Bar News - July 20, 2007
Legislative Roundup: In the Spotlight – and Out
By: Dan Wise
The State House in Concord, New Hampshire
Putting aside debates over the state budget (passed), school funding reform (adequacy definition, passed; amendment, failed),civil unions (passed), restaurant smoking ban (passed), seat belt laws (failed), this article reviews a number of bills out of the spotlight that are worth noting.
(New laws, as well as significant case law developments, rule changes, and attorney discipline actions will be reviewed in a practice-by-practice area format at the popular, all-day Developments in the Law CLE, scheduled for Oct. 26. See page 15 for details.)
On July 2, Gov. Lynch vetoed HB 143, a bill that would have affected the apportionment of damages in civil cases. In his veto message, Lynch explained: ”HB 143 would change existing law and allow the jury to allocate fault only between those individuals or entities that remain parties to the lawsuit at the conclusion of the trial. This change in law would prohibit the jury from apportioning fault to certain individuals or entities who carry significant degrees of fault for the plaintiff’s injuries, but who either settled claims prior to conclusion of the lawsuit, or who are not parties to a particular lawsuit for other reasons. I cannot support this change in the law because it is unfair for a defendant with a low degree of fault to have to pay a disproportionately large share of the damages.”
The lead sponsor of the bill, Sen. David Gottesman, D-Nashua, said he believed the bill’s rejection by the governor was a defeat for consumers. “I am disappointed with the veto by the governor of House Bill 143. I have always fought for and will continue to fight for the rights of consumers, which was the reason for the passage of this legislation. This was an attempt to return the law to its former effect, which provided an adequate remedy to those who were injured by the negligence of others.”
Although Gov. Lynch’s veto message concluded with an “olive branch” suggesting that the two sides (opponents of the change, primarily drawn from the business community, and proponents, including trial lawyers’ and consumer groups) work together on a compromise, several members of the New Hampshire Trial Lawyers Association, which made HB 143 its primary focus during the legislative session, were pessimistic about prospects for a compromise.
Other bills of interest, grouped by practice area, that passed (at presstime some were still awaiting the governor’s signature), include:
SB 242 - Establishes an intellectual property business loan development program that provides a state guarantee for certain business loans provided through the Business Finance Authority. The loan guarantee is limited to the lesser of $250,000 or 75 percent of the maximum principal amount;
HB 194 Makes ignition-interlocks mandatory for certain DWI offenses, and lengthens period for installation to range from six months to two years; certification required of laboratory conducting blood-alcohol tests. Effective July 3, 2007.
SB 66 - Divides responsibilities for involuntary civil commitment of sexually violent predators between the Corrections and Health and Human Services departments, and provides that a sex offender registry fee be collected from offenders.
HB 227 - Permits a victim of identity theft to bring a private action for damages and to use the judgment to correct related public and private records.
SB 65 -Requires 21-day written notice (before jury selection) for a request for an extended term of imprisonment.
SB 152 - Numerous changes to laws regarding delinquency, abuse and neglect, CHINS, to accelerate permanent placement of children.
SB 197 - Requires continuation of group health insurance for divorced spouses and their dependents.
HB 292 - In modification of parental rights and responsibilities, court may give substantial weight to preferences of a minor child of sufficient maturity to make a sound judgment as to the parent with whom the child wants to live.
HB 273-FN - Provides that disbursements from qualifying special needs trusts shall not be counted as unearned income in determining eligibility for Medicaid unless they are used for food and shelter, as these terms are defined by the Supplemental Security Income program. (This bill had been the focus of efforts by the Elder Law, Estate Planning and Probate Section for several years. (The bill was also supported by the NHBA following a vote of the NHBA Board of Governors, operating under the guidelines of the Chapman and Keller decisions governing the legislative advocacy of a unified bar.)
SB 80 authorizes a custodian to transfer custodial property to a qualified minor’s trust without a court order, thus terminating the custodianship to the extent of the transfer.
HB 882-FN - Increases the cap for tort liability for local and state government units.
SB 188 - Increases penalties for engaging in unfair insurance trade practices, including unfair discrimination, unfair claims settlement practices and other actions as defined in RSA 417:4).
More coverage of bills of interest to Bar members will be covered in upcoming issues of the Bar News, including a list of new laws, listed by the chaptered laws that they affect, will be published when that list is completed. At presstime, there were approximately 100 bills awaiting the governor’s signature.