This is the fifth 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 House held a general session to act on bills. Both  chambers’ policy committees were busy conducting public hearings, deliberating, and voting on recommended actions for the full House or Senate to consider. The full House and Senate will look at many of these recommendations next Thursday (Feb. 8) when they both meet in general session.

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 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

House Bill 1709 (line 7 on the spreadsheet)

 Background: This is one of several bills dealing with forest-carbon credits the NHTOA will be debating this session. Simply, landowners enter contracts (through a broker or “developer”) that adjust their forest management practices to retain and sequester more carbon on their property. By documenting the additional carbon on their property, they receive revenue over the contract term. The documented carbon retained/grown on the property (i.e., “carbon credit”) the company purchases is used to satisfy a regulatory, or in some instances voluntary, greenhouse-gas reduction requirement. The carbon credit “offsets” their greenhouse-gas emissions. In some cases, these programs have become controversial, as environmental groups question the efficacy of carbon credit offsets to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Also, concerns are being raised in local communities about the economic impact the forest management changes may have on the forest products economy. This is an issue the NHTOA Board of Directors and Policy Committees have spent a lot of time studying and debating this past year. Consequently, a discussion/policy statement was developed that balances property rights and free markets with economic impact on the forest products economy.

 NHTOA Position: House Bill 1709 attempts to establish a tax on carbon through the timber tax law. Generally, writing state law to address a single transaction has unintended consequences and that is true here. Simply put, this bill is a mess. It seeks to create a new tax on forest carbon credits through the timber tax law. It introduces several new terms and processes to the existing law that are undefined and poorly conceived. At last month’s public hearing on this bill before the House Resources, Recreation, and Development Committee the bill’s shortcomings were discussed. NHTOA testified in opposition to the bill, given its unworkability and the problems it would cause within the existing timber tax law.

Status: The committee will be voting on this bill next Wednesday.

House Bill 1484 (line 8 one the spreadsheet)

Background: This is the second forest-carbon bill the NHTOA is working on this year. This bill proposes removing lands included in a forest-carbon program from current use assessment. This proposal is problematic for several reasons.

  • It is inconsistent with the purpose of this “open space” law (i.e., land subject to a forest-carbon credit contract is not developed and meets the definition of “open space” – just like land subject to a conservation easement),
  • It is unclear whether it would require the imposition of a land use change tax on land already participating in a forest carbon program,
  • Because forest-carbon program participation constitutes private transactions, it is not clear how municipalities will learn of which lands to remove from current use, and
  • It sets a precedent that an unpopular land use could be penalized through current use law.

 NHTOA Position: At the public hearing before the House Ways and Means committee on January 17, the NHTOA opposed this bill. The House Ways and means Committee will be voting on this bill next Tuesday.

Senate Bill 504 (line 10 on the spreadsheet)

Background: This is one of the more unusual bills we will work on this session. As drafted, it modifies the Current Use law to create a method of posting land to allow “public recreational use.” The bill also modifies the criminal trespass law by adding this new method of posting. This bill is unusual because it is being introduced at the Governor’s request to help law enforcement agents deal with illegal border crossings in northern New Hampshire.

We have reviewed the proposed bill and do not understand how it changes the regulatory authority of law enforcement to apprehend individuals entering the U.S. illegally, and we are concerned it will harm Current Use. Specifically, the NHTOA is concerned the proposed posting language will create confusion within the public and the recreation community about what recreational uses are allowed on unposted land enrolled in Current Use. “Recreational uses” can mean different things to different people.

NHTOA Position: Although the NHTOA does not see the need for this legislation, we successfully amended the bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee to clarify what recreational uses are permitted by replacing the generic term “recreational use” with the list of uses listed in current law. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill with the NHTOA amendment and the full Senate will vote on the amended bill next Thursday (Feb. 8).

House Bill 1234 (line 13 on the spreadsheet)

Background: This bill seeks to require all residents on a Class VI road to obtain a road use and maintenance agreement. It is not clear how such an agreement would apply to landowners who have property on the Class VI road but do not reside on it. The bill also obligates the residents to pay for maintenance of the road.

NHTOA Position: This bill has a lot of problems, and the NHTOA will be opposing it. First, it obliges private citizens to enter into a contract with their neighbors, possibly against their will. The bill is silent on abutters who use the road but do not reside on it. The bill does not contemplate road damage and maintenance expenses incurred by individuals who neither live on nor abut the road. And the most fundamental problem is this bill will obligate private property owners to pay and maintain a public right of way. If the property owners want to take on that responsibility, there are mechanisms to do that by seeking to have the road reclassified as a private road or in the case of a landowner building a residence on a Class VI road they can sign a “agreement and release” form with the town.

Status: At the public hearing before the House Public Works and Highways Committee the NHTOA raised our concerns  and the committee appeared receptive. They committee will be voting on this proposal next Wednesday (Feb. 7).

