2022 NHMA Legislative Bulletin 04
A Busy First Week of Committee Hearings
The first week of committee hearings featured a number of major bills, most of which we wrote about last week. Many of the bills to be heard this week would have significant impacts on municipalities; few of them would have positive impacts. We urge our members to contact the relevant committees and express their opinions on these bills.
We’ve also learned of a new change in the legislature’s processes. While it has always been somewhat common for the Senate committees to provide notice that executive sessions may occur during a regularly scheduled committee meeting, that has not usually been the case with the House. This year is different. As such, some House committees may be voting on bills immediately after closing the hearing on the bill. This means there is no time to waste when it comes to expressing opinions to committees. Follow-up emails or calls to specific committee members may come too late to have an effect. Therefore, please make sure that you submit letters before the committee has its hearing on a bill that you care about in order to ensure that it can have the greatest possible effect.
Bill Seeks to Muzzle Local Officials—Again
From time immemorial, every few years there has been a bill that seeks to cripple the ability of local governments to express their opinions to the legislature. This year’s effort appears in HB 1033, which is scheduled for a hearing next Wednesday, January 19, at 9:30 a.m., in LOB Rooms 301-303, before the House Legislative Administration Committee. The bill states that “no recipient of a grant or appropriation of state, county, municipal, school district, or village district funds may use the funds to lobby or attempt to influence legislation, participate in political activity, or contribute funds to any entity engaged in these activities.” Any recipient of such a grant or appropriation would have to segregate the funds in such a manner that they are “physically and financially separate from any other funds that may be used for . . . these purposes.”
These bills are typically directed at NHMA and the New Hampshire School Boards Association, but they also sweep up numerous other organizations—the Association of Counties, the Police Chiefs Association, the Association of Assessing Officials, the Water Works Association, and the City and Town Clerks Association, to name just a few.
Do municipal officials not have free speech rights? In past years, supporters of these efforts have acknowledged that perhaps local officials should be allowed to testify at legislative hearings, but they should not be permitted to spend taxpayer funds on lobbyists. But why should this be a state decision? Every municipal legislative body—in most cases, the town meeting—has the opportunity to decide how it will spend its money. Most political subdivisions have decided that it is more cost effective to contribute to organizations that speak on their behalf, rather than pay to send elected officials to the legislature every week.
HB 1033 is essentially the same as HB 1560 from 2014, HB 233 from 2017, and SB 158 from 2020. Each of those bills received an overwhelming committee recommendation of Inexpedient to Legislate (17-0 in 2014, 13-1 in 2017, and 5-0 in 2020) and died a quiet death on the House or Senate floor. Unfortunately, in the current House we expect less of a consensus. Please consider attending the hearing to speak against this bill; alternatively, register your opposition using the House Remote Sign In Sheet, or contact members of the Legislative Administration Committee and ask them to vote to kill HB 1033.
Hearing Scheduled on Short-Term Rental Bill
Loud talking and raucous laughter until 2 a.m. Fifteen to 20 cars parked in front of one home. Beer cans and liquor bottles tossed in neighbors’ yards. Garbage piled outside, scattered by animals overnight. A spike in community water usage of almost 40%.
Thus began a recent article in the Laconia Daily Sun and the Concord Monitor describing the situation in a residential neighborhood in Gilford where three houses have been turned into short-term rental properties. According to one neighbor, “They have a hot tub over there, and they’re out all night screaming and yelling. We have alcohol containers in our yard all summer long. We can’t sit outside and have a conversation because of noise. I have to keep all the windows shut and the TV on to get some sleep.”
As the Gilford planning board chairman stated, “It’s tantamount to a motel spread over a bunch of houses.” The difference is that a motel has a manager on site to manage and respond to issues. These properties have absentee owners who are never on site.
The planning board has proposed zoning amendments for this year’s town meeting that would address this problem by regulating short-term rentals. But SB 249, which is scheduled for a hearing on January 25, would stop those amendments in their tracks. It would invalidate every zoning provision in every town in the state that seeks to regulate or prohibit short-term rentals.
