Legislative Wrap-Up

Cordell A. Johnston
New Hampshire Town and City went to press, the House and Senate were planning to return on June 27 to take care of their last major piece of unfinished business—considering overrides of any vetoes issued by the Governor.

Although the legislature itself made plenty of headlines this year, it was actually a rather quiet year for legislation of municipal interest. In contrast to last year, which saw the adoption of the biennial state budget, major retirement reform legislation, and important changes in labor laws, most of the news this year was about bills that didn’t pass.

Still, there are a number of new laws that will affect municipalities. Here are a few of the more notable ones:

Voter identification. SB 289 requires voters to show photo identification to vote in any election. The Governor vetoed this bill, and as of this writing, it is unclear whether the veto will be overridden. Assuming it does become law, the requirement will take effect before the September primary.

Right to Know Law penalties. Under HB 1223, if a court finds that a public officer, employee, or other official has violated the Right to Know Law in bad faith, the court shall impose a civil penalty of $250 to $2,000. The court may also require violators to undergo remedial training.

Pension spiking repealed. HB 1483 repeals the assessment for excess retirement benefits paid to public employees that was enacted several years ago, and that was scheduled to take effect on July 1.

SB 2 study committee. SB 238 creates a legislative committee to “examine the implementation and administration of the official ballot referendum form of meeting pursuant to RSA 40:13 and make recommendations relative to improving the process and enhancing flexible governance.” The committee is to report its findings and make recommendations for legislation by November 1 of this year.

Impact fees for state highways. Under SB 291, a municipality that has collected impact fees for improvements to municipal roads is permitted to use those fees for improvements to state highways within the municipality. However, the municipality is not permitted to adopt new impact fees specifically for state highways. In addition, any municipality that has an impact fee ordinance must prepare an annual accounting of impact fee expenditures.

The legislature killed (fortunately, in many cases) scores of bills that would have affected municipalities. Among them were:

  • a bill to replace the New Hampshire Retirement System’s defined benefit pension plan with a defined contribution plan;
  • a bill to reinstate the property tax exemption for telephone poles and conduits;
  • numerous bills dealing with SB 2 town meetings, primarily focused on the definition of “default budget” and restrictions on amending warrant articles;
  • a bill that would have prohibited municipalities from paying membership dues to an organization (such as the New Hampshire Municipal Association) that employs a lobbyist; and
  • several gun bills, including one that would have preempted municipal zoning authority with respect to any gun business, and another that would have eliminated restrictions on the discharge of guns in compact areas of municipalities.

The Final Legislative Bulletin, which will be published and available online at www.nhlgc.org later this summer, will summarize all 2012 laws of municipal significance.

Cordell Johnston is Government Affairs Counsel for the New Hampshire Municipal Association. Contact Cordell at 800.852.3358, ext. 3408, or governmentaffairs@nhlgc.org.