EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

December 23, 2007

N.H. Legislature doesn't mirror population

New Hampshire legislators are older than their counterparts in other states, more than half of them are retired and 70 percent of them are men.

But Rep. Anthony DiFruscia, R-Salem, thinks a change in pay could help change the demographics.

"There appears to be an overabundance of male-over-65s, which I happen to fall into," said DiFruscia, who is sponsoring a bill to change the $100-a-year legislative pay to $100 a week.

While New Hampshire legislators are reimbursed for mileage, the long hours and time away from home cost many lawmakers far more than they earn from serving, DiFruscia said. That's why many full-time workers - from firefighters to bank tellers to machinists - simply can't afford to serve in the House of Representatives or the Senate, he said.

"You've got to have a few bucks (to serve)," he said.

But many on the New Hampshire political scene see the Granite State's virtually volunteer Legislature as a source of pride.

"Instead of some fat cat thinking, you know, 'OK, this is a career,' it's not a career (in New Hampshire)," said Rep. Gene Charron, R-Chester. "It's got to be a love for your state."

New Hampshire's Legislature is huge. With 400 members in the House and 24 members in the Senate, it's the third-largest lawmaking body in the English-speaking world.

It's also the lowest-paid Legislature in the country, according to Tim Story of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Many lawmakers, like Charron, say the low pay adds to New Hampshire's volunteer ethos.

And DiFruscia - who served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives before he started his five terms in New Hampshire - doesn't want to change that.

"I don't believe the New Hampshire Legislature should be anything near the Massachusetts Legislature," he said.

In Massachusetts, the average lawmaker makes about $58,000 a year.

Even if DiFruscia's bill passes - it would require a statewide referendum because the $100 paycheck is mandated by the state constitution - state lawmakers would still be among the lowest paid in the country.

But New Hampshire doesn't only have one of the lowest-paid Legislatures, it's also one of the most demographically unrepresentative. And that's one thing DiFruscia hopes to change.

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