SB2 Deliberative Session Amendments did not “Eliminate Subject Matter”

Cady v. Town of Deerfield
New Hampshire Supreme Court No. 2016-0152
Wednesday, January 18, 2017

In this case, the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld the superior’s court ruling that substantial amendments to two petitioned warrant articles at the Deerfield deliberative session did not violate RSA 40:13, IV (c), which prohibits amendments that eliminate the “subject matter” of the article.

Deerfield is an “SB 2” Official Ballot Referendum municipality. The two petitioned warrant articles at issue 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 Court determined that the term “subject matter” in RSA 40:13, IV(c) was ambiguous. Looking to the legislative history, the Court decided that the statute was intended to prohibit warrant articles from being amended in a manner that eliminates their subject matter entirely, thereby making it impossible for voters at the second session to determine what the article is about. Although these amendments substantially changed the original articles, the subject matter—the welfare director and police chief positions—remained the same. The Court also rejected the petitioner’s argument that voters are prohibited from changing the intent of an article, noting that this would require the Court to read the word “intent” into the statute. 

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