On January 20th, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 264-74 to defeat HB552, a bill that would have allowed the state government to accept payment of taxes and fees in Bitcoin. In 2015, the bill was tabled to be voted on at a later date so it could be further studied.
Cointelegraph spoke to four of the legislators supporting the measure (and who have been active in pushing for pro-Bitcoin legislation over the years), three of whom served as co-sponsors: Representative Eric Schleien (the bill’s primary sponsor), Representative Keith Ammon, Representative James Spillane, and former Representative George Lambert.
Legislators’ introduction to Bitcoin
Rep. Schleien and Rep. Spillane (who accepted Bitcoin donations for his election campaign) first read about Bitcoin online somewhere they couldn’t recall. George Lambert, who is now an avid Bitcoin user, first heard about it at the Porcupine Freedom Festival, an annual festival held in New Hampshire by the Free State Project.
“I sold webhosting for Bitcoin when BTC was around $3. So I was getting 5 BTC/ month.”
Rep. Ammon, also an avid user who has been buying Bitcoin since the only way to do so was through an Internet Relay Chat (before the launch of any of the early exchanges), heard about Bitcoin at another Free State Project-sponsored event, the annual Liberty Forum conference, initially through a side discussion about RipplePay, the precursor to the modern Ripple network.
“Back then, RipplePay was a centralized network that basically kept track of IOUs between people. I didn’t get it. Couldn’t understand it. It just seemed too easy to scam the system. So I kept up with some of the other participants in the room, continuing the discussion as we saw each other later at various gatherings. [Mathematics professor and early Bitcoin adopter] Darren Tapp was one of the participants and eventually he heard about Bitcoin and introduced me to it in one of our discussions. I did some investigation into it, and the light went off. It made total sense, and I’ve been a Bitcoin enthusiast ever since.”
Attempt to require New Hampshire’s government to accept Bitcoin
Rep. Schleien created HB552 to allow the state of NH to accept payment of taxes and fees in bitcoin through the use of a third party payment processor, calling it:
“...simply a more secure and cheaper alternative for taxpayers than using a credit card and wouldn't cost the state any money. The state isn't allowed to work with a company that would cost them money because I created that constraint in the bill.”
Rep. Spillane, in addition to co-sponsoring the legislation, also helped organize the debate before the vote. Lambert, in addition to proposing multiple Bitcoin-related bills during his term as State Representative, has testified in favor of similar legislation after leaving office, including HB552. Rep. Ammon co-sponsored the bill and testified to the committee on its merits, but admits he “didn’t do too much heavy lifting trying to get it to pass.”
“It was mostly a symbolic bill. I didn’t anticipate too many people paying the state in bitcoin. But it would have sent a message to entrepreneurs in other parts of the country that New Hampshire was a technologically progressive state.”
Widespread Bitcoin ignorance in the legislature
Lambert estimates only 40-60 of the 400 members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives understand Bitcoin. Rep. Spillane gave a similar estimate of 75, though he suggested that, after the testimony surrounding HB552, around 60% (or 240 members) would at least recognize the term. Rep. Ammon concurred, but added:
“...many still think it’s magic Internet money and don’t understand the concepts behind it. It was kind of funny watching some of the older representatives trying to wrap their heads around it. Humans definitely have a universal facial expression for when they’re confused.”
Barriers to Bitcoin adoption
Rep. Spillane considers the inability of many legislators to understand Bitcoin to be a significant barrier to adoption.
“We still can't accept credit cards in the secretary of state business office for crying out loud.”
Rep. Schleien concurred that ignorance about the working of Bitcoin constitutes a barrier, as well as fear.
“Psychology is often run by the fear of failure. There's also the fear of not understanding how this works. Education around this issue is key.”
Government un-involvement as key
Lambert had a slightly different take on why Bitcoin adoption by the New Hampshire legislature had faced challenges, saying that they key was“...understanding [that government] does not know how to protect public rather than they shouldn't protect the public”
Rep. Ammon took the non-governmental attitude in regards to Bitcoin even further, saying that he doesn’t know that the path to legitimacy goes through legislation.
“In reality, Bitcoin and blockchain tech have the potential to make governments obsolete. I believe, governments, once they figure out what a powerful invention it is, will become more hostile to Bitcoin over time.”
Bitcoin’s decentralized nature gives Rep. Ammon hope for its continued adoption with or without government blessing because of how difficult it is to “put the genie back in the box.”
“Another [saving grace] is that most legislators are far from technologically savvy, so they’re usually playing catch up when it comes to regulating technology. My hope is that crypto anarchists continue to stay one step ahead of stifling legislation and that this breakthrough new technology has the chance to grow to its full potential.”