Defeating SB 249 will be a monumental challenge, as it has ten Senate sponsors from both parties. But we suspect some of those senators may reconsider when they learn of the nightmare that Gilford residents are living through. Nor is it just Gilford. Similar stories can be heard in towns throughout the Lakes Region, the Upper Valley, the Mount Washington Valley, and the North Country.
A principal argument in support of SB 249 will be that homeowners should be free to rent out their homes to make a little money to pay their property taxes. But that is not what is happening. In Gilford, the problem properties are owned by “corporate entities based in Massachusetts and New York.” In Laconia not long ago, the problem was a property owned by a group of Boston doctors. In Madison, it was a “notorious party house” owned by an out-of-town investor. In Hanover, it is houses bought by, and rented to, Dartmouth alumni.
There are no other forms of land use that are exempt from local zoning. Farms, hospitals, pharmacies, daycares, homeless shelters, churches, and every other conceivable type of facility is subject to local zoning. It is baffling, then, that the state would single out party houses for this extraordinary protection. Bizarrely, the bill would give more protection to a house that is operated as a mini hotel than to one that is simply occupied as a single-family home.
We have been busy raising these concerns with legislators and have heard from a number of municipalities who are deeply concerned about taking away the option of local determination from their communities. We understand that there may be an amendment offered to the bill which addresses some of our concerns, but we do not think that it solves the problems raised by the bill.
The hearing on SB 249 is scheduled for Tuesday, January 25, at 9:30 a.m. in State House Room 100, before the Senate Commerce Committee. Please plan to attend the hearing, and bring your stories. If you are not able to attend, please contact members of the Commerce Committee (click on “Email Entire Committee”) and your own senator and urge them to kill this bill. In addition, use the online Senate Remote Sign In Form to register your opposition to the bill.
Ready for Your 15 Minutes?
On Thursday, January 20, at 3:30 p.m. in LOB Room 206-208, the House Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on HB 1195, requiring that “all meetings of a public body open to the public” governed by the Right-to-Know Law include a minimum 15-minute “public comment period” at the beginning of the meeting. There are no exceptions, but the chair may determine the length of time for each speaker (and whether the comment period needs be longer than 15 minutes).
The thousands of municipal boards across the state already have public comment periods, and tailor those periods to the kinds of attendance that they see. Some, such as cemetery trustees, are extraordinarily unlikely to see a living person appear before them, whereas others, such as select boards, can see anywhere from nobody to dozens of interested speakers, depending on the meeting agenda. Local officials understand the importance of public input and how to best facilitate it in their own communities. Many boards have long-established rules of procedure that ensure that they can hear from the public during one or more comment periods. Forcing a one-size-fits-all mandate on all boards for all meetings doesn’t make sense, and doesn’t allow boards to take into account different types of meetings. Take, for example, a board that must convene for the sole purpose of conducting a nonpublic session on a serious personnel-related matter. The board would be required to allow 15 minutes of public comment before they proceed. Why? Because all nonpublic sessions start in a public meeting, and this bill applies to all public meetings, with no exceptions.
We also note that the Right-to-Know Law applies to all public bodies, including both houses of the legislature and all of their committees.
We urge local officials to oppose HB 1195 by testifying at the hearing or contacting the Judiciary Committee via the online option to express their opinion on this bill.
A Confusing Bill on Health Officers
On Thursday, January 20, at 11:30 a.m. in LOB Rooms 301-303, the House Municipal & County Government Committee will hear testimony on HB 1272, limiting the authority of town health officers. (HB 1268 proposes to add similar language to limit the authority of cities but does not have a hearing date, yet.) The bill modifies RSA 147:1, I to limit a health officer regulation to “not longer than 10 days, without the sanction or confirmation of any other authority.” The bill never specifies who the “other authority” may be, but, given that such regulations must be approved by the select board, presumably, the statute means some entity other than the select board. There is nothing else in the health officer statutes to indicate what other authority may exist to approve a local health regulation. What is, perhaps, more confusing is that the bill states that such regulations can be adopted “only for the purpose of addressing locations that present a clear and present danger.”
