Deerfield Town Moderator Jack Hutchinson clears a path in the snow for voters at Town Hall during March 14th's Nor'easter. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER FILE)
Deal reached on bill to settle outcome of postponed town, school district elections
CONCORD — The House and Senate have agreed on a way to deal with uncertainty surrounding March's town voting, when many towns postponed balloting due to a major snowstorm forecast for Election Day on March 14.
As the state Senate prepared to vote on House Bill 329 that would set the stage for ratifying the votes, Senate President Chuck Morse called an immediate conference committee with House members and recessed the Senate so the two chambers could reach an agreement on legislation.
The bill states that any votes held on a date later than March 14 could be ratified by the governing body of a municipality or school district following a properly noticed public meeting.
The conferees agreed to change "properly noticed public meeting" to "properly noticed public hearing," so that the public would be guaranteed the right to comment.
With that change, the conference committee report on the bill was adopted by both chambers and is expected to be signed by Gov. Chris Sununu.
The measure gives officials in nearly 80 jurisdictions an option for ensuring that their election results are legally binding, which is particularly important for big-money bond issues approved by voters.
The language in the legislation makes clear that the measure does not "establish precedent or authorize these actions in future elections."
Secretary of State Bill Gardner has argued that town moderators did not have the legal right to change the election date, while the N.H. Municipal Association advised them that they did.
The bill that the House and Senate agreed to also states: "This act is not intended to absolve any legal counsel of liability for the advice given."
"I am thrilled the Legislature has agreed to this common-sense compromise so that our local governments can get back to the business of serving the people of their towns without being trapped in a state of legal limbo," said state Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield.