Yesterday, Governor Sununu signed HB 440, Rep. Jim Kofalt’s Civil Liberties Defense Act or CLDA, into law. New Hampshire now has a fundamental emergency powers reform in place that will assure our constitutional rights remain secure in declared states of emergency.
We applaud Governor Sununu for recognizing the need to protect civil liberties by placing some restrictions on what were formerly some of the most sweeping executive powers in the country. By doing so, he has ensured his successors cannot take advantage of nearly unchecked emergency authority.
During the COVID-19 state of emergency, New Hampshire courts explained that NH emergency powers laws allowed an executive to “suspend constitutional rights.” “Suspending” constitutional rights means that, if a citizen brings any constitutional challenge against a government action, courts will simply throw the case out as long as the government action is genuinely connected to the emergency.
This means that, if Governor Sununu had not signed HB 440 yesterday, a future NH executive could have engaged in virtually any abuse of power imaginable during an emergency. For example, as Senator Sharon Carson pointed out during the Senate floor debate on the bill, the legal concept of “suspending constitutional rights” was used to uphold Japanese internment during World War II.
We especially thank Representative Jim Kofalt, the law’s author and prime sponsor, along with the law’s cosponsors, Representatives Keith Ammon, Hershel Nunez, Susan Homola, and Senator Kevin Avard.
Rep. Kofalt was a tireless advocate for the law, regularly appearing in New Hampshire media to promote it. Rep. Ammon lobbied actively for this law from start to finish, including promoting it on social media. And Senator Avard bravely helped to promote the law’s passage on his television show at a time when it was considered contentious and its fate uncertain.
HB 440 would not have passed without strong backing in the House, where it enjoyed a modicum of bipartisan support and the full support of NH Senate Republicans who rallied to restore the CLDA after it faced initial setbacks. Of particular note are the legislators who spoke so effectively during the House and Senate floor debates, including Rep. Matt Simon, Rep. Michael Sylvia, and Senator Sharon Carson.
Rep. Matt Simon, who is rapidly developing a reputation as one of the House’s greatest orators, delivered a moving and well-received speech on the House floor explaining the need for the law. And Rep. Michael Sylvia’s Parliamentary Inquiry on HB 440—a “Parliamentary Inquiry” is a short summary of reasons to vote for or against a particular bill—was praised by some as one of the most powerful Parliamentary Inquiries of the recent legislative session.
Please thank Rep. Kofalt, Governor Sununu, and other key lawmakers mentioned here for their part in protecting our civil liberties. Today is truly one to celebrate.
Learn more about this important law and what it has accomplished:
- Watch this TV interview of Rep. Jim Kofalt, the prime sponsor of the law, by Sen. Kevin Avard.
- Watch this moving speech by Rep. Matt Simon explaining why our former emergency powers laws invited dangerous abuses.
- Watch Rep. Michael Sylvia’s powerful remarks on HB 440.
- Read the House’s legislative findings on the bill. They explain in a simple, step-by-step manner why this law was needed.
- Read our General Counsel’s analysis of the law and the legal issues at play.