New Hampshire Shoots Down Presidential Tax Return Bill

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By Aaron Nicodemus

The New Hampshire Senate voted down a bill seeking to force presidential candidates to release their federal income tax returns before they’re allowed on the state ballot.

The bill ( S.B. 362) would have required that presidential and vice presidential candidates release three years worth of federal income tax returns, at least 30 days before the election. The returns would have been published on the Secretary of State’s website.

S.B. 362 was voted down 14-10 in the Senate Feb. 15. After holding a hearing on the bill in January, the Senate Committee on Election Law and Internal Affairs declared the bill as “inexpedient to legislate.”

The legislation was issued in reaction to President Donald Trump not releasing his tax returns during his 2016 campaign.

Party-Line Vote

Bill sponsor Sen. Martha Hennessey (D) said she was disappointed, but not surprised, by the party-line vote.

“This is the kind of thing that people are going to turn into a partisan issue, and it really isn’t,” she said. “It’s not an anti-Trump bill. It was meant to provide information on whoever the candidates are. We as the voters lose when we don’t have that information.”

Wyatt Ronan, communications director for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, told Bloomberg Tax that New Hampshire, host of the first-in-the nation primary, “has an obligation to set the right tone on this issue.”

Sen. Regina Birdsell (R) said in a statement that the bill “would place an arbitrary and unnecessary requirement for seeking a place on the ballot” that was “not the New Hampshire way.” Birdsell, chair of the Senate committee that recommended killing the bill, said she suspected the U.S. Supreme Court would have declared the measure unconstitutional.

“It is shameful that our colleagues would rather waste time and energy to play politics over setting aside their differences and focus on solving the real issues facing our state,” she said.

Bills Stalled Elsewhere

A 2017 study by the National Conference of State Legislatures counted similar legislation in more than 20 states. New Hampshire’s bill was filed earlier this year.

Two of those 2017 bills passed their respective legislatures—but ultimately died on the governors’ desks. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) vetoed New Jersey’s bill in May 2017. California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed a similar bill in October 2017.

“First, it may not be constitutional,” Brown said in his veto message. “Second, it sets a ‘slippery slope’ precedent. Today we require tax returns, but what would be next? Five years of health records? A certified birth certificate? High school report cards?”

To contact the reporter on this story: Aaron Nicodemus in Boston at anicodemus@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ryan C. Tuck at rtuck@bloombergtax.com

For More Information

Text of S.B. 362 is at http://src.bna.com/wrQ.

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