This is the 19th legislative/policy update for the 2024 New Hampshire Legislative session. I provide this update periodically (almost weekly) while the New Hampshire Legislature is in session to keep NHTOA members informed about what is happening in Concord. (If you do not wish to receive this update, please let me know and I will remove you from the distribution list.)

General Comments

This week only the Senate held a general session where they acted on 146 bills. Both chambers’ policy committees hosted public hearings, deliberated bills, and voted on recommendations. Next week the House and Senate will both have general sessions, as May 23 is the deadline for the House and Senate to act on all bills. The last day the full Senate and House can act on a bill is June 13. The weeks between May 23 and June 13 will be filled with “committee of conference” activity.

When different versions of the same bill pass each chamber, the originating chamber has the option to accept changes to their text. If it does, the bill goes to the Governor’s desk for consideration, where he signs it into law, vetoes it, or allows it to become law without a signature. If the originating chamber opts to not accept the changes, it may kill the bill, or it can seek a ”committee of conference” to negotiate a different version. If a committee of conference fails to negotiate a compromise, the bill dies. If a chamber seeks a committee of conference and the second chamber refuses to negotiate, the bill dies.

If a bill is vetoed, the House and Senate will hold a special session in the fall to vote on each vetoed bill. A two-thirds majority in both chambers is required to override a veto.

This part of the session can get interesting, as differing Senate and House priorities that were killed or tabled by the other chamber can re-emerge as an amendment on a bill to force a negotiation through the committee of conference process. Also, with the end of the session looming, occasionally non-germane amendments will be proposed. These amendments will require public hearings.

In the attached spreadsheet (click here for spreadsheet) is the list of the bills the NHTOA is currently monitoring and working on. The bills the House and Senate killed last week when they met in general session have been removed.

Three notes on this spreadsheet:

  1. The legislative process is very fluid and moves quickly. The House and Senate Status/Actions are as of the day on the report is printed. Please note these are subject to change.
  2. The link to the bill text should take you directly to the N.H. General Court website’s link to the bill. Note that during the heat of committee meetings and debate over amendments, this link will sometimes not take you to the most current amendments.
  3. The Priority/Action column looks at the entire bill and weighs many factors. The NHTOA Executive Director analyzes each bill and makes a recommendation to the NHTOA Policy Committee. Where a question mark is present, we are still gathering information on the bill.

The summaries below are of the bills moving through the legislative process. In some cases, the NHTOA is seeking assistance from our membership in the lobbying process (i.e., asking you to call a local Representative or Senator, send a letter or email to a committee, or attend a hearing to sign-in or testify).

Again, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about any of the bills listed.

Jasen

Senate Bill 514 (line 6 on the spreadsheet)

Background: State Sen. Howard Pearl submitted this bill on behalf of the NHTOA. It does three things:

  • Increases the volume of wood a landowner can harvest for personal use from 10,000 board feet and 20 cords of firewood to 15,000 board feet and 30 cords,
  • Increases the threshold for when an intent-to-cut needs to be filed and timber taxes paid from 10,000 board feet and 20 cords to 15,000 board feet and 30 cords, respectively, for land being converted to a non-forest use, and
  • Changes the whole-tree ton “equivalent language” in the land conversion exemption to allow the addition of 300 tons of whole-tree chips.

The purpose of this bill is to reduce the timber tax paperwork and time burden for very small timber harvests (i.e., 1-3 days; a half dozen loads).

Status: On May 14 the Governor signed this bill into law. It goes into effect July 1, 2024. I want to thank everyone that helped make this possible with calls and testimony to senators and representatives.

Senate Bill 504 (line 7 on the spreadsheet)

Background: This bill would modify the Current Use law to create a method of posting land to allow “public recreational use.” The bill would also modify the criminal trespass law by adding this new method of posting. This bill was introduced on behalf of the Governor to help law enforcement agents deal with illegal border crossings in northern New Hampshire.

We do not understand how this bill changes the regulatory authority of law enforcement to apprehend individuals entering the U.S. illegally. The NHTOA’s primary concern is to protect Current Use and to avoid confusion in the recreation community over what types of recreation are permitted on lands enrolled in Current Use.

NHTOA Position: The NHTOA successfully pushed through an amendment to the bill in the Senate to clarify what recreational uses are permitted by replacing the generic term “recreational use” with the list of uses allowed under current law.

Status: On Wednesday (May 15) the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee passed this bill after they attached a non-germane amendment to it. The amendment is a comprehensive proposal to reform the bail process. The bail proposal was modified in the Senate earlier this month. Because the Senate’s proposed changes are not acceptable to the House, the House is attaching the language to this bill to force a debate. It is now up to the Senate to decide if they concede to the House version, wish to debate the issue in a committee of conference, or kill the bill by not acceding to the changes and not seeking a committee of conference.

