Bills That Are Not Going Away

By Cordell A. Johnston, Government Affairs 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.

Although the House and Senate held their last meetings of the regular 2019 session in late June, it is not the end of legislative activity for the year.

Retained and Re-referred Bills.  The House and Senate this year retained or re-referred 231 bills -- 157 retained bills in the House and 74 re-referred bills in the Senate, all of which must receive a committee recommendation by late this calendar year (November 14 for retained bills, December 19 for re-referred bills).   

According to A Guide to Legislative Advocacy for Local Officials, prepared by NHMA, by definition, a “retained bill” is a bill that remains in the House committee to which it was referred for further work during the first year of the biennium.  It must be reported out for a vote by the full House in the first few session days of the second year of the biennium.

A “re-referred bill” is a bill that remains in the Senate committee to which it was referred for further work during the first year of the biennium.  It also must be reported out for a vote by the full Senate in the first few session days of the second year of the biennium. 

A few committees had meetings in June to discuss retained bills, but most will not do so until September or later. (There usually is minimal or no legislative activity in July and August.) As NHMA does not publish the Legislative Bulletin in the summer and fall, please check the House and Senate calendars regularly for committee activity on any retained or re-referred bills of interest.

Every retained or re-referred bill will ultimately get a committee recommendation of Ought to Pass (or Ought to Pass with Amendment), Inexpedient to Legislate, or Refer for Interim Study. Those recommendations will go to the full House or Senate, as the case may be, at their first session in January, and each bill will proceed from there in the same manner as other bills.

Below, listed by committee, are some of the bills that may be of interest to our municipal members. NHMA will follow all of these bills (and others) and will, as time permits, notify local officials who we know are interested when the bills are scheduled for committee work:

House Municipal and County Government Committee

HB 102, relative to municipal ordinances regarding the use of plastics.

HB 143, relative to incompatibility of offices.

HB 311, regulating sober living facilities.

HB 559, enabling municipalities to ban single-use sources of plastic pollution.

HB 655, regulating disorderly houses.

House Election Law Committee

HB 408-LOCAL, relative to postponement of town meetings and local elections. (This bill will likely be recommended as Inexpedient to Legislate, as it covers the same subject matter that was in SB 104, which both houses passed. Still, we will pay attention.)

HB 431, relative to election officers at additional polling places.

HB 554, relative to the duty of the moderator to verify the device count.

HB 666, relative to recounts in elections.

SB 283-FN, relative to post-election audits of electronic ballot counting devices.

House Environment and Agriculture Committee

HB 501-FN, establishing a cost of care fund to assist municipalities caring for animals during animal cruelty cases.

SB 79, relative to required reporting on waste reduction.

House Judiciary Committee

HB 661, relative to a cause of action for toxin exposure.

House Public Works and Highways Committee

HB 478-FN-A, establishing a road usage fee and making an appropriation therefor.

HB 538-FN-A-LOCAL, increasing the road toll and providing funding for state road and bridge projects.

House Resources, Recreation and Development Committee

HB 683-FN, relative to the rights of property owners abutting certain highways and rail trails.

Senate Commerce Committee

HB 253, relative to criminal records checks in the employee application process.

Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee

HB 130, relative to property tax relief for totally and permanently disabled veterans.

HB 303, relative to certification of building code compliance inspectors.

HB 556, allowing municipalities to process absentee ballots prior to election day.

SB 23, relative to a town establishing a minimum age to purchase a product.

SB 46, relative to qualifications of the inspectors of election.

SB 69, relative to short-term rentals. NHMA Policy.

SB 152, relative to third-party inspections conducted pursuant to a planning board approval.

SB 157, making undeclared voters eligible to be inspectors.

SB 158, relative to town and city membership in a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization and prohibiting recipients of municipal or county funds from using such funds for lobbying.

SB 229, relative to audit recounts.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

HB 707, relative to settlement money from actions pertaining to the contamination of groundwater or drinking water.

Senate Executive Departments and Administration Committee

SB 113, relative to municipal authority regarding the state building code.

Senate Judiciary Committee.

HB 153, relative to circumstances under which police officer disciplinary records shall be public documents.

HB 481, relative to the legalization and regulation of cannabis and making appropriations therefor. 

Study Committees and Commissions.  Retained and re-referred bills will not be the only legislative activity between now and next January. The legislature also created about 50 study committees and commissions that will begin work in the late summer or early fall.

In legislative language, the difference between a study committee and a study commission is not merely one of personal preference in word choice. A study committee consists solely of legislators—typically one or two senators and three to five representatives—although it can solicit information and testimony from non-legislators. A study commission includes a few legislators and some number of non-legislators representing parties that have an interest in the subject matter. A study committee is almost always required to file its final report by November 1 of the same year. A study commission may have a longer term.

Below is a list of the bills creating study committees and commissions that are most likely to be of interest to municipal officials. All of these bills have passed both houses, and although not all have been signed into law yet, a veto of a study committee or commission is a rare thing, so all of these are likely to be created.

HB 128, establishing a committee to study veterans’ property tax credits and exemptions.

HB 312, establishing a committee to study tiny houses.

HB 429, establishing a committee to study ways to improve civic engagement in New Hampshire.

HB 495, establishing a commission on drinking water.

HB 539, establishing a committee to study the implementation of Accessible Ballots.

HB 617, establishing a committee to study recycling streams and solid waste management in New Hampshire.

HB 737, establishing a commission to investigate and analyze the environmental and public health impacts relating to releases of perfluorinated chemicals in the air, soil, and groundwater in Merrimack, Bedford and Litchfield.

SB 74, establishing a committee to study the economic impact of land conservation and to review the land and community heritage investment program (LCHIP) surcharge

SB 97, establishing a committee to study providing certain health care services while ensuring increased access to affordable health care in rural areas of the state

SB 154, establishing a committee to study tax incentives for promoting development of dense workforce housing in community centers

SB 43, establishing a commission to study barriers to increased land development in New Hampshire

SB 59, establishing the commission to study the incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder in first responders

The 2020 session. It may seem too early to begin thinking about legislation for next year. It’s not. In fact, if you wait a few months, it will be too late. The House amended its rules to adopt deadlines for filing legislation for next year. There will be just one period this year for filing legislative service requests (unlike election years, when there is one period after the state primary and one period after the general election). The filing period opens on September 4 and ends on September 20. The Senate usually has later filing deadline dates. 

Local officials who are thinking about proposing legislation for next year should talk to their representatives and/or senator soon. And please let us know about anything you are proposing, so we can work together as appropriate, or at least not work at cross purposes.

Cordell A. Johnston is Government Affairs Counsel for the New Hampshire Municipal Association.  Cordell may be reached at 800.852.3358 or at