New Hampshire Legal Assistance

Helping to balance the scales of justice for everyone since 1971.

NHLA 2019 Legislative Advocacy Report

Posted Sep 23, 2019 by: Dawn McKinney, Policy Director

As a full-service law firm, NHLA offers our clients legal advice and information, representation in all of New Hampshire’s state and federal courts and before several state agencies, and advocacy at the New Hampshire Legislature. In the legislative forum, we advocate for policies that reduce poverty, promote the well-being of low-income people and senior citizens, and enhance access to justice for all. We target our work toward policy proposals for which NHLA can provide specialized expertise grounded in practical experience representing clients. 

Last year, eight of our staff registered as lobbyists, to comply with state law. Almost all are attorneys who visit the State House periodically to provide expert testimony and advice to lawmakers in a certain area - such as protections for domestic violence victims, seniors, and children with disabilities. Here's a look at what they did in the last session: 

NHLA 2019 Legislative Report

In the 2019 legislative session, New Hampshire Legal Assistance:

  • Tracked more than 140 bills;
  • Proactively supported 23 bills;
    • Of these 23, nine successfully passed the legislature (three of which were vetoed by the Governor),
    • five were included in the budget, and
    • another six were retained, meaning the legislature will do more work on these and vote on each early next year; one was replaced by another bill which passed and two more died.
  • Actively opposed 13 bills, of which 11 were successfully defeated and two were retained (and will be acted on in 2020).

Below is an overview of some big victories for our clients this session, as well as a report of all priority bills broken-down by issue area.

Highlights:

In youth law, NHLA successfully secured passage of HB 574 creating a path to emancipation of minors as well as HB 550 which extends the foster care age from 18 to 21 and provides resources for education and housing services.   While in housing law, the legislature passed an important bill that protects the rights of tenants in manufactured housing parks. HB 684 gives renters the right to contest arbitrary rate increases, which for too many low-income residents can lead to evictions. Importantly, this bill also requires the park owners to inform residents of this right before issuing a rate increase, and to bear the costs of any mediation—an important financial protection for tenants. “After decades of unsuccessful efforts to obtain some protection from unreasonable rent increases, the enactment of HB 684 finally gives tenants in manufactured housing parks a mechanism to obtain some relief,” says Elliott Berry, Director of NHLA’s Housing Project. These changes went into effect on July 1, 2019.

This session, we also saw a victory for the elderly population of New Hampshire, which is the second-oldest state in the country. HB 621, passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor, establishes a State Commission on Aging. “NH’s Commission will focus on issues affecting older people across all state agencies and build effective public/private partnerships,” says Dan Hobbs, NHLA’s Elder Advocacy Coordinator. “The Commission will plan for and address all aspects of our aging population including practices that support healthy aging and making New Hampshire an age-friendly state.” Before the passage of the bill, the only state entity focused on aging was limited in scope to health and human services. The new Commission includes a permanent director and representatives from seven different state agencies along with regional representation.

Lowlights

Despite NHLA’s best efforts and significant client support and testimony, two bills to improve the foreclosure process in NH were killed.  In addition, three priority bills which NHLA and our allies were able to get through the legislature were vetoed by the Governor.  In employment law, NHLA worked with the ACLU to secure passage of SB 100, which would have prevented discrimination in employment based on a criminal recorda protection that would help those who have paid their debts to society find stable and gainful employment. SB 146 would have restored the first week of unemployment benefits.  Currently there is a one week wait for this assistance, which negatively impacts low-income workers. 

Meanwhile, NHLA and the NH Alliance for Healthy Aging got HB 696 passed; “HB 696 sought to create protective orders that would allow disabled or older adults to seek immediate relief from the court to stop exploitation and prevent further abuse,” said Hobbs. “At present, trying to obtain such relief is complicated and difficult for a victim to pursue on their own.” NHLA will continue to work on these priorities again in the future. 

2019 Legislation:

Below is a list of 38 bills that NHLA was most actively involved in, categorized by issue area. If the position listed was support and it passed, then it was a WIN for NHLA and our clients.  Likewise, if the position was support and it is dead, then that is a LOSS. 

