Harriet E. Cady v. Town of Deerfield

SB2 Deliberative Session May Substantially Amend Warrant Article Provided the Subject Matter is not Effectively Eliminated
Rockingham County Superior Court, Docket # 218-2016-CV-133
Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Citizen challenged amendments to two petitioned warrant articles made at a SB2 deliberative session.  The Rockingham County Superior Court found that the amendments though substantial did not effectively eliminate the subject matter of the warrant articles.  The Court therefore ruled that the amendment of the articles did not violate RSA 40:13 (IV) (c) prohibiting amendments to  warrant articles that eliminates the subject matter of the article.

The Town had received two petitioned warrant articles that were placed on the town meeting warrant for the 2016 meeting.  Those articles proposed making the positions of Welfare Director and Police Chief elected offices with stipulated annual salaries.  By amendment at the deliberative session both articles were revised to state that the town meeting would express the advisory view that both the Police Chief and Welfare Director should remain appointed positions with nothing stated about annual salaries. 

The Superior Court relied upon the legislative history of the 2011 amendment to RSA 40:13 (IV) and the plain language of the statute to conclude that the challenged amendments to the petitioned warrant articles were permitted.   In Grant v. Town of Barrington, 156 N.H. 807 (2008) the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that when a deliberative session amended a warrant article to eliminate all of its content by striking everything  except for the words “Too see” that this was not prohibited by RSA 40:13 (IV).  In response to Grant the 2011 Legislature adopted House Bill 77 that added subparagraph (c) to RSA 40:13 (IV) that stated that “No warrant article shall be amended to eliminate the subject matter of the article.”

The Superior Court noted that the House Committee on Municipal and County Government stated in the legislative history that the purpose of HB 77 was to permit voters in SB2 towns the ability to vote on each article that contains the intent of that article as originally proposed.  Furthermore, the choice of the word “eliminate” in new subparagraph (c) indicated that the Legislature wished only to prohibit amendments that effectively eliminate the subject matter of the original article.  Since the warrant article amendments still reflected the same intent of determining how the Welfare Director and Police Chief positions are to be filled, those amendments were permitted.

This is a Superior Court decision subject to appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, thus the decision may provide persuasive authority, it is not a final, binding interpretation of RSA 40:13  (IV) (c).

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