The New Hampshire Municipal Association (NHMA) has represented the interests of cities and towns before the New Hampshire General Court (House and Senate) and various state agencies since its founding in 1941. Municipal advocacy remains a central element of NHMA's mission.
CONTACT YOUR REPRESENTATIVES TODAY! - Local Government at Risk
As recent articles in our Legislative Bulletins demonstrate, the anti-local government streak that we have been noticing since the beginning of the year has now emerged as a broad movement. In recent weeks, House committees have voted to support bills that do the following:
♦ Eliminate the immunity that has allowed local officials for centuries to make good-faith discretionary decisions without fear of liability;
♦ Impose fines, damages, and attorney fees on municipal governments for inadvertently adopting regulations that are determined to be preempted by state law;
♦ Amend the state constitution to impose a two percent cap on property tax increases in every municipality; and
♦ Strip city and town councils of ordinance authority they have enjoyed since at least 1846.
And while these are the most extreme examples, they are not the only ones. House committees have also supported, or very narrowly opposed, bills that would impose statewide zoning mandates, micromanage local budget processes, and pile new Right-to-Know Law obligations on municipalities.
The number and severity of the attacks on local government this year are cause for serious alarm. We have seen nothing like it in many years, if ever. We believe local officials need to take action before it is too late. Here are some steps that will help:
1. Talk to your representatives. The next House session will be held April 7-9. We strongly recommend inviting your legislative delegation to your next select board/council/board of aldermen meeting and having a discussion about the relationship between state and local government. Historically the state and municipalities have worked as partners, not as enemies, and we need to return to that. The attitude that the state needs to admonish, threaten, or punish local government is troubling and unproductive.
2. Advocate for defeating anti-local government bills. The worst of these bills are identified below. We will send a complete list, with clear instructions on how to vote, before the next House session, scheduled for April 7. Once you receive it, please provide it to your representatives and ask them to follow it.
3. Talk to your senators. You will notice that all the bills discussed here are House bills—nothing like this is happening in the Senate. At least some of these bills are likely to pass the House, and we will need to rely on the Senate to kill them. The more local officials can foster good relations with their senators, the better positioned we will be to defeat the bills that make it through the House. We are already letting senators know about the legislation that may be headed their way; we encourage you to do the same.
The Top Priorities
Please talk to your representatives as soon as possible about the following bills, which are the most dangerous of the lot. Please urge them to kill all of these bills:
HB 111 – municipal immunity. We wrote about this bill in Legislative Bulletin #10 and in Legislative Bulletin #12. As we said there, this is one of the most alarming bills we have ever seen. It is a direct attack on local government operations, written primarily by an out-of-state libertarian organization. It would eliminate most, if not all, of the immunities that protect municipal employees and officials from liability for good-faith actions taken in the performance of their duties.
If the bill passes, every action a local official or employee takes that subsequently is determined to have violated some law or a previously unarticulated constitutional right would be the basis for a lawsuit, requiring the municipality to pay damages and attorney fees (and subjecting the individual employee to termination). This would be true even if the person “acted in good faith” or the state of the law was so unclear that he or she “could not reasonably or otherwise have been expected to know whether [his or her] conduct was lawful.” Although these concerns were presented to the House Judiciary Committee, the committee voted 19-2, with no public discussion, to recommend the bill.
HB 307 – fines for gun regulations. This bill would impose a fine of at least $500, plus liquidated damages of $10,000, plus attorney fees, on any municipality that tries to regulate firearms in any manner, including restricting the discharge of firearms on municipal property. Adopting a policy that, for example, prohibits target shooting on a town-owned athletic field or in a town cemetery would subject the municipality to these financial penalties. The penalties would apply even though the legislative or governing body believed in good faith that it had the authority to enact the regulation, and even if the town attorney advised that it was legal to do so.
This is unprecedented. We know of no state law that punishes municipalities for innocently enacting an ordinance or regulation that turns out to be preempted by state law. This is not how the state treats its political subdivisions, which are governed by volunteers who are rarely legal experts. Nevertheless, the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee reported the bill as Ought to Pass by an 11-9 vote.
CACR 9 – constitutional tax cap. This bill would starve municipalities of revenue by prohibiting them from raising property taxes by more than two percent in any year. The limit “shall be based on the actual tax of the previous year and not the rate.” Thus, if a large industrial facility moves into town, bringing with it a huge increase in the property tax base but also a significant increase in infrastructure costs, the town could not accept the natural increase in tax revenue and use it to offset the increased costs, even though the taxes paid by all other taxpayers would decline. It would simply have to let the increased costs gradually eat up its limited revenue, and continually cut the services it can provide.
Citizens in every municipality already have the option to adopt a tax cap if they choose. They do not need the state telling them that they can’t vote to increase their own tax revenue. We see bills like this almost every year, and they rarely get more than one or two votes in committee. This year, however, the Municipal and County Government Committee voted the bill Ought to Pass, 10 to 9.
HB 439 – city council powers. This bill repeals the authority of city (and town) councils (and boards of aldermen) to adopt ordinances “which may seem for the well-being of the city.” This authority has been in statute for at least 175 years as a recognition that the enabling statute cannot possibly contemplate every matter that will warrant local regulation. As cities encounter issues beyond “the places of military parade and rendezvous” and “licensing and regulating butchers, petty grocers, or hucksters, peddlers, hawkers, and common victualers,” the statute has given them flexibility to regulate those matters.
To our knowledge, the law has never been controversial, but the Municipal and County Government Committee voted 10-9 to recommend this bill repealing it as Ought to Pass.
Again, we will send a complete list next week of the many municipal bills, including these, that need attention.
Thank you for your efforts, and please contact us if you have questions.
Please contact us at 603.224.7447 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Legislature has developed guidance and instructions for members of the public interested in speaking or testifying on a bill and how to register in support or opposition to a bill. We strongly encourage our members to use their voices to advocate for more effective and efficient municipal government.
New Hampshire House of Representatives Public Guidance for Remote Committee Meetings
How to register support/opposition on a bill. To sign in to speak on a bill or to register support or opposition, you will utilize the newly created sign-in form located on the general court website available here: http://gencourt.state.nh.us/house/committees/remotetestimony/default.aspx You are encouraged to sign in well in advance of the hearing. If you not wish to speak on a bill or register support or opposition, but wish to view the meeting, you are encouraged to watch via the House of Representatives YouTube channel available here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxqjz56akoWRL_5vyaQDtvQ This new online form will allow you to sign in on a bill as soon as it has been scheduled for a hearing.
HOUSE REMOTE TESTIMONY DIRECTIONS
New Hampshire State Senate Public Guidance for Remote Committee Meetings
To sign in to speak on a bill or to simply register support or opposition, you will utilize the newly created calendar sign-in form located on the general court website available here: http://gencourt.state.nh.us/remotecommittee/senate.aspx You are encouraged to sign in well in advance of the hearing. This new online form will allow you to sign in on a bill as soon as it has been scheduled for a hearing. If you not wish to speak on a bill or register support or opposition, but wish to view the meeting, you are encouraged to watch via YouTube. The link to watch via YouTube video is provided in each Senate calendar.
HOW TO SIGN IN AND TESTIFY BEFORE THE NH STATE SENATE
NHMA's Legislative Policy Positions and guiding Legislative Principles are established at a biennial legislative policy conference, where every member municipality has an equal voice. These policies and principles serve to guide the Government Affairs staff in its advocacy activities. During and between legislative sessions, the staff works closely with the NHMA Board to ensure that NHMA's legislative policies and principles are promoted consistently and aggressively before the legislature.