As many of our readers know, most of what local health officers do is in response to issues that arise on the local level – a welfare check at the home of a hungry and disheveled child reveals the child to be living in unsanitary conditions; a police response to a methamphetamine manufacturing operation leads to the need to confirm the presence of hazardous chemicals onsite and the condemnation of the facility; and, probably most commonly, local officials becoming aware of a hording issue due to neighbor complaints about noxious odors and hordes of rat coming onto their properties. Clearly no certain time limitation will lead to resolving these issues (nor, in most cases is it even relevant), and it is unclear what further check might be needed on local health officers’ authority that isn’t already provided by statute.
Local officials are encouraged to contact the Municipal & County Government Committee and urge them to vote to recommend HB 1272 (and HB 1268) as Inexpedient to Legislate.
No Zoning for Religious Uses
On Thursday, January 20, at 1:45 p.m. in LOB Room 206-208, the House Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on HB 1021, prohibiting zoning ordinances and site plan review regulations from prohibiting, regulating, or restricting the use of land or structures for religious purposes. The bill does provide an exception for “non-discretionary narrow, objective and definite regulations concerning the height of structures, yard sizes, lot area, setbacks, open space and building coverage requirements as long as said requirements are applicable to all uses regardless of the religious or non-religious nature of the use of the property and do not substantially burden religious exercise.”
Those few regulations which are allowed under this statute appear to have their language modeled on the 1993 federal “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (which was later struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court). As such, those regulations would be subject to an analysis about whether they “substantially” burdened religious practices and, if so, whether there was a “compelling” governmental interest involved, and whether the “least restrictive” means of addressing that interest had been chosen.
As the bill does not define “religious purposes,” it is unclear whether it would apply only to a project aimed at building a “church,” “mosque,” “synagogue,” etc. or whether subsidiary uses, such as schools, homeless shelters and soup kitchens, or other structures and uses ancillary to sincere religious beliefs about education or ministering to the poor would also be exempt from zoning regulations. Nor is it clear whether, for example, a minister who ordinarily leads prayer groups at his/her house can – by that action alone – qualify his/her property as one exempt from zoning since it is being used for “religious purposes.”
Existing law already prohibits preferential treatment of one religion over another by the government, and zoning cases involving religious structures generally see the courts only uphold those regulations which treat religious uses as equal to comparable secular uses. As such, it is unclear what this bill would do, other than exempt “religious uses” from zoning requirements.
Local officials are encouraged to contact the Judiciary Committee and urge them to vote to recommend HB 1021 as Inexpedient to Legislate.
Restrictions on Meals and Room Revenue
On Wednesday, January 19, at 9:45 a.m. in State House Room 100, the Senate Ways and Means Committee will hear testimony on SB 315, requiring that a portion of the meals and rooms tax revenues distributed to municipalities exceeding the amounts received in fiscal year 2021 shall be used to reduce the local property tax rate.
The meals and rooms tax distribution has always been an unrestricted revenue source for municipalities. This has allowed municipalities to use these funds for any purpose, including reducing the local property tax rate. These funds, like other sources of revenue, always work to decrease the local property tax rate by offsetting the cost of municipal services and needs. Every dollar given to a municipality by the meals and rooms tax means one-less dollar that a municipality must raise via taxation to pay for roads, fire services, and the many other services municipalities provide. Requiring that these monies be used in a specific manner hurts local efforts to keep costs in line and use funds judiciously.
Please contact members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and your own senator and urge them to kill this bill. In addition, use the online Senate Remote Sign In Form to register your opposition to the bill.
A Local Option “Tourism” Fee
On Wednesday, January 19, at 9:30 a.m. in State House Room 100, the Senate Ways and Means Committee will hear testimony on SB 338, enabling a local option for municipalities to collect an occupancy fee from room rentals. The purpose of this option is to allow municipalities to pay for the increased cost of municipal services associated with the increase in tourism and transient traffic.
This is how the local option fee would work:
- The legislative body would vote to allow the fee, specifying the number of consecutive days the occupancy fee may apply, with a 184-day maximum.
- The legislative body would also determine the amount of the fee. The bill allows a daily charge of up to $2 per occupancy per 24-hour period, or as a percentage of the price of the occupancy, provided that the rate will not exceed $2 per occupancy per 24-hour period.
