Louise Andrus’s View From Concord – February 2023

By Louise Andrus

Happy March.  Maple syrup season is in full swing.  Hope everyone has a great season!
We are in full swing in the House.  Committee meetings which are public hearings on bills; Committee Executive Sessions on bills which is a vote by the Committee members as to how the bill is going to be passed on to the Full House, Retained, or sent to Interim Study; and Full House Sessions.

I am on the Judiciary Committee.  One day we held what one might call a marathon session. Started at 9 AM and worked straight through the day and finished at 7 PM. The hearings were on bills: HB 469-FN prohibiting discrimination against tenants holding certain vouchers for purposes of renting dwellings; HB 567 relative to notice of rent increases in certain residential rental property; HB 641-FN relative to clearance inspections following identification of a lead exposure hazard; HB 362-FN relative to complaint procedures in cases before the Commission for Human Rights; HB 533-FN relative to public school human rights complaints; HB 543-N relative to discrimination against veterans and price discrimination among other protected classes; HB 647-FN relative to causes of action for individual rights; HB 343 relative to release of confidential records of a person appointed a guardian; and HB 396 relative to state recognition of biological sex. 

The bills and actions to date of these and all other bills can be seen on the General Court website at gencourt.state.nh.us.  This website is a wealth of information. Become a part of the process. Let your opinion on any and all bills be known. Your opinions are needed. This is your state!

Another bill that went through the process of a Public Hearing and Executive Session was HB 347-FN., establishing a superior court land use review docket. Majority: Ought To Pass With Amendment. Minority: Inexpedient To Legislate.

Rep. Bob Lynn for the majority of Judiciary: This bill provides for the establishment of a specialized land use docket in the superior court to hear all land use appeals from local planning, zoning, and like boards. Its jurisdiction would not cover appeals from any state agencies that may render decisions impacting land use, such as the Department of Environmental Services. The bill also calls for the appointment of a new superior court judge to preside over this docket and requires that such judge be qualified by virtue of knowledge and experience in land use and property law. 

The amendment makes clear that the new judge is to be an additional superior court judge and that the authorized judgeships of the superior court (not counting the chief justice) is increased from 21 to 22. The amendment also makes clear that this new docket does not affect in any way the concurrent jurisdiction of the Housing Appeals Board (HAB) to hear appeals within its jurisdiction under RSA 679. 

It should be noted, however, that, unlike the HAB, which is limited to hearing appeals involving housing developments, the land use docket also could hear appeals in cases involving proposed commercial developments. It also is important to note that, as was the case with the legislation establishing the HAB, this bill makes no substantive changes to land use law. 

Given the extreme shortage in the availability of housing throughout the state, the committee majority supports the purpose of the bill – to consolidate before a judge knowledgeable in this specialized area of law all land use appeals brought to superior court. The idea is to streamline the appellate process for such cases, thus reducing the time and expense involved in the development process and hopefully increasing the availability of affordable housing. Vote 16-4.

Rep. Louise Andrus for the minority of Judiciary: The purpose of this bill is to establish a land use review docket in the super court to expedite the appeals of land review cases. In 2022, HB 1389 establishing a superior court land use review docket was voted on by the Judiciary Committee to send to Interim Study. In June 2022 an Interim Study hearing was held. The findings were brought back to the Judiciary Committee in November 2022, and the vote was “Not Recommended for Future Legislation,” 14-5. 

Under current New Hampshire laws, when a party disagrees with the decision of a zoning board, an appeal can be made to the Superior Court or to the New Hampshire Housing Appeals Board.  New Hampshire is not a home rule state, and therefore local government, towns and cities, obtain all of their authority to act from the State Legislature. In my opinion, the Legislature spent years passing laws regarding zoning, and now we are passing a law that is unnecessary, and are we are taking away the rights of local government?

If I can be of help, please let me know.  I may be reached at 603 648-2510 or L.A.Andrus21@nullgmail.com or at 406 Raccoon Hill Rd, Salisbury NH 03268.