions had been presented to us in hearings over the preceding weeks in rooms that were often packed full by constituent members of the public.

Our committee had listened to the presenter’s detailed explanations of their bills. We’d listened to hours of public testimony dissecting the pros and cons of each. We’d all listened to the same information. Yet, as bills came to a vote, the committee was divided along party lines.

This was surprising. Members of the STE committee are informed, intelligent people. While some are unconcerned about the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, the evidence of economic benefits that the renewable industry offers seemed undeniable. A bill allowing municipalities to have access to information for them to form micro-grids to power emergency services in the event of a widespread outage did not seem partisan. Even the modest goal of at least 50% power from renewable resources by 2040 was a logical next step to the existing goal of 25% renewables by 2025.

When HJR 1, a resolution formalizing Governor Sununu’s call for a commission to explore the development of offshore wind came to a vote, the sharp division along partisan lines continued, but with democrats supporting the Governor and Republicans in unanimous opposition.

Like all House committees, we are working to craft the law of the land. We are there to listen carefully, to learn about the issues, to weigh the evidence presented, to consult constituents, and then make the best, most informed decisions possible. We must vote our conscience.

Any committee member who does other than this must ask themselves to whom are they responsible– their party, or the people of New Hampshire to whom they have sworn an oath to represent?

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