- The revenues collected from this fee would be deposited in a capital reserve fund, tourism support fund, revolving fund, or other special revenue fund, authorized by the municipality.
- Funds received from this tax would not be considered part of the general fund accumulated surplus and can only be used for the purpose in this bill.
As a local option, this bill would allow municipalities that see drastic increases in demands on municipal services due to tourism to offset the costs associated with providing those services to more than just municipal residents. From additional fire and police services to overuse of municipal parks and recreational facilities, this bill would create an additional revenue stream for towns that experience costs associated with the local tourism industry.
Please contact members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee (click on “Email Entire Committee”) and urge them to support this bill. In addition, use the online Senate Remote Sign In Form to register your support of the bill.
Municipal Audit Reporting Requirements
On Thursday, January 20, at 1:30 p.m. in State House Room 100, the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee will hear testimony on SB 239, requiring that the Department of Revenue Administration (DRA) be notified when a municipal audit is completed and establishing a fine for noncompliance with municipal audit requirements. SB 239 adds a requirement that municipalities provide notification to DRA of an audit as well as a copy of the municipal audit upon its completion. Current law requires that municipalities complete an audit within one year of the fiscal year closing and publish the findings in their annual reports when they hire an outside auditing firm.
The concerning part of the bill is that it would allow DRA to assess a fine of up to $250 per day for every day of noncompliance. This fine would commence 90 days after the DRA has provided the municipality written notice of the intent to levy such fine. NHMA opposes any such fine.
Please contact members of the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee and urge them to either remove the portion of the bill that imposes a fine on municipalities or, better yet, outright kill this bill.
Housing and Zoning Incentives Bill Returns
A familiar bill returns to the legislature this year. On Thursday, January 20, at 1:00 p.m. in State House Room 100, the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee will hear SB 400, which makes various changes to the land use and zoning laws. Although not identical, this bill is substantially similar to HB 1629 and HB 1632 from 2020 and HB 586 from 2021.
SB 400, among other things,
- requires the Office of Planning and Development (OPD) to offer training to land use board members free of charge;
- requires municipalities to publish notice of land use fees;
- allows a court to require the posting of a bond and to award attorney's fees and costs to the prevailing party in an appeal to the superior court;
- expands the tax incrementing financing (TIF) district statute, RSA 162-K, to include acquisition of real property to construct workforce housing;
- requires land use boards to make specific written findings of fact to support their decisions; and
- creates a voluntary housing champion certification program, providing preferential access to state resources such as discretionary state infrastructure funds in exchange for achieving champion status.
These are only some of the changes and additions SB 400 makes to existing law. We encourage municipal officials to carefully review the bill and share your comments or concerns with the committee members. You can also register your support or opposition to this bill using the Senate Remote Sign In Form.
Lowering Abatement Interest
On Wednesday, January 19 at 9:00 a.m. in State House Room 100, the Senate Ways and Means Committee will hear SB 317, lowering the abatement interest rate to four percent from six percent. Back in 2018, the legislature reduced the late property tax bill interest rate from twelve percent to eight percent prior to a lien being issued, and from eighteen percent to fourteen percent after a lien had been issued, but did not concurrently adjust the tax abatement interest rate, which has been at six percent for decades. This bill would reduce that rate to four percent, which is in line with the percentage reductions given to the other two interest rates and would save municipalities money.
Local officials are encouraged to contact the Senate Ways and Means Committee and their own representatives and urge them to vote to recommend SB 317 as Ought to Pass.
TUESDAY, JANUARY 18, 2022
ENVIRONMENT AND AGRICULTURE, Room 301-303, LOB
HB 1111, establishing a commission to study extended producer responsibility.
HB 1121, relative to new solid waste sites.
HB 1134, establishing a commission to study proper labeling and disposal of disposable wipes.
HB 1420-FN, prohibiting the issuance of new landfill permits until the state’s solid waste plan is updated.
HB 1049, establishing a committee to study landfill siting criteria and methods for reducing pressure on landfill capacity.
HB 1454-FN, relative to permits for the siting of new landfills.
HB 1652-FN, relative to the recycling of beverage containers.
