New Hampshire House Bill 1360

I took it to the man – and won!  Well, I helped…

Sorta... Back on the 15th of January, Joel, WA1ZYX posted a message to the CCDX reflector about a newly submitted bill in the New Hampshire Legislature regarding distracted driving.  This law was going to make having anything electronic in your hand while driving, waiting at a stop light, or just about anything you can do with your car engine running illegal.  $100.00 fine, don’t pass go.  Go directly to jail kinda law.  Heck, if you used an E-Cigarette to send smoke signals, that would be illegal!

While I agree with the intent, it went somewhat further.  It of course exempted police, fire, ambulance and public service vehicles, taxis and commercial trucks.  Wait – commercial trucks?  That’s truckers on their CB radios.  No mention of Hams?  What The?  In the immortal words of Quick Draw McGraw: “Hold OnThar!”  I did what any one else would do.  I wrote a letter to my State Representative.  OK, it was my only choice other than pouting and throwing my hands up in disgust.  I don’t pout well.  So a letter I did write, and sent to my elected State Representative for my voting district.

My State Representative, the Honorable Marge Shepardson contacted me back the same night.  She wanted to talk about this issue!  Holy Cow!  I remember from Civics Class back at Saint James Elementary School they talked about this.  Just before the field trip to the State Capital in Hartford Connecticut!  It still worked this way after all these years?  Well, Mrs. Shepardson and I exchanged a couple of E-Mails about when and where and we finally decided on my Ham Shack on Saturday morning.  Let’s see.  This started on Wednesday and we were meeting on Saturday, I’m dreaming – right!  No, she only lives about a mile from here.  Basically on the same street but with a different name.  She arrived as punctual as one could imagine.  We sat and talked.  I introduced her to some new music (2 Cellos – In2ition) made her favorite tea (Mint) and she saw my station.  I told her about all the things we do from talk to complete strangers half a globe away to helping run the local Marathon to chatting to one another on the way to work.  The original social network, so to speak.  She understood and seemed truly intrigued with all our capabilities.  A very nice and smart person.  She left telling me she would contact the bill’s authors and help me find the right way to achieve our goal.

I received several more E-Mails from Mrs. Shepardson later that evening with the most pointed one asking if I or someone within the Amateur Radio community could attend the Transportation Committee Hearing for HB1360 scheduled Monday, the 20th of January.
I sent an E-Mail to my boss asking if it was OK for me to be away on Monday for this reason.  He said certainly (he also lives in NH!).

About this time, I also contacted Peter Stoher, our New Hampshire Section Manager and Dave Colter and let them know I was intending on being at that hearing.  Peter, Dave and I exchanged E-Mails and phone calls and I wrote a rather long winded letter of testimony for the committee.  That letter outlined what we do and why.  It made it to the hands of the NH State Police representative, the President of the NH Chief of Police Association and his attending representatives for the meeting. As well as others as I would find out. (This letter can be found HERE)

I thought the NSA had picked it up and I’d gotten myself on a list somewhere! So, Monday comes around, Peter, Dave and I meet for coffee in the cantina in the State House basement prior to the hearing to go over strategy.  Now up to the hearing room.  Showtime!

The hearing was less formal than I thought it would be.  Gotta love New Hampshire.  The State Police Rep, the CoP Rep, Peter and Dave all talked a bit before the hearing and all were in agreement on how the wording should be changed!  So we had some pretty powerful support with us.  Then the CoP Rep began talking about the letter written by this “Jim Philopena” guy and now I’m nervous.  She thought it a great letter and of course I then asked how she had gotten it.  She asked who I was and I said “Jim Philopena”.   It had gotten passed around from Dave and Peter.  So I was able to sigh some relief.

The State Police Rep verbally testified first, then the CoP Rep.  A few communication industry people also testified about using a One Touch feature as well as a Rep from GM On-Star.   So this bill was getting some attention.  The Chairman called for more testimony and asked if there were any Ham Radio operators to testify, which Peter and Dave did.  I felt my written testimony was enough at this point and kept my mouth shut (Imagine that!).  The hearing ran the full hour on this single subject.

After all is said and done, the recommendation to change what was a long and complicated paragraph in the law allowing “Police, Fire, Ambulance, Public Service, Taxi and Commercial trucks, Delivery truck, yada, yada, yada to use a two way radio” was replaced with:  “To use one hand to transmit or receive messages on any non-cellular 2-way radio.”The “non-cellular” was added to take care of ‘push-to-talk’ features on older cell phones.  During the discussion, it came out that today’s non-texting law is easily circumvented.  The law forbids texting, but not dialing a phone.  So all someone needs to do is say is: “I was dialing” and they’re golden.  The costs and headache of getting a search warrant to prove otherwise just doesn’t make it worth the fine recovered.  Hence, that phrase.

So, today, the bill was released from committee and will go before the full house for a vote with the verbiage above.  We won.  We kept this bill – and if passed and signed into law – from excluding Ham Radio Operators from talking on the radios while driving.

This shows me the system works.  Three guys representing a group of hobbyists went to the State Capital and changed a bill from closing down a large segment of our hobby.   And who knows right now.  This law could be used as a model for other states.  All I can say is too bad Vermont didn’t have the Three Musketeers, or is that Three Ham-ears?

Jim - KB1NXE