In N.H., a move to pare world's third-largest legislative body

One of the world's largest deliberative bodies, the 400-member New Hampshire House of Representatives, may get a bit smaller. Delegates to the Granite State's 17th constitutional convention have approved shrinking the House by 12 seats.

But that doesn't mean the legislature will shrink if New Hampshire voters approve the proposal in November. The dozen seats will be added to the 24-member state Senate.

Regardless of the outcome, the New Hampshire House will remain the third-largest lawmaking branch in the world, outranked by the 435-member US House and the British House of Commons, with 650 members.

The New Hampshire House has had 400 members since 1876. Before then, the state constitution provided one representative for every 300 residents. If that provision still remained, the lower legislative chamber now would have 3,968 members.

After the 399 delegates to New Hampshire's constitutional convention finish their deliberations, the constitutional changes they approve will go on the November statewide ballot. Each change must be approved by two-thirds of the voters to become part of the basic law.

Convention secretary Carl Peterson, who is also clerk of the House of Representatives, says he doubts more than nine or 10 of the 175 proposed amendments will be approved by Thursday, when the convention is expected to adjourn.

By contrast, 26 amendments made it through the 1974 convention and 22 were approved a decade earlier.

A new rule requires amendments to be approved by 60 percent of the membership (or 240 delegates) rather than by a simple majority. The change ensures that only proposals likely to be approved by the voters reach the ballot, says state Rep.Joseph Eaton (R) of Hillsborough, the rule's sponsor.

Besides modifying the size of the two legislative branches, the delegates have approved six other potential amendments, including one lowering from 30 to 25 the minimum age for members of the state Senate and Executive Council.

Other amendments approved thus far provide for annual sessions of the legislature (instead of regular meetings in odd-numbered years), public access to state records and meetings, and investment of public-employee retirement funds.

Pending are several measures to increase compensation of New Hampshire legislators, who since 1889 have been paid $200 for their two-year term - the lowest in the nation.

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