House Speaker Sherman Packard will launch special legislative committees on housing and child care next year, bringing new focus to two persistent issues for the state.
The special committees will join the House’s 24 existing standing committees and will take up relevant bills and recommend whether they should be passed or amended, Packard announced last week. Rep. Joe Alexander, a Goffstown Republican, will chair the housing committee, while Rep. Ross Berry, a Manchester Republican, will head the child care committee.
New Hampshire residents and businesses have struggled with shortages of both housing and child care in recent years. The state’s low housing stock helped drive home prices up during the pandemic, pricing out many first-time homebuyers and dissuading some new employees from moving into the state. And the scarcity of affordable child care has forced some parents to give up job opportunities in order to take care of their families, another barrier to hiring efforts.
“We just need to increase the supply of housing,” Alexander said in an interview. “We have to break down barriers – government interference… As far as I’m concerned, property rights are an issue: We need to let people have control over what their property is and loosen regulation.”
The new committees will not lead to new legislation on their own; housing and child care related bills will still need to pass the full House, and will potentially appear before additional committees. But Alexander said the creation of the housing committee would allow its members to examine legislation with an eye to expanding the state’s housing supply. Previously, many housing bills passed through the House Municipal and County Government Committee, whose members have in recent years opposed bills to overhaul local zoning codes and expand housing.
“I’m excited to chair it because we have the opportunity to look at each and every bill on its merits, and it can all come to one place,” Alexander said. “I think it will help streamline it and put all the (housing) expertise on our committee.”
The housing committee will include 10 members appointed by the speaker, with five members from each party, Alexander said. Democratic Rep. Ben Baroody of Manchester will be the vice chairman of the housing committee, and Democratic Rep. Debra DeSimone of Atkinson will be the child care committee’s vice chairwoman.
Packard also announced the creation of a committee to review commissions: the panels of state officials and experts that meet for months or years to study specific topics. Those commissions are intended to help develop recommendations for complex legislation – such as school funding or cannabis legalization – but some lawmakers argue they are too numerous and wasteful.
“The Special Committee on Commissions will review active statutory committees and commissions to verify they are still useful and in compliance with RSA 91-A,” Packard said in his statement.
This story was written by Ethan DeWitt, an education reporter at the New Hampshire Bulletin, where this story first appeared.