We’re halfway through the two-year legislative term, and the hoped-for “return to normal” is already looking a little different than pre-2020. Unfortunately, Covid is still with us, and with it some health and safety procedures and recommendations. While the New Hampshire legislature won’t be remote this year, there are already more committee proceedings scheduled to be broadcast online than pre-2020. In addition, air purifiers now hum throughout the hallways, and masks are a not uncommon professional accessory.
It’s also the time of a big transition at NHMA. I’ll be stepping into the Government Affairs role as Cordell transitions to his next adventure. Katherine Heck has been hired as our new Government Finance Advisor. And, we’re in the process of finalizing onboarding a new Municipal Services Counsel.
Appropriately, our fairly new team is not looking to push any major legislation this session, and we anticipate that – much like the first year of the term – this year will be more about defense than offense. We anticipate revival of the dreaded HB 111 – or at least some form of “qualified immunity” bill, bills imposing new regulations on New Hampshire’s municipalities in an attempt to find a solution to the state’s housing shortage, and a spate of well-intentioned but misguided bills on other matters of municipal concern.
The good news is that we do anticipate some helpful bills being filed as well. Municipalities and legislators across the state have been reaching out about bills ranging from amendments to help them build river walks for their communities to changing abatement interest to funding the 11 water and wastewater projects that were left out of the budget. We’re eager to get out and advocate for these important issues – and all the other ones that you’ve let us know about since the end of the 2021 session.
There will be some heavy lifting this year, and – as always – we’re going to need your help to do it. It was you – the hundreds of municipal officials and employees – who took the time last year to call, email, and meet with your legislators who were instrumental in turning the legislature away from the siren song of bad bills. Despite the oddity of committee recommendations of ought-to-pass, your efforts with your legislators caused the legislature to put a stop to bills that would have:
- Imposed a constitutional 2 percent tax cap in every municipality;
- Severely limited the authority of city councils to enact ordinances;
- Allowed gunfire on any municipal property and penalized local officials who try to regulate such activity;
- Eliminated immunity for municipal employees and officials for innocent mistakes in the performance of their duties;
- Micromanaged the municipal budgeting process by imposing needlessly complex requirements.
These efforts were matched with lobbying efforts that led to modest improvements in the law:
- Through the budget process, the meals and rooms tax statute was amended to require distribution of 30 percent of the revenue to municipalities—not the 40 percent that was originally guaranteed, but far better than what has actually been distributed over the past several decades.
- After a disturbing supreme court decision threatened the confidentiality of communications between municipalities and their legal counsel, the legislature quickly amended RSA 91-A to clarify that those records are exempt from disclosure.
- A broadband matching grant initiative was established to help municipalities expand broadband coverage.
- The net metering capacity limit for “municipal hosts” was increased from one megawatt to five megawatts.
- A pilot program for the use of electronic poll books to check in voters at state and municipal elections was made permanent.
- Numerous small changes were made to improve municipal budgeting, finance, and tax collection processes.
While much is uncertain about the upcoming session, we know that we’ll need your help to replicate these successes. There’s no better advocate than a legislator’s hometown, and we know how important it is for us to do everything we can to facilitate that relationship. To that end, we are – as always – happy to take your emails and calls to help you improve your community and make New Hampshire an even better place for everyone to stay, work, and play.
Natch Greyes is the Municipal Services Counsel with the New Hampshire Municipal Association. He may be contacted at 603.224.7447 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.