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND ENERGY, Room 306-308, LOB
HB 1644-FN, relative to the placement of telecommunication antennae and establishing a registry for residents who are experiencing biological symptoms from wireless radiation exposure.
TRANSPORTATION, Room 201-203, LOB
HB 1640-FN, relative to the payment of motor vehicle fines.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 19, 2022
COMMERCE AND CONSUMER AFFAIRS, Room 302-304, LOB
HB 1591-FN, eliminating the enforcement division of the liquor commission.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND PUBLIC SAFETY, Room 202-204, LOB
HB 1025-FN, relative to impeding, provoking, or harassing law enforcement officers.
ELECTION LAW, Room 306-308, LOB
HB 1009, requiring the date a person registers to vote to be included with other voter information.
HB 1542-FN, relative to documentation required to prove a voter’s eligibility to vote
HB 1010-FN, requiring municipal voter history to be made accessible in the statewide centralized voter registration database.
HB 1442-FN, relative to access to election and voter information
HB 1496-FN, requiring political subdivisions to make voter checklists available in spreadsheet form to any resident.
HB 1383, relative to electronic copies of absentee ballot lists.
JUDICIARY, Room 206-208, LOB
HB 1034, relative to the definition of an employee or official of a governmental unit.
HB 1036, relative to nonpublic meetings concerning public employees
HB 1315, relative to immunity from civil liability for sports officials
LEGISLATIVE ADMINISTRATION, Room 301-303, LOB
HB 1007, relative to qualifications for office.
HB 1033-FN-L, prohibiting recipients of state or local grants or appropriations from using such funds for lobbying.
PUBLIC WORKS AND HIGHWAYS, Room 201-203, LOB
HB 1040, establishing a commission to study revenue alternatives to the road toll for electric-powered and hybrid vehicles for the funding of improvements to the state’s highways and bridges and their resulting improvements to the environment.
HB 1656-FN-A-L, establishing a road usage registration fee and making an appropriation therefor.
HB 1675-FN-A, establishing a surcharge collected through E-Z Pass for electric vehicles as an alternative road toll.
RESOURCES, RECREATION AND DEVELOPMENT, Room 305-307, LOB
HB 1555-FN, repealing the permit required for fires at campgrounds
HB 1620, identifying part of the Merrimack River as a protected river
HB 1167, establishing a maximum contaminant level for perfluorinated chemicals in surface water
HB 1185, relative to treatment of water contaminated with perfluorinated chemicals.
HB 1602-FN, relative to perfluorinated chemicals in drinking water.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 20, 2022
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND PUBLIC SAFETY, State House Reps Hall
HB 1598-FN, legalizing the possession and use of cannabis.
ELECTION LAW, Room 306-308, LOB
HB 1567-FN, relative to the removal of election officials from office.
HB 1485-FN, relative to direct recall elections.
HB 1470-FN, requiring that all ballot counting devices show the number of overvotes for each race on the ballot.
HB 1457-FN, relative to chain of custody of ballot boxes after an election
HB 1522-FN, requiring the use of ballots with embedded security and relative to chain of custody of absentee ballots.
HB 1527-FN, relative to the storage of total vote counts produced by electronic ballot counting devices.
JUDICIARY, Room 206-208, LOB
HB 1147, relative to governmental records available upon request.
HB 1322, modifying the governmental records exempted from RSA 91-A.
HB 1603-FN, defining certain school information as governmental records under the right to know law.
HB 1579, relative to landowner liability on land authorized for outdoor recreational activities.
HB 1021, prohibiting regulation of religious land use based on the religious nature of the assembly or speech taking place on the land or in the structure.
HB 1519-FN, defining “religious belief” and protecting it from discrimination.
HB 1195, relative to public comment periods at public meetings.
LABOR, INDUSTRIAL AND REHABILITATIVE SERVICES, Room 305-307, LOB
HB 1053, relative to the hourly rate paid to an employee for hours worked but not previously scheduled.
HB 1385, prohibiting the use of credit history in employment decisions.
HB 1251, prohibiting payment of subminimum wages.
HB 1094, relative to employee work schedules and rest periods.