Senate Bill 366 (line 10 on the spreadsheet)

Background: This is a bill that came to our attention three weeks ago, after it passed the Senate. The bill resembles House Bill 1183 “An act relative to prohibiting the sale of agricultural land to China.” Instead of agricultural lands, this bill prohibits the sale (or leasing) of real estate near military installations and other “critical infrastructure.” “Critical infrastructure” is broadly defined to include banks, manufacturing facilities, agricultural lands, roads, and bridges. “China” is also broadly defined. It includes companies or subsidiaries that are owned wholly or in-part or controlled by the Chinese government or Communist Party or companies that are based in China.

The sponsor’s intent is to strengthen United States security.

NHTOA Position: Although sympathetic to the sponsor’s national security concerns, the NHTOA signed in opposing this bill, as it could impact members who do business with corporations located in China (e.g., a sawmill leasing warehouse space to a Chinese-based furniture manufacturer).

Status: On Wednesday (May 15) the House Commerce Committee overwhelmingly voted to recommend the full House kill this proposal when they convene on May 23.

House Bill 1202 (line 11 on the spreadsheet)

Background: This bill would establish a 30-day time limit for N.H. Department of Transportation’s (NHDOT) review of driveway permits along state highways. It passed the full House. It applies to residential driveway installations, and it includes a $750,000 annual appropriation for four staff members to expedite the permit review process.

Currently, the driveway permitting process varies among NHDOT district offices in terms of review periods and conditions. Standardizing this will improve the planning process for foresters and loggers scheduling timber harvests.

NHTOA Position: At the hearing for this bill in the House, the NHTOA supported it and raised our concerns about the existing permitting process for temporary driveway permits for logging operations. We also recommended landowners, loggers, or foresters obtain these permits through an online permitting process. Although the committee’s primary concern with the permitting process was obtaining timely permits for residential developments, our concerns were well received and got the NHDOT’s attention. Since the House hearing, the NHTOA has obtained assurances from the NHDOT that they will have an online permitting process in place this summer and the process will include temporary logging driveway permits.

Status: This week the Senate passed an amended version of this bill that grants the NHDOT 60 days to approve the driveway permits. Because the bill has a fiscal impact, it has been referred to the Finance Committee for review. The NHTOA looks forward to working with the new online permitting process. We are willing to give the new process a try to see if it will resolve our permitting concerns.

House Bill 1215 (non-germane amendment) (line 24 on the spreadsheet)

Background: The original House Bill 1215 deals with zoning/planning board approvals. NHTOA learned a non-germane amendment regarding a road closure in Hampton was going to be introduced at the bill’s hearing before the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee. The Hampton selectboard convinced their senator to introduce a bill that would allow them to discontinue a road without a town vote and subsequently lease the road to a private entity for 99 years. The town’s motivation is to assist a developer. The NHTOA learned this week that this project has been in the works for more than four years and now the developer is claiming they need to expedite the road discontinuance process and are seeking legislative approval to avoid a town meeting.

NHTOA Position: Although the bill does not directly deal with timber, as it is specific to a street in Hampton, the NHTOA came out opposed because of the precedent it sets. Specifically, it avoids the established process (discontinuance through a vote at town meeting) for road discontinuance and the taking of a property right for abutting landowners (public access). As drafted, this bill will extinguish all rights of access across this road to any abutter. This right is currently retained by the abutters, unless it is forfeited in writing, under current law. Moreover, this bill establishes a precedent for an alternative means of road closure. Future development projects and selectboards could use it to discontinue a road.

Status: Despite the NHTOA’s objections, on Tuesday the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee passed the non-germane amendment on a three to two vote. The full Senate is voting on proposal next week. The NHTOA is asking members to send the Senate an email (list below) asking them to oppose the non-germane Hampton road amendment.

In your email,

  • Address your email to:
    • Senator Jeb Bradley, Senate President and members of the N.H. Seante
  • Introduce yourself
  • Thank them for the opportunity to provide testimony.
  • State you oppose the non-germane Hampton road amendment to House Bill 1215
  • Your opposition is the precedent this proposal will establish.

The Hampton Road amendment,

  • Codifies an alternative means of road closure outside an official town meeting. N.H. law is very specific that Town resident are the local legislative body empowered to discontinue roads, not the selectmen. This bill cedes local authority to the Selectboard.  
  • Ignores there are existing ways to expedite the town meeting process to facilitate road closure votes (special town meetings),
  • NH’s road law has been evolving for hundreds of years balancing private property rights, public access, and municipal/citizen authority. To begin upsetting this balance with one-off bills for specific projects is poor policy and sets bad precedence.
  • The argument this amendment is needed to benefit the private project because the project will create economic activity and tax revenue is a slippery slope that could be employed across the state for many private projects and is not a good argument for modifying the law and impacting property rights.

If you receive any feedback please pass it along to me.

House Bill 1628 (line 63 on the spreadsheet)