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Regulatory reform bill moves forward in House committee

By Dave Solomon
State House Bureau

January 30. 2018 11:52PM

CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu's regulatory reform bill, with an emphasis on reining in the Department of Environmental Services, moved ahead on Tuesday thanks to an ought-to-pass vote by a key House committee.

The House Resources, Recreation and Development Committee voted 11-9 along party lines to endorse HB 1104, a bill containing many of the recommendations submitted to Sununu by his Regulatory Reform Steering Committee.

The 11-page bill deals with a hodgepodge of issues, ranging from turnaround time on wetlands development permits, to reciprocity with other states for professional licensing.

If the bill becomes law, DES would face shortened timelines for responding to developers who want wetlands dredge and fill permits. The state would also be constrained in prosecuting property owners for wetland violations that occurred under previous owners.

Individuals found guilty of wetlands violations now face extended DES reviews for an unspecified period of time. The new law would hold them harmless after five years without violations.

“The idea is that 20 years from now, you shouldn’t still be subject to DES extending timelines,” said Sununu’s legal counsel, John Formella. “It’s reducing that time period when you’ve got a scarlet letter.”

The bill also requires faster response time by all state agencies on applications, petitions and requests, cutting the current 120-day deadline in half, to 60 days, allowing for an extension only upon written agreement of the applicant.

If an agency fails to take any action within the required time limits, the application will be considered approved.

The other major portion of the bill calls for the state to recognize occupational and professional licenses granted by other states, and prohibits in-state licensing boards from establishing additional conditions.

Sununu came into office characterizing New Hampshire as a “regulatory police state,” and as one of his first acts called on department heads to provide lists of regulations that could be eliminated.

In September, he announced the formation of the Regulatory Reform Steering Committee, headed up by Taylor Caswell, commissioner of Business and Economic Affairs, which developed a 50-page list of recommendations.

While environmental permitting and professional licensing were top issues on the steering committee list, there’s more to come, according to Formella.

“This is what they decided would be their initial focus,” he said. “They are going to keep going. They requested permission from the governor to extend out to Nov. 1, to look at additional issues, and the governor has acquiesced to that.”

Rep. Suzanne Smith, D-Hebron, said the bill should be referred to interim study, given late amendments and additions to the bill.

“Although I believe the idea and goal of this legislation is excellent — to streamline things a bit and make it better for the businesses and agencies, I don’t believe it’s ready for prime time,” she said. “We had a hearing just two weeks ago, a draft a week ago and a final amendment today. It’s not enough time.”

Formella says the steering committee held hearings and involved the public and stakeholders in developing the legislation.

“We welcome public input,” he said. “This was the culmination of a months-long process and a lot of discussions with stakeholders and departments.”

The bill still has to be acted on by the House Committee on Executive Departments and Administration before going to the full House.

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