HB 1231-FN, relative to failure to make payment of compensation.
HB 1156-FN, requiring certain public servants to receive a copy of a pre-employment background investigation.
MUNICIPAL AND COUNTY GOVERNMENT, Room 301-303, LOB
HB 1406, authorizing municipalities to collect compost.
HB 1055, relative to the property tax exemption for individuals with disabilities and individuals who are deaf or severely hearing impaired.
HB 1081, relative to the dissolution of a village district.
HB 1267, relative to municipal authority for road and sidewalk closure.
HB 1272, limiting the authority of town health officers.
WAYS AND MEANS, Room 202-204, LOB
HB 1338, establishing a committee to study imposing a tax on manufacturers based on the cost to dispose of single-use products and product packaging materials.
HB 1407-FN, including the promotion of affordable housing under the land and community heritage investment program.
HB 1494, relative to a property tax exemption concerning certain communications services leases.
HB 1450-FN, including agricultural resources under the land and community heritage investment program.
MONDAY, JANUARY 24, 2022
MUNICIPAL AND COUNTY GOVERNMENT, Room 301-303, LOB
HB 1665-FN-A-L, establishing a municipal road and bridge disaster relief fund.
TUESDAY, JANUARY 18, 2022
COMMERCE, Room 100, SH
SB 347-FN, relative to the use of protected health information by employers.
FINANCE, Room 103, SH
SB 272, establishing a committee to study the oversight and operation of the public deposit investment pool.
SB 274, relative to governmental construction contracts
JUDICIARY, Room 100, SH
SB 300-FN, relative to the state commission for human rights.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 19, 2022
EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND ADMINISTRATION, Room 103, SH
SB 227-FN, relative to death benefits for first responders who die from suicide
SB 357-FN, relative to mental health training for first responders
WAYS AND MEANS, Room 100, SH
SB 317-L, reducing the interest rate for abatements of paid property taxes.
SB 312, relative to adjusted assessments of taxable property.
SB 338, enabling municipalities to adopt a municipal occupancy fee.
SB 315-L, directing that a portion of revenue distributions from the meals and rooms municipal revenue fund be used by municipalities to reduce the local property tax rate.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 20, 2022
ELECTION LAW AND MUNICIPAL AFFAIRS, Room 100, SH
SB 400-FN, relative to training and procedures for zoning and planning boards and relative to financial investments and incentives for affordable housing development.
SB 239-FN, relative to noncompliance with municipal audit requirements
SB 405-FN, relative to fines and penalties for election law violations.
SB 418-FN, relative to verification of voter affidavits.
HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, Room 101, LOB
SB 419-FN, relative to public health networks.
TUESDAY, JANUARY 25, 2022
COMMERCE, Room 100, SH
SB 249, prohibiting planning and zoning ordinances that prohibit short-term rentals
FINANCE, Room 103, SH
SB 387-FN-A, making an appropriation to the body-worn and dashboard camera fund.
SB 402-FN, granting disaster relief for two presidentially declared disasters in response to July-August 2021 flood damage sustained by communities in Cheshire and Sullivan counties.
JUDICIARY, Room 100, SH
SB 322, relative to remote meetings under the right-to-know law
SB 342, relative to the minutes of nonpublic sessions under the right to know law
SB 344, relative to the quorum requirements under the right to know law of meetings open to the public.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 26, 2022
WAYS AND MEANS, Room 100, SH
SB 437-L, relative to the additional municipal fee for transportation improvements.
SB 441-FN-L, relative to the municipal share of fines for motor vehicle speeding offenses.
SB 343, establishing a committee to study the formula for distribution of room occupancy tax revenues.
NHMA Upcoming Events
Webinar: The Dos and Don’ts of Electioneering - 12:00 – 1:00
Right-to-Know for Law Enforcement Workshop (Virtual) - 9:00 – 12:00
Town & School Moderator Traditional Town Workshop (Virtual) - 9:00 – 1:30
Please visit www.nhmunicipal.org for the most up-to-date information regarding our upcoming virtual events. Click on the Events and Training tab to view the calendar.
For more information, please call NHMA’s Workshop registration line: (603) 230-3350.