Looking Toward the 2012 Legislative Session&#151and Beyond

The 2012 legislative session is already getting underway, and the New Hampshire Municipal Association (NHMA) Government Affairs staff is tracking actions of importance to municipal governments. Here's a crash course in the filing process and a review of topics of interest.

Legislative Service Request 101
A legislative service request, or LSR, is the beginning of the drafting process to create a bill. The Office of Legislative Services processes all legislation that passes through the New Hampshire General Court. The Office has eight attorneys and other support staff. Only a member of the House of Representatives or a member of the Senate can sponsor an LSR. While the titles of LSRs are published, the actual language is confidential because of an attorney-client relationship between the drafting attorneys and the sponsor. LSRs become public once they are introduced to the appropriate chamber and they become bills; however, one can always ask the sponsor about the content of an LSR, and the sponsor will often share the language. Before being introduced to either the House or the Senate, a sponsor may have his or her LSR redrafted as many times as necessary to achieve the desired goal of the sponsor. Frequently, the sponsor may have a completely new direction in which to take the LSR and, as a result, it is possible that the LSR may receive an entirely new title. The title and the analysis of LSRs are determined by the Legislative Services attorneys and not by the sponsor so that the title and analysis can accurately reflect the content. Once the sponsor is satisfied, the LSR is submitted to the House or Senate clerk for introduction.

Nearly 800 LSRs have been filed by House members for the upcoming legislative session starting in January 2012. The Senate's deadline to introduce new legislation was October 21. LSRs are typically cryptic in nature and provide only a hint of what the final introduced bill may look like; however, they do offer a rough idea behind the legislative intent. As you will read, some LSRs are easier than others to decipher.

In no particular order or priority, the following are a smattering of 2012 LSRs with potential municipal impacts (bill sponsor in parentheses).

  • Relative to substances introduced into New Hampshire's public drinking waters. (Cartwright)
  • Relative to town library budgets. (Hansen)
  • Relative to the use of land use change tax funds. (Hansen)
  • Relative to bridge aid and highway block grants for class V roads in certain village districts. (Coffey)
  • Relative to the default budget in certain towns. (Boehm)
  • Relative to public employee suggestions for cost-saving measures. (Flanagan)
  • Reducing the interest rate on late and delinquent property tax payments. (Vaillancourt)
  • Relative to the right-to-know exemption for public employee personnel files. (Lambert)
  • Permitting municipalities to collect overdue property tax revenues directly from the state in lieu of issuing tax anticipation notes. (Lambert)
  • Relative to the service of town health officers. (Cunningham)
  • Allowing municipalities to authorize the inclusion of a statement of the estimated tax impact of the budget and special warrant articles to be voted at annual meeting. (McGuire)
  • Relative to remedies under the right-to-know law. (Giuda)
  • Relative to a person's residence for voting and all other legal purposes. (Bates)
  • Relative to public employer negotiations for health care coverage. (Kurk)
  • Relative to exceptions for regulations of hawkers and peddlers by municipalities. (Bowers)
  • Allowing towns and cities to send tax, water and sewer bills electronically and establishing a commission to study other municipal functions which could be done electronically to achieve cost savings. (Rowe)
  • Authorizing municipalities to adopt bylaws relating to stormwater. (Spang)
  • Relative to service animal registration in towns. (Schlachman)
  • Allowing planning boards to swear in witnesses. (Peckham)
  • Establishing a committee to study the ability of local communities to deliver essential services. (Harding)
  • Establishing a property tax credit for married couples with children. (Hopper)
  • Relative to the limitation on appropriations under the municipal budget law. (Simard)
  • Relative to voting rights of certain budget committee members. (Pratt)
  • Relative to amending warrant articles in towns that have adopted the official ballot referenda form of meeting. (Pratt)
  • Relative to investigation by the state attorney general of conflicts of interest of municipal officers and employees. (LaCasse)
  • Relative to the writing of warrant articles. (Mirski)
  • Repealing dog licensing requirements. (Cohn)
  • Requiring all property taxes to be assessed on the value that exceeds $100,000. (Richardson)
  • Relative to penalties for speeding in the compact parts of towns or cities. (Ulery)
  • Relative to local control for municipalities. (Mauro)
  • Requiring a two-thirds majority for borrowing by official ballot towns and school districts. (Kingsbury)
  • Relative to the definition of "meeting" under the right-to-know law. (Vaillancourt)
  • Relative to removing public officials for cause. (Murphy)
  • Relative to an election for the recall of members of a board of selectmen or school board. (Pratt)
  • Requiring voter approval for membership dues payments by towns. (Burt)
  • Relative to amending official ballot warrant articles. (McQuire)
  • Relative to acceptance of rules, standards and guidelines by municipalities. (Mirski)
  • Relative to the definition of "public body" under the right-to-know law. (Cohn)
  • Relative to investigation of criminal complaints against a public servant. (Cohn)
  • Discontinuing the regional planning commissions. (Kingsbury)
  • Relative to the authority of conservation commissions. (Hoelzel)
  • Establishing a committee to study the maintenance of water and sewer infrastructure. (Foose)
  • Defining a default budget for a municipality. (Pettengill)
  • Relative to planning board approvals. (Moran)
  • Establishing a commission to study and recommend standards for down shifting and cost shifting. (Foose)
  • Establishing a committee to study the feasibility of allowing towns to split into smaller political subdivisions. (Warden)

Unlike the legislative processes in other states, every introduced bill in New Hampshire gets a public hearing. Once an LSR has been finalized, it receives a bill number and gets introduced into the legislative hopper. The 2012 Legislature will begin public hearings on these bills sometime early- to mid-January of 2012. Contact the Government Affairs staff with any questions regarding these LSRs.