House Bill 1697 (line 18 on the spreadsheet)

 Background: This bill proposed a two-year moratorium on any forest-carbon credit sales. The sponsor’s motivation for introducing the bill was the recent announcement by the new owner of the Connecticut Lakes Headwater Forest (146,000 acres in Pittsburg, Stewartstown, and Clarksville) to increase their participation in the California carbon market by reducing timber harvests and selling more forest-carbon credits. Because of the size of this property and that it is subject to a Forest Legacy Conservation Easement held by the State of New Hampshire that promotes multiple use management, including active forest management, the new owners’ decision has become controversial. Like House Bill 1709, writing a law that will cover every landowner in the state based on the activity of a single landowner is problematic. Moreover, as it came out in the hearing, the proposed amendment has multiple technical and operational flaws (including being unconstitutional). For these reasons, the NHTOA cannot support it.

 NHTOA Position: At Monday’s work session before the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee, the NHTOA was charged with developing an amendment. This work is still in process. The committee will be reconvening next Tuesday (Feb. 6) for a work session to discuss this bill.

House Bill 1229 (line 21 on the spreadsheet)

Background: This bill requires landowners selling shoreland property subject to the state’s Shoreland Protection Act to provide the buyer documentation explaining the Shoreland Protection Act and obtain a signed copy acknowledging receipt. Failure to do this will result in a $1,000 civil penalty for the first offense and $2,000 for each subsequent offense.

NHTOA Position: Part of a landowner’s due diligence before purchasing a property is to learn what rules and regulations apply to the property. To encumber these real estate transactions with this additional requirement is inappropriate. Moreover, if it is the sponsor’s intent to shift this due diligence to the property seller, why stop at the state Shoreland Protection Act? The NHTOA will be opposing this proposal.

Status: The public hearing before the House Resources, Recreation and Development Committee went well. The committee is scheduled to vote on this proposal Wednesday (Feb.7)

House Bill 1208 (line 29 on the spreadsheet)

Background: This bill came from a homeowner who hired a tree service to remove trees on their property. Unfortunately, the homeowner did not know the trees were protected and when they received a summons, they felt the tree service should have notified them of the tree cutting restrictions. This is despite them signing an agreement with the tree service saying the homeowner is obligated to obtain all permits and approvals. This bill would require the person or entity cutting the trees verify compliance with all state and local permitting requirements. These documents shall be maintained and provided to any enforcement officials. As drafted, this bill will also apply to commercial timber harvesting projects.

NHTOA Position: The NHTOA believes the genesis of this bill is a simple contract dispute and it is inappropriate to encumber an industry with this additional requirement. The bill fails to recognize the timber harvester is not always the person obtaining the permits (i.e., many foresters obtain the permits). The bill is also redundant as Current Law already requires a copy of the wetland approval certificate to be posted on the log landing. For these reasons and the fact this adds an unnecessary bureaucratic layer to the timber harvest permitting process, the NHTOA is opposing this bill.  

Status: The public hearing before the House Resources, Recreation and Development Committee on Wednesday (Jan. 31) went well. The committee will be voting on this proposal next Wednesday (Feb. 7).

House Bill 1532 (line 66 on the spreadsheet)

Background: This is a game-camera and tree-stand bill that is being sponsored by several opponents to the NHTOA, N.H. Farm Bureau Federation, and N.H. Wildlife Federation’s 2023 game camera bill. The bill does several things to this new law. It modifies and clarifies the dates a tree stand or blind can be erected on property and when they need to be removed, codifies in law a landowner’s right to legally remove a camera or tree stand on their property without having to contact the N.H. Fish and Game Department, and it requires the Fish and Game Department to get landowner permission to put up their own cameras on private property (for enforcement or research purposes). After talking with committee members, it is obvious fatigue with this issue is overwhelming. Moreover, the new law has only been in effect for 34 days. Given these two facts, the NHTOA Policy Committee agreed we will testify that the current law needs time to work. Changing dates and procedures on a law that is less than a year old will only create confusion.

Status: On Tuesday (Feb. 6) the House Fish, Game and Marine Resources Committee will be hosting a public hearing on this bill.

House Bill 1408 (line 76 on the spreadsheet)

Background: Last year, through the state budget, the Governor proposed an overhaul of the state’s professional licensure and certification system. This proposal included the merging of land surveying with engineers and total elimination of forester licensing. Under its own weight, the proposal failed. In 2024 about a half dozen bills have been filed to implement portions of last year’s failed attempt. Although it will not eliminate forester licensing, House Bill 1408 seeks to remove two public members (forest landowners actively engaged in forest management) from the board of seven.  

NHTOA Position: Because of the consumer protections this law provides to landowners seeking professional advice for the management of what is often their largest financial asset, the NHTOA will be opposing this change at the Jan. 31 public hearing before the House Executive Departments and Administration. Having forest landowners and their perspective on this board is important. I want to thank those members who submitted testimony and especially Ann and Marc Davis for taking the time to travel to Concord to testify on this bill.

Status: The House Executive Department and Administration are deliberating on this bill.