Coming in 2019: With new year comes new laws in New Hampshire

  • Lawmakers attend Organization Day in Representatives Hall at the State House in Concord earlier this month. Dozens of new laws are slated to take effect Tuesday on subjects from marriage age to motor vehicle issues. Geoff Forester / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 12/28/2018 5:14:13 PM

Starting New Year’s Day, New Hampshire teenagers must be 16 to marry. Drivers may no longer hog the left lane of the highway. Consumers may impose freezes on their credit reports.

More than three dozen bills will become law on Jan. 1, with consequences both large and small. From motor vehicle laws to property tax credits, workers’ compensation to pension reform, the new laws touch broadly on day-to-day life.

Here are some of the big ones.

Marriage age

After years of false starts, New Hampshire has a new marriage age minimum. House Bill 1587 is set to kick in Jan. 1, pegging the allowable age of marriage to the legal age of consent: 16.

The bill, which replaces the previous minimums of 13 for girls and 14 for boys, came after dogged advocacy from Cassandra Levesque, a now 19-year-old state representative from Barrington who started pressing the issue in 2017. Levesque’s earlier push was voted down on the House floor in 2017. But a renewed effort this year saw the measure overcome its earlier hurdles and head to Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk.

The bill raising the minimum age accompanies other measures tightening marriage law, also going into effect Jan. 1. House Bill 1661 will prohibit judges from permitting contracts of marriage for those under the new age of consent unless they find “clear and convincing evidence” that the marriage is in the best interest of the child. And House Bill 1377 would allow a marriage certificate to count as emancipation for those under 18.

Motor vehicle changes

The new year brings a slew of new driving rules. To start, those who hang out in the left lane of the highway may be subject to a traffic violation and even a fine. Under House Bill 1595, a car “shall not be operated continuously in the left lane” if it “impedes the flow of other traffic at or below the posted speed limit.” The consequences? A $50 fine plus penalty assessment, though exceptions will be made to any actual or potential hazards at the time.

Watch out for rust, too: House Bill 1517 establishes stronger procedures for rust examinations during vehicle inspections. Now, a driver of a light truck and passenger vehicle will fail inspection if rust has allowed exhaust gases to enter the car, has deteriorated the frame, or has dislodged the bumper to create a hazard.

And House Bill 1420, meanwhile, makes it a Class A misdemeanor for those certified as “habitual offenders” to continue driving cars.

Credit freezes

In the wake of the 2017 mass infiltration of the credit reporting bureau Equifax, credit freezes took center stage. About 148 million people had personal information pilfered – from names, to addresses, to birthdates, to social security numbers – according to Equifax. Consumers, worried about identity theft and about a tanking of their credit, began clamoring for more available credit freezes.

Previously, the three bureaus would only need to initiate a freeze – which locks a consumer’s credit score in place and prevents the bureau from releasing information until it is unfrozen – in cases of suspicion of fraud. But the data breach scrambled the playbook, and soon all three bureaus began offering free credit freezes.

House Bill 1700 codifies those voluntary actions into legal obligations in New Hampshire state law. And it requires a notice be sent to consumers informing them of their right to a freeze, and explaining how it works.

Conversion therapy

The long controversial and scientifically condemned practice of “conversion therapy” may no longer be practiced on minors, thanks to the passage of House Bill 587. On Jan. 1, any licensed professional who attempts that type of therapy will have committed unprofessional conduct and will be subject to discipline by their licensing authority.

The bill covers any practices “that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” including by attempting to eliminate sexual attraction to members of the same gender.

Not banned: any therapy to assist minors in voluntary decisions to undergo gender transition, and any therapy to help them navigate their own identity. The key, the law specifies, is that the purpose of the counseling is not to change one’s identity or orientation.

Double dipping crackdown

Following slow-growing concern, the Legislature moved this year to put limitations on “double-dipping” – the practice of law enforcement and other officials retiring early and returning to work part time at their departments.

The issue is that while doing so, the officials are often still drawing from the New Hampshire Retirement System. They work paid hours, continue to draw from their pensions, and are no longer required to pay into the system – a workaround some refer to as “double dipping.”

The arrangement has been in use by some towns to help retain retired police chiefs and other officials past their retirements. Previously, retirees could return to work up to 32 hours a week without having to give up their pensions; a near full-time gig.

But with a retirement system reeling from mismanagement and working to pay off nearly $5 billion in debt, the retirement arrangements have been looked on less and less favorably.

House Bill 561 does not get rid of the practice, but it does curtail the number of eligible hours that the part-time arrangement can be used to 1,352 a year – or just about 26 hours a week. That, supporters argue, will cut down on abuse of the system and keep the positions truly part-time.

Other laws

The list continues. Among the other areas of law taking effect this New Year: House Bill 1739 bans the practice of female genital mutilation, a dangerous technique in which female external genitalia is almost wholly removed. The practice, employed in 30 countries, has affected 200 million women and girls around the world, according to the World Health Organization.

Some reforms are coming to workers’ compensation. House Bill 407 requires workers’ comp for emergency responders to include prophylactic treatment for exposure to hepatitis C and other viruses. House Bill 1415, passed with an eye on school shootings, establishes a $100,000 “death benefit” for any school employee killed in the line of duty, paid by the state treasurer to the victim’s family.

Senate Bill 451 prevents trafficking of protected wildlife including elephants, leopards and other big cats, and endangered sharks, whales and sea turtles.

House Bill 1673 reduces the interest rate imposed on late property tax payments, and Senate Bill 341 doubles the property tax credit available for those with service-connected total disabilities.

And under Senate Bill 505, those interested in setting up a crematory can no longer rush into it; they must provide a notice of intent for the neighbors.

The full 395 bills signed by Sununu this past year can be found at gencourt.state.nh.us/bill_status/

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at 369-3307, edewitt@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)




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