Legislative Study Committee Reports
As the name implies, legislative study committees are created for the purpose to further study and investigate issues about which the Legislature desires additional information. These committees operate between legislative sessions, which affords more time for legislators to tackle complex policy issues in greater detail. These committees hold public meetings, invite and take testimony, and may even break into working groups to gather additional information. Legislative study committees typically report their findings, with legislative recommendations if appropriate, to the Legislature by November 1 of each year. The following sections summarize the work of three active legislative study committees.

HB 232: Abandoned Homes in Manufactured Housing Parks
HB 232 was introduced in 2011 as a solution to a problem that is alleged to be occurring in a handful of municipalities across the state. According to the proponents of the bill, several towns are denying demolition permits to manufactured housing park owners to remove abandoned and dilapidated manufactured homes, unless the park owner pays the accrued back taxes on the structure. The statute is clear that the manufactured home owner, and not the park owner, is responsible for property taxes, but the statute is silent with regard to issuing demolition permits for abandoned homes. The proponents wanted legislation that would force a municipality to issue permits without requiring payment of back taxes. Although the members of the Municipal and County Government committee acknowledged there is a problem, they took note that it is not a statewide problem, and the proffered solutions all had unintended consequences. In the end, the committee recommended that the bill was Inexpedient-to-Legislate. It is highly likely that this subject matter will once again be raised in the next legislative session.

SB 142: Integrated Land Development Permit
The Department of Environmental Services (DES) submitted SB 142 in order to establish a new integrated land development permit. The new permit will replace one or more individual permits now issued by DES; however, all existing technical standards from the individual programs will continue to apply. The applicant is promised, in most cases, a decision within 45 days of application submittal. The program's initial focus will be on four types of land development permits now issued by DES, including Wetland, Shoreland, Alteration of Terrain and Subsurface.

The intent behind SB 142 is to create a consistent and streamlined project review and permitting process that will improve coordination and communication between various parties, and allow a more holistic review process in regulating these land development activities. Municipalities may, but are not required to, participate in any or all phases of the integrated land development permit program in conjunction with their municipal review requirements. The DES is currently soliciting additional stakeholder input and will review this feedback with members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee when they reconvene later this fall.

HB 2: Defined Contribution Pension Plan Study Committee
One of the many pension reform measures contained in last session's HB 2 was the creation of the Committee to Study the Establishment of a Federal Tax Qualified Voluntary Defined Contribution Plan (Chapter 249:4, Laws of 2011). Formed in September, the committee met weekly through October to discuss the components of a new defined contribution (DC) pension plan. It is anticipated that the committee will propose new legislation for the 2012 session. For now, committee members are charged solely with making broad recommendations for a new DC plan, the details of which will be hammered out during House and Senate policy committee hearings beginning in January.

Expect the committee's recommen-dations to include the following:

  • The new DC plan will apply to new hires only; the existing NHRS defined benefit plan will be closed to new hires.
  • Current NHRS employer/employee groups will be required to participate in the DC plan (despite the word "voluntary" in the committee title).
  • Employer contributions to the DC plan will contain a component earmarked to pay down the unfunded liability in the existing NHRS defined benefit plan.
  • Administration of the DC plan will be put out to bid; NHRS may or may not be chosen.

Looking Toward the 2013-2014 Legislative Biennium
NHMA will embark on its biennial legislative policy process starting in April 2012. The goal of the NHMA Legislative Policy Process is the adoption by NHMA member municipalities of legislative policies for the 2013-2014 biennium. The Committee on Government Affairs (CGA) is responsible for developing legislative policy recommendations to bring before the full NHMA membership at the biennial Legislative Policy Conference to be held in September, 2012. CGA has 75 members, which includes all 31 members of the Municipal Advocacy Committee.

In order to develop legislative policy recommendations, CGA divides into three policy committee of 25 members each: General Government, Revenue and Intergovernmental Relations; Municipal Administration and Finance Management; and Planning and Environmental Quality. Convening from April through June of 2012, these policy committees will review policy proposals submitted by local officials and affiliate group members, as well as proposals generated by committee members. The committee process will allow for in-depth review and discussion of policy suggestions.

Got Ideas? We Want To Hear From You!
If you have ideas about legislative changes that could help local government work more efficiently or serve citizens better, please let us know. Use the 2013-2014 Legislative Policy Form or call the Government Affairs staff if you have questions. Contact the New Hampshire Municipal Association Government Affairs staff at 800.852.3358, ext. 384, or by email.