All U.S. resident graduates of New Hampshire colleges would have to pass a civics test under legislation that cleared the House of Representatives by the narrowest of margins Thursday.
The measure (HB 319) won approval, 188-187, during a session at the NH Sportsplex in Bedford.
Supporters then quickly got the House to vote again to prevent opponents from trying to get it to reverse its decision later.
The bill makes it a graduation requirement that students get at least a 70% score on a 128-question test that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services exam prepares for would-be citizens.
Students can take the test an unlimited number of times to pass it.
All foreign students would be exempt from the requirement.
State Rep. Michael Moffett, R-Loudon, said polls have shown most college students can’t answer basic questions, such as the length of a U.S. senator’s term.
“That’s not OK with me and many others, and there’s something we can do about it,” Moffett said.
“I think sometimes we do need to remember stuff. Why is it OK to know about climate change and not the Constitution?”
Rep. Douglas Ley, D-Jaffrey and a longtime college history teacher, said this would set a bad precedent.
“I can attest to the low level of civic knowledge that sometimes characterizes our college students — it’s kind of depressing,” Ley said. “Is it advisable for the Legislature to dictate what should be taught in a higher education context? I fear it would be a slippery slope.”
Test answers online
Also, Ley said students could easily get the answers to the test online.
“We have a thing called the internet. Look it up,” Ley said.
He noted federal authorities only question prospective immigrants on 10 of the 128 questions in the test that would be given at all of New Hampshire’s two- and four-year colleges.
Supporters said Florida and Missouri have joined a growing number of states in adopting the test for college students.
“Civics is something you need to be an informed citizen of this country,” said Rep. Carol McGuire, R-Epsom.
The New Hampshire House and Senate already have approved a companion bill (HB 320) to require high school students to take and pass the same test.
Last Wednesday, the Senate changed the House version of the bill to delay the start of that high school test until July 1, 2023.