2021 Legislative Update: What A Year It Has Been!

Natch Greyes, Municipal Services Counsel

The information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice and may no longer be accurate due to changes in the law. Consult NHMA's legal services or your municipal attorney.

What a year it has been. The turnaround from January to June has been quite remarkable, and I don’t just mean with the pandemic. We started out the year with the grim pronouncement that we’d be playing defense for the year, and we weren’t sure how successful we’d be given the difficulties with connecting with lawmakers over Zoom. In advance of the April 7-9 House Session, we took the unusual step of putting together a list of recommendations for voting during the session, focusing on our bills of greatest concern. Internally, we didn’t have that much hope that we’d be too successful, but, as it turns out, we were remarkably successful.  Let’s take a look back.

HB 83, prohibiting the inclusion in a settlement agreement of a non-disparagement or similar clause, was recommended by the House Judiciary Committee as Ought to Pass, 20-1, despite our objections. While it ultimately passed the House, the Senate killed the bill.  
HB 111, perhaps the most infamous bill of the session, would subject local officials and municipal employees to lawsuits for discretionary actions that are subjectively determined to violate a statue or constitutional provision, even if the official/employee acted in good faith and reasonably believed the conduct was legal. Although recommended by the House Judiciary Committee as Ought to Pass, 19-2, the House tabled the bill, effectively killing it, in line with our recommendation. 
HB 307, prohibiting municipalities from regulating the discharge of firearms even on municipal property, was recommended by the Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee along party lines (11-9). We recommended voting against the bill. While the bill passed the House, it was re-referred in the Senate. 
HB 544, the original divisive concepts bill, was opposed by a broad coalition, including NHMA. Although this bill was tabled, a watered-down version of the language was placed in HB 2. (We are still awaiting an Attorney General’s Opinion on the meaning of the language, but it seems likely that it will be far less impactful to our members than the original HB 544.) 
HB 206, placing collective bargaining strategy discussions squarely in the public eye, instead of allowing them to occur in private, as current law allows. Despite the House Judiciary’s Committee’s recommendation of Ought to Pass, 11-10, the full House killed the bill, like we recommended.  
CACR 9, placing a tax cap of 2% on municipal property taxes, with a 1% cap on the disabled and elderly, was recommended as Ought to Pass by the House Municipal and County Government Committee, 10-9, over our objections. The full House killed the bill. 
HB 67, preventing voters from amended a petitioned warrant article, was recommended as Ought to Pass by the House Municipal House Municipal and County Government Committee, 10-7. Although the House passed the bill, but the Senate agreed with our objections and killed the bill. 
HB 183, preventing municipalities from regulating children’s lemonade stands, saw many hours of media coverage praying that they’d catch a municipality regulating a lemonade stand. We were constantly aware of it all and were not surprised to find that no examples of municipal regulation of children’s lemonade stands. Ultimately, the Senate voted down this bill. 
HB 243, micromanaging how towns prepare their budget using vague and undefined terms, was strongly opposed by us. Despite our opposition, the House Municipal House Municipal and County Government Committee recommended ought-to-pass, 10-9, and the House passed the bill. Fortunately, the Senate rendered it harmless. 
HB 266, advancing a politically-charged but misguided idea about the relationship between local law enforcement and immigration enforcement, was recommended Ought to Pass along a party-line vote in the House Municipal House Municipal and County Government Committee, 10-9. In accordance with our objection, the House tabled the bill. 
HB 374, seeking to undo the 2019 improvement to the adoption of the SB 2 form of government process by requiring the vote to adopt SB 2 be by ballot rather than on the floor of the town meeting, was strongly opposed by us. Nevertheless, the House Municipal House Municipal and County Government Committee recommended the bill, 10-9, as Ought to Pass and the House followed the recommendation. Fortunately, the Senate killed the bill. 
HB 439, eliminating a city council’s authority to adopt ordinances that deal will issues pertaining to the “well-being of the city,” was recommended as Ought to Pass by the House Municipal House Municipal and County Government Committee, 10-9. We objected, pointing out the innumerable instances where extremely local issues would have to be elevated to the legislature. The full House tabled the bill. 

Overall, it was a very good year. But now the days are short, and Cordell is in the autumn of his years here at NHMA. And as so many school children preparing to return to grammar school, so too will we who remain here.  Together we will, for a final time, watch the first bills slip into the capable hands of the legislative staff in mid-September, followed by a final burst of furious activity in November before the white blankets of snow pile-up alongside bills of municipal interest. 

In preparation, we are paying close attention to committees meeting to recommend legislation to next year’s session. And, as every fall, we are interested to hear what you – our members – are working on with your local legislators, even as we prepare our own complement of bills to assist you in your efforts to provide good service and good government to your citizens.

Natch Greyes

Natch Greyes is the Municipal Services Counsel with the New Hampshire Municipal Association.  He may be contacted at 603.224.7447 or at legalinquiries@nhmunicipal.org.