Executive Director Message

Margaret M.L. Byrnes

Our unusual 2021 legislative session will come to an end very soon; in fact, by the time you are reading this issue of Town & City, the session will be over, and we are hopeful the state budget will have been adopted and signed by the governor. From June 10 – 17, many bills will go to a Committee of Conference, including the state budget (HB 1) and the state budget trailer bill (HB 2). The official end date of the session this year is June 24.

The session has been unusual in a variety of ways—just like the past 15 months. Operating against the backdrop of a State of Emergency with fully virtual hearings, nonadherence to the traditional Tuesday-through-Thursday legislative hearing schedule (we hope Friday hearings will not be repeated next year!), House sessions held in a “sportsplex”, Senate sessions in the House, NHMA advocated for cities and towns—tracking, reporting on, and/or testifying to more than 300 bills from our homes or the office. We muted and unmuted; learned which legislators had cats, kids, or dogs at home; and dressed professionally—from the waist up, at least. If you were following our Legislative Bulletin (please subscribe on our website to receive it electronically if you haven’t already!), you know that we often played defense this session, as a disturbing trend emerged, particularly among House bills—a trend of anti-local government, with legislation seeking to curb local authority or micromanage local operations, sometimes even to punish local officials. Many of our wins came in the forms of defeats, particularly the defeat of HB 111, which would have dismantled basic immunity protections for local government officials acting in good faith, and HB 307, which would have stripped municipalities of the fundamental authority to manage the use of town property by barring a municipality from prohibiting the use (e.g., discharge) of a firearm on municipal property.

On the state budget front, although there are some serious losses—in particular, the failure to fund 121 state aid grants (SAG) for crucial local water/wastewater infrastructure projects is a glaring omission from the budget, as of this writing—some positive progress emerged as well: The current Senate budget makes an immediate commitment to distribute 30% of the total Meals & Rentals tax to municipalities. Although this amendment to HB 2 (the state budget trailer bill) changes the statutorily required distribution from 40% to 30%, municipalities have not received 40% in decades. The legislature began reneging on its commitment to 40% back in the late 1970s with the first decrease to the distribution. Fast forward to the 2020/21 state budget, where the municipal distribution was only about 22%, and the so-called “catch up” formula, meant to catch the distribution up to the original 40% over time, was suspended—as it was in nearly every budget since 2010.

Assuming there are no drastic changes made to legislation through the Committees of Conference, it looks like this session—with all its tough fights, controversial issues, and technical challenges—will be a hard-fought success, overall, for cities and towns. This is due in major part to the efforts of local officials, including NHMA’s Board of Directors. Thank you to our board and to all of you who assisted in these efforts in large and small ways—by testifying, sending a letter or an email to a committee or a legislator, registering your position on the website, or picking up the phone and talking to your representative or senator. It is the collective effort and support that makes NHMA strong and able to advocate for and otherwise support the 234 cities and towns in New Hampshire; thank you for making us possible.

Margaret M.L. Byrnes

Margaret serves as Executive Director and oversees all activities of the New Hampshire Municipal Association.