House Changes Landfill Siting Process on Day One of Session

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Paula Tracy photo

Sergeant at Arms JB Cullen is pictured in the foreground of the House in Representatives Hall for the first session of 2024 on Wednesday.


CONCORD — The House decided not to increase state school building aid or feed more students on the free and reduced lunch program, but did agree to a new landfill siting process and moving election information management into the 21st Century.

Meeting on the first day of the 2024 session, the House faced about 200 bills that were left over from the 2023 session, much of it was recommended to be killed.

The lawmakers did approve a bill that would allow expanded testing of illegal drugs to determine if they are safe before someone uses them.

House Bill 470 would allow drug testing equipment for drug purity either by a “harm reduction organization” or individually with a small amount of the controlled substance.

The bill is intended to allow testing for substances like fentanyl or a similar substance intended as animal medication that are added to heroin or other controlled drugs.

Rep. Jennifer Rhodes, R-Winchester, said the bill allows for very dangerous drugs to be tested, so dangerous a small amount on your skin can kill you.

“This bill kicks the door wide open for abuse,” she said. “This gives people a false sense of security.”
But Rep. David Meuse, D-Portsmouth, said 112,000 people nationally died from an overdose in 2023 and what is added to controlled drugs is constantly changing so new laws have to be written to allow for new testing.

 Meuse said the bill will allow the state to get out of that trap and keep up with the changes.

“If you want to make an impact and want to save lives, this is the kind of decisions we have to make,” Meuse said. “If you have a small amount and you want to know what is in it before you take it, you have that ability to test it and save yourself because you can’t get into recovery if you’re dead.”

The bill passed on a 212-161 vote.

Landfill Siting

The House also approved House Bill 602, which would establish a two-step application process for siting landfills in the state.

Under the bill, the Department of Environmental Services would do a preliminary assessment if a location would meet state regulations and rules before going forward with the full application process.

Supporters of the bill said it would save the state and developers time and money and take the pressure off state employees who are consulted by developers as they begin the current landfill application process, putting them in a bad position.

Rep. Kelley Potenza, R-Rochester, said the process is similar to other states’ around the country. “We’ve been lagging behind most states for decades. This brings us in line,” she said, and will speed up the process because DES will have already evaluated the site.

But Rep. Kevin Verville, R-Deerfield, said the legislature ought to let the department move forward with adopting new rules and regulations for landfills before passing any more legislation.

He said all of these bills on landfills are about the one proposed near Dalton and has a new application.

“This bill is a fix to something being done that is not complete,” he said. “We don’t know if there is a problem.” 

Verville suggested the House wait until the department is done with the new rules and regulations.

The bill was approved on a 226-145 vote.


The House approved changing the date of the state’s primary from September to the third Tuesday in August. 

Last year the legislature moved the primary to June, but Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed the bill and lawmakers failed to override his veto.

The change in House Bill 115 would put the primary one week before schools would begin.

The supporters of changing the date have said the current time frame does not allow candidates enough time between the primary and the general election to differentiate between candidates and gives incumbents a significant advantage.

The House also approved House Bill 447, which would allow Helping America Vote Act funds to be used to help cities and towns buy new vote counting equipment. 

After years of inaction, the state moved forward last year and approved two new voting machines for municipalities to use.

The House also approved House Bill 436 which would implement a voting information portal to allow on-line registration, or party changes, and people to correct mistakes on the checklist.

Despite concerns about privacy the majority of the House wanted to move forward with the electronic portal and “join the 21st. Century.”

The House also killed two bills that would have allowed ranked choice voting like Maine uses. 

One bill would enable cities and towns to use the method for picking a winner even if one candidate does not have a majority of the votes.

The other bill would have the state use ranked choice voting in state and federal elections.

Parental Sharing

The House approved a bill that would make family court judges’ rulings on shared parenting for divorced parents more consistent, according to supporters.

Opponents of the change said the current system is working and does a good job of preventing domestic violence, and gives judges discretion in determining how much time each parent may have with the child.

All agreed the child who has both parents in his or her life has a much better chance of a fruitful life.

Police Fitness

The House voted not to change the current law requiring police officers to pass a fitness test every three years to retain their certification.

The bill would have eliminated the three-year requirement and left it to local police departments to determine their own policy for their law enforcement officers.

Several supporters of the change said New Hampshire is the only state with the three-year requirement and that hurts both retention and recruitment of officers.


The House voted down an increase in state money for school building aid and also killed a proposal to automatically enroll students who qualify for Medicaid in the free and reduced lunch program at schools.

Currently the state spends $50 million a year on school building aid, but a 10-year moratorium has created a backlog of over $200 million in proposed projects.

More than half of the $50 million appropriated each year goes to pay off school building projects approved before the moratorium.

House Bill 546 would have the state allocate $50 million a year for new projects and not use some of the money for its debt obligation, but that bill was killed on a 189-186 vote.

House Finance Committee Chair Rep. Ken Weyler, R-Kingston, said with school enrollments dropping now is not a time to start a new school building boom.

He also opposed House Bill 601 which would enroll students on Medicaid automatically in the free and reduced meals program at public schools. 

Although many children are eligible for the free and reduced meals programs, their parents do not return the forms.

What better use of the money than feeding hungry children who need it, said Rep. Mary Hakken-Phillips, D-Hanover.

But some are concerned the program will increase the cost of state aid for education by up to $190 million because the state aid distribution formula includes additional money for students on free and reduced meals.

Weyler cautioned that additional state money can be used by districts for anything and not for feeding children.

“That’s a tremendous slush fund going to the schools,” Weyler said, “and there’s nothing scheduled for it.”

The bill was killed by one vote cast by Deputy Speaker Steve Smith, R-Charlestown, who was in the chair at the time.

Retirement Class

The House also killed House Bill 559 which would have created a new retirement system for new state employees.

There are currently two systems, one for emergency workers like fire and police and emergency medical personnel, Group II, and Group I which includes state, municipal, county and school employees.

The two systems are defined benefit programs which determine a worker’s benefits on length of service and age when retired as well as salary.

The new system, Group III, for new state employees, would be a defined contribution plan, as the employer and employee would put in a set amount of money each week much like a 401K plan.

The bill was defeated and then it was indefinitely postponed which means it cannot, nor can a similar bill come before the House again this session,

The House also defeated an attempt to use $50 million of surplus money to offset the unfunded liability of the retirement system. The system is currently paying the unfunded liability down through higher payments from public employers.

The House meets again Thursday at 9 a.m. to continue working on its retained bills.

Garry Rayno may be reached at

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