Family Law / Domestic Violence:

  • Passed:
    • HB 550 (Support): *Passed Without Governor’s Signature* This bill requires DHHS to provide foster care services to some individuals between the ages of 18 and 21, and extends the eligibility for funds until age 23.
    • HB 574 (Support): This bill establishes a judicial procedure for the emancipation of minors.
    • HB 427 (No position): This bill permits a parent or guardian to petition for protective orders on behalf of a minor. Passed with a compromise amendment, which NHLA did not oppose. 
  • Active:
    • HB 702 (Oppose): *Retained* This bill would require employees of supervised visitation centers to be licensed by DHHS.
  • Dead:
    • SB 107 (Support): *Replaced by an effectively similar bill, HB 550*
    • HB 583 (Oppose): This bill would have more narrowly defined the role of guardians ad litem, and changed the legal standard from best interest to a consideration of safety and rights.
    • HB 332 (Oppose): This bill would have prohibited the court from ordering reunification therapy in parenting cases without the parties’ consent.
    • HB 386 (Oppose): This bill would have provided that, unless otherwise agreed upon, parents would share weekends and holidays.
    • HB 451 (Oppose): This bill would have permitted the court to use an alternative ending date of a marriage for the purposes of determining alimony.
    • HB 333 (Oppose): This bill would have permitted the parties in a parenting dispute to engage in therapy, but would have allowed the court to require a psychological evaluation if there was evidence of domestic violence or abuse and neglect.

Housing

  • Passed:
    • HB 684 (Support): This bill allows residents in manufactured housing parks to petition for a mediation of arbitrary rent increases, with the costs of mediation being borne by the park owner; it also requires park owners to provide notice of opportunity for mediation.
  • Active:
    • HB 436 (Oppose): *Retained* This bill would establish an alternative judicial method for owners’ associations to foreclose on a condominium lien.
  • Dead:
    • HB 336 (Oppose): This bill would have required a tenant to keep an address on file with the court following a judgment for the landlord for possession or damages.
    • HB 173 (Oppose): This bill would have required tenants to provide unpaid rent to the Court prior to receiving a hearing to contest eviction for nonpayment.
    • HB 584 (Oppose): This bill would have clarified the procedures for summary possession actions against tenants.
    • HB 270 (Support): This bill would have established the procedures for judicial foreclosure.
    • HB 309 (Support): This bill would have provided several reforms to the foreclosure process; but not gone as far as judicial foreclosure. 
    • HB 696 (Support): This bill would have established a procedure for protective orders for vulnerable adults.

Elder Advocacy

  • Passed:
    • HB 621 (Support):  This bill establishes the State Commission on Aging.

Juvenile Justice

  • Passed:
    • SB 263 (Support): This will protect public school students in New Hampshire from discrimination on the basis of age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, color, marital status, familial status, disability, religion, national origin.
  • Active:
    • HB 677 (Support): *Retained* This bill would modify discipline and expulsion policies and require the bureau of student wellness to provide school districts support in addressing behavioral health needs.
    • HB 716 (Support): *Retained* This bill would require the department of education to pay for the transportation of students who were moved to a new district during abuse or neglect proceedings, such that the student stays enrolled in the original district.
    • SB 302 (Support): *Retained* This bill would have clarified behavior that justifies a student suspension and limited suspension time.

Employment

  • Passed:
    • SB 290: (No Position) This bill makes changes to the New Hampshire granite advantage (Medicaid expansion) health care program.
    • SB 197 (Support): This bill prohibits employers from requiring low-wage employees to enter into a noncompete agreement.
  • Active:
    • HB 690 (Support): *Retained* This bill would have legislatively removed the work requirement from the Granite Advantage Health Care Program.
    • HB 346 (Support): *Retained* This bill would have set guidelines governing non-compete agreements between employees and employers.
    • SB 173 (Support): *Retained* This bill would have required the state to make accessible a public database of criminal histories, for the purposes of applicant screening in the hiring process.

Immigration

  • Dead:
    • HB 232 (Oppose): This bill would have required state and local government entities to comply with federal immigration detainer requests and prohibited them from adopting policies that discourage the enforcement of federal immigration law.
    • HB 471 (Oppose): This bill would require drivers’ licenses and non-driver IDs to indicate whether the holder is a US citizen.
    • SB 317 (Oppose): This bill would have prohibited sanctuary jurisdictions in New Hampshire.
    • SB 146 (Support):  This bill would have eliminated the waiting period prior to receiving unemployment benefits.
    • SB 100 (Support): This bill would prevent discrimination in employment based on criminal background checks.