This is the 22nd 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 the House and Senate Committees of Conference met to negotiate. When the same bill passes both chambers, the originating chamber has the option to accept changes to their text. If it does so, 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.

Several bills of interest to the NHTOA saw this activity. They are noted on the spreadsheet.

If a bill survives a committee of conference process, both chambers must still vote on the new negotiated version. After all this, the bill, and every other bill must still go to the Governor’s desk for consideration.

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.

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 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 May 15 the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee passed this bill after they attached a non-germane amendment to it. On May 30 the Senate voted to not concur with the House recommendation and the Senate refused to participate in a committee of conference. The bill is dead.

House Bill 1018 (line 8 on the spreadsheet)

Background: This bill originally dealt with on-premise and off-premise liquor licenses. In retaliation to the non-germane amendment being attached to Senate Bill 504 (line 7 on this spreadsheet), the full Senate approved a non-germane amendment to this bill; they attached the language from Senate Bill 504 (Current Use posting, above) to it. The House did not accept the Senate language and agreed to a committee of conference.

NHTOA Position: Although the NHTOA is can accept the Current Use language, we are monitoring this bill to ensure it is not modified to negatively impact the law.

Status: This week the committee met, and the House members agreed with the Senate version (which includes the Current Use language). The compromise language now goes before the full House and Senate on June 13 for an up or down vote.

House Bill 1202 (line 11 on the spreadsheet)

Background: This bill would establish a 60-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.

While in the Senate they approved a non-germane amendment to this bill by attaching language related to a childcare scholarship program. The House did not accept the Senate language and agreed to a committee of conference.

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 committee met, and the House members agreed with the Senate version (which included the non-germane amendment regarding childcare scholarships). The compromise language now goes before the full House and Senate on June 13 for an up or down vote.

House Bill 1358 (line 16 on the spreadsheet)

Background: This bill originally dealt with beer, wine, and liquor manufacturing. In retaliation to the House killing Senate Bill 366 “An act relative to prohibiting the sale of agricultural land to China” ,its language was added to this bill as a non-germane amendment. Instead of agricultural lands, this bill would also prohibit 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 to include 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: At the committee of conference this week, the committee passed a version of this bill, but after removing the real estate/China prohibition and replacing it with language to establish a legislative study commission on this subject. The compromise language (including the study commission) now goes before the full House and Senate on June 13 for an up or down vote.

Its GO TIME – the House Committee of Conference approved the Hampton Road amendment, and the full House and Senate are voting Thursday (June 13).

The House and Senate need to hear from you by Tuesday.

House Bill 1215 (non-germane amendment) (line 23 on the spreadsheet)

Background: The original House Bill 1215 deals with zoning/planning board approvals. A group of Hampton residents/development agencies convinced their senator to introduce a non-germane amendment to this bill that would allow the selectboard 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 Hampton Beach Casino and Ballroom). Although the project has been in the works for years, the developer now claims they need to expedite the road discontinuance process and are seeking legislative approval to avoid a town meeting vote.

Because this proposal was made after the bill crossed over, the House of Representatives never saw it nor had the opportunity to host a public hearing.

Despite the NHTOA’s objections, the full Senate and the House/Senate Committee of Conference passed HB 1215 with the non-germane Hampton road amendment.

NHTOA Position: Although the bill does not directly deal with timber, as it is specific to a public street in Hampton, the NHTOA is opposed because of the precedent it sets. Specifically, it avoids the established process for road discontinuance (a vote at town meeting) and causes the taking of a property right for abutting landowners (public access). As drafted, this bill will extinguish all rights of access along this road to any abutter. This right is currently retained by the abutters, unless it is forfeited in writing, under current law. Which contradicts RSA 231:43, III. No owner of land shall, without the owner’s written consent, be deprived of access over such [discontinued] highway, at such owner’s own risk. Moreover, this bill establishes a legal precedent for an alternative means of road closure. In the future developers and selectboards could use this process to discontinue a road without participation of the public.

As the NHTOA lobbied against this bill, some unexpected political forces pushing for the non-germane Hampton road amendment have become evident. Despite these, the NHTOA remains committed to advocating against the non-germane Hampton road amendment.

Status: On Wednesday (June 5) the House conferees agreed with the Senate’s addition of the non-germane Hampton road amendment. The full House and Senate will be voting on this recommendation next Thursday (June 13).

We are asking members to send emails and make phone calls to their local representatives and Senators asking them to vote NO on House Bill 1215.

In your email or phone call,

  • Introduce yourself and identify where you are calling from.
  • Thank them for the opportunity to voice your concern on the non-germane Hampton road amendment that was added to House Bill 1215 and urge them to kill the bill. The loss of property and citizen’s rights are not worth the zoning/planning board changes proposed.
  • Your opposition is the precedent this proposal will establish and implications for property rights. If it can happen in Hampton, it can happen in your town or on your road.

The Hampton Road amendment,

  • Codifies an alternative means of road closure outside an official town meeting. N.H. law is very specific that Town residents are the local legislative body empowered to discontinue roads, not the selectmen. With this bill the selectboard seizes local authority from town meeting.  Although there will be public meetings on the proposal, the town citizens lose their right to vote on the road discontinuance and subsequent leasing.
  • Ignores existing ways to expedite the town meeting process to facilitate road closure votes (i.e., special town meeting). Ironically, if the town sought a special town meeting, they could have hosted a proper vote on the discontinuance and lease by now,
  • Ignores that N.H.’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 a bad precedent.

We know that,

  • Supporters argue this amendment is needed to benefit the private project which will create economic activity and tax revenue. This 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 and citizen rights.
  • Supporters will say this is just a one-time use of state law in this manner and the Hampton Selectboard’s authority to discontinue and lease the road will expire within the year. Although true, this bill still establishes a precedent and creates a road map for future developers and selectboards to use in the future.
  • Supporters will also say this bill is necessary because current law does not allow a town to lease property for more than 5 years. That is not correct. Towns can lease property for more than 5 years, with the approval of the citizen (i.e., vote at town meeting).
  • Here is a link to a list of the General Court’s email addresses, sorted by county. Cut and paste your county’s email address into the “To” line of your email and hit send. Sending to more than one county at a time risks having the email identified as spam. If you are feeling ambitious, you can send 10 emails (one to each county) to cover the full General Court. Thank you!!
  • I am also including a link to the General Court roster where you can look up your individual  Representative and Senator to get their phone number and call them.

If you get any feedback, please forward that to Jasen at jstock@nhtoa.org or call him at 603-674-8148.