Legislative Update: We’re Off to the Races
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.
November 9th started the busy season for us at NHMA. The second bill filing period opened, and we spent the holiday season talking to legislators about bills that they had filed and bills that they thought that they wanted to file. We know that our educational efforts made a difference in helping legislators understand the implications of different policy options, and we are grateful that so many legislators took to the time to speak with us.
Now, we hope, they are taking the time to speak with you – our members. And, we’re working to facilitate that effort. In January, we’ll be visiting different regions of the state, presenting to crowds of local officials and legislators about the bills that we think will matter this session, and hearing from our local officials and legislators what they care about this session. This is a new effort for us, and we hope that it will help build stronger ties between local officials and legislators and lead to greater coordination in solving problems both at the local level and in Concord.
The session is shaping up to be a good one. There’s only one bill that we really want to kill – relative to requiring towns and school districts use warrant articles for lobbying agents – which is going to clutter up warrants across the state. And, there are quite a few good bills that have been filed. To name a few:
- relative to payment by the state of a portion of retirement system contributions of political subdivision employers – restoring a portion of the state’s share of employer costs for police, teachers, and firefighters in NHRS.
- relative to religious use of land and structures – protecting religious practice while also clarifying the law in a manner that removes ambiguity from its drafting.
- relative to the fee for providing records under the right to know law and establishing a procedure for judicial review of excessive or burdensome record requests – allowing municipalities to recover reasonable labor costs and other costs for responding to voluminous or excessive record requests.
- relative to public notice requirements for zoning board of adjustment hearings – allowing ZBA hearings to be noticed online instead of in a newspaper.
- relative to town council-town manager form of local government – clarifying that towns that have adopted RSA 49-D have the same powers and authority of municipalities that have adopted RSA 49-C
Many of those good bills are NHMA policy bills – bills that you told us to fight for during our legislative policy setting process for the 2023-2024 legislative session. We’re eager to do whatever we can to get those across the finish line, and we are incredibly grateful to all of you who have already volunteered to come to Concord and testify.
To help all of us, we’re also rolling out use of a new software platform called FastDemocracy. It’s a bill table and a lot more. Anyone visiting our government affairs page on our website will be able to see what bills we’re tracking, our position on them, and what’s happening in Concord on everyone of our tracked bills. Even better? They can subscribe for email updates – daily or weekly (published Fridays) – to our entire tracked bill list or a subcategory or, even, an individual bill. The software updates every four-minutes, and our experiences is that we’re getting information faster than it is publicly available on the legislature’s website. If all goes well, there will be no need for anyone interested in municipally targeted legislation to visit any website other than NHMA’s.
We will be continuing publication of the bulletin this year, but it’ll be slimmed down to one-or-two articles, optimized to provide an in-depth look at biggest issues of the week. Smaller news will be pushed out on FastDemocracy, which gives us the ability to include a brief note about every bill that we follow. Visitors to our online bill table will see that information instantly while email subscribers will get that information when the legislature is scheduled to or does take action on a particular bill.
Our hope is that this new approach will enable our members to get information about what’s happening in Concord faster and enable them to take action sooner by providing you with a more comprehensive view of what’s happening than we’ve ever been able to provide previously. Even though these big changes are occurring, we’re also still relying on the tried-and-true methods that we’ve used since the inception of NHMA in 1941. There’s no digital substitute for an in-person conversation, and that’s why we’re still going to be calling for you to come to Concord and testify and why we’re working hard to facilitate better connections between you and your legislators.
We recognize that this session is going to be a bit of an experiment, and not just for us. The House has never been so closely tied, and we’re expecting to see some surprises over the course of the session. We know that means that we’re going to have to put a lot more effort into grassroots organizing over the next two years than we’ve ever had to previously because each and every one of those 400 representatives has a greater ability to sway legislation than ever before.
In advance of this session, I want to thank you all for the hard work that you are about to put into ensuring that municipalities see good outcomes at the legislature. We at the government affairs team look forward to seeing many of you in person soon and talking to a great many more of you on the phone.
Natch Greyes is the Government Affairs Counsel with the New Hampshire Municipal Association. He may be contacted at 603.224.7447 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.