The Natives Were Restless in the N.H. House Thursday 

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Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Windham, retired Supreme Court Chief Justice argues for increasing the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75 years old in a proposed constitutional amendment approved Thursday by the House.


CONCORD — Faced with a long-running housing crisis in the state, House members debated property rights before killing a bill that would allow four units in a building in a single-family residential zone.

In the House’s session Thursday, members overturned a number of committee recommendations and took several bills off the table as Democrats flexed their muscles on causing the House Republican leadership to call a recess to try to regroup, but they still lost a key vote.

Early in the session, the members argued conflicting property owner rights, between the owner of the property to house the four units or the neighbors who seek to preserve the community’s character and maintain the property value.

House Bill 44 would allow up to four housing units by “a matter of right” on any single-family lot in residential zones served by public water and sewer.

Supporters said the bill would begin addressing the state’s housing crisis with a vacancy rate of .5 percent, while protecting rural areas from more residential development.

They said the bill would allow greater use of the existing infrastructure and allow the property owners to determine the best use of their property.

But opponents said the bill is a state mandate that would impact surrounding homeowners and the neighborhood in already stressed urban areas like Manchester and Nashua.

And they said it will increase property taxes in many cases to upgrade the infrastructure to absorb the new units and for additional school costs.

They also contend the bill would take away any avenue for surrounding homeowners to voice their opposition to a proposal for a four-unit conversion and ties the hands of planning and zoning boards.

Rep. Steven Bogert, R-Laconia, who said he has worked for zoning boards in two states for 25 years, said the bill gives a developer “a matter of right” to build a four-unit building on a single-family lot that has access to public water and sewer.

He said that would limit the proposal to urban areas that are already stretched to capacity.

If there is a home that needs upgrading, it would be better to have someone entering the housing market as a first-time owner, buy it, fix it up, have an investment in the community and eventually sell it for a profit.  “That’s the American Dream,” Bogert said.

On the other hand, a developer with no investment in the neighborhood would tear the building down and put up a four-unit building and look at it as a profit center, he said.

He said the bill takes everybody out of the review process with no place for neighbors to voice their concerns.

This is the state dictating to a city what can be done, Bogert said, noting that is not the New Hampshire way.

The people of New Hampshire would not put up with the federal government dictating to the state in the same manner, he said.

But Rep. Rebecca McWilliams, D-Concord, said the bill is not about affordable housing but instead is about more housing and trying to bring more balance to a market that is 20,000 housing units short.

 She said the state similarly passed legislation allowing accessory dwelling units on lots and cities and towns had a year to address the change.

“We’ve had many decades of exclusionary zoning,” McWilliams said, “and the state is within its rights to (determine policy) at the local level to achieve its goal.”

Cities and towns still have control over parking, and other issues and there is state money available to help with zoning updates, she said.

“Nobody else is stepping in to correct the balance, no one else will solve this,” McWilliams said. “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

The House voted down the Municipal and County Government Committee’s recommendation to pass the bill on a 232-117 vote, before killing the bill on a 209-141 vote.

Judges Retirement

The House overwhelmingly supported a proposed constitutional amendment that would increase the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75 years old.

The prime sponsor of CACR 6, Rep. Robert Lynn, R-Windham, who is a retired justice who served as Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court and for the Superior Court system as well, argued a wealth of experience and knowledge is needlessly lost when judges are forced to retire at age 70.

The age limit has been in the state constitution since it was approved in 1784, Lynn told colleagues.

In those days the average life expectancy was 38 years old and today it is 76 for a male and six years longer for a female, he noted.

He called his proposed change a “modest proposal” noting there is no mandatory age limit on federal judges.

Lynn cited the work of three judges who had to retire and how much experience, knowledge and intuition the court system lost because of forced retirements. 

The proposed amendment passed by the needed three-fifth majority by a 321-27 vote.

The Senate will also need to approve the proposed amendment by a three-fifth majority to be placed on the 2024 general election ballot when it will need a two-thirds majority of those voting to change the constitution.

EFA Limited

The House gave initial approval to a bill that would require students to attend public schools for one year before being eligible for the state’s new Education Freedom Account program.

The effect of the bill would be to prevent students in private, religious or home school programs from accessing the program unless they attend public schools for one year.

Currently about 75 percent of the grants go to pay tuition costs for students who were in private, religious or homeschool settings before the EFA program began last year.

The program has been much more expensive than anticipated. Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut predicted the program would cost $3.2 million this biennium but to date has cost about $25 million, and he asked for $30 million in each of the two years of the next biennium.

The bill failed to pass on a tie vote when it was first before the House, but was tabled.

On Thursday the bill was taken off the table and passed on a 176-169 vote and will go to House Finance Committee for review before a final House Vote.

No Constitutional Convention

The House overturned its State and Federal Relations and Veterans Affairs Committee and voted down a resolution calling for a constitutional convention under Article 5 of the US Constitution.

Supporters of a convention argued the federal debt is out-of-control, Congress is broken and term limits are needed which all should be addressed in a convention.

“Congress sucks,” said Rep. Brandon Phinney, R-Rochester, which brought a rebuke from House Speaker Sherman Packard.

But those opposing the convention noted the constitution has been changed 27 times since it was written so there is no need for a convention to make changes.

Rep. Tim Horrigan, D-Durham, said the way the resolution is worded “would guarantee a runaway convention.”
The House voted down the committee’s recommendation before voting 198-150 to kill the resolution.

Assault Rifles

The House voted 176-169 to kill a resolution to urge Congress to ban assault rifles and large magazines.

Marriage Access

The House approved House Bill 240 which puts into statute that marriages are between two people regardless of race.

The bill passed on a 218-132 vote.

Eating Disorder

The House also approved House Bill 35, which requires the number of the national eating disorder hotline be on student IDs.

The Matthew Brown Act was approved on a 238-105 vote.

Social Security 

The House also approved House Resolution 7 that calls for the federal government to preserve and protect Medicare and Social Security without cuts to benefits on a 333-12 vote.

Garry Rayno may be reached at

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