This is the sixth 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 held general sessions 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. 15) when they both meet in general session. At that session the Governor will also deliver his state of the state address.

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 is 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.

 NHTOA Position: House Bill 1709 attempts to establish a tax on carbon through the timber tax law. As it was introduced, this bill was a mess and it was slated to be killed at this week’s executive session before the House Resources, Recreation, and Development Committee. At the session, the bill’s sponsor made a last-ditch effort to save it by introducing an amendment to study the tax and transparency aspects of forest carbon contracts. In addition to fixing its poor drafting (several significant typographic errors), the study commission will be reviewing items already addressed in the amendment to House Bill 1697 (see below) passed by the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee. The study will also look at Current Use assessment. The NHTOA is communicating its concerns to committee members.

Status: The committee will be voting on the draft study amendment on Wednesday (Feb. 14).

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 and the NHTOA testified in opposition.

Status: This week the House Ways and Means committee unanimously voted to recommend the full House kill this bill when they convene on February 15.

House Bill 1234 (line 13 on the spreadsheet)

Status: At this week’s executive session before the House Public Works and Highways Committee they voted unanimously to recommend the full House kill this bill when they convene later this month.

House Bill 1202 (lone 14 on the spreadsheet)

Background: This bill will establish a deadline for the N.H Department of Transportation (NHDOT) to review and issue driveway permits for entries onto state highways. How long it takes the Department to issue temporary timber harvesting driveway permits varies widely. In some instances, it can take several months. This becomes especially frustrating when the proposed driveway is one that has been used for prior timber harvests. Compounding this issue is the variability we see between NHDOT districts. Although we appreciate the challenges the Department faces with staff and resource shortages, if it takes too long to issue these permits it can negatively impact timber harvest planning. This is especially true when foresters and loggers are juggling crews between projects due to road bans and poor weather.

NHTOA Position: The NHTOA testified in support of this bill and added that we support the development of an online permitting process for timber harvesting driveway permits. (Last year we were told this was in development.)

Status: The House Public Works and Highways Committee hosted a public hearing this week. The NHDOT was the only entity speaking in opposition to the bill was. The committee is deliberating the bill and plans to vote on it next Wednesday (Feb. 14)

House Bill 1697 (line 18 on the spreadsheet)

 Background: This bill proposed a two-year moratorium on any forest-carbon credit sales. While in the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee it was amended to remove the moratorium and replace it with language to address two of the primary concerns raised regarding forest-carbon credit projects, transparency, and taxation. The new bill directs the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration NHDRA) to study the interaction of timber taxation with forest carbon-carbon credit management and sales. NHDRA is obligated to prepare a report with any recommendations to House leadership by Nov. 1, 2024. The bill also addressed the concern of transparency. Specifically, the concern of transparency for local communities regarding where the land is situated and its future landowners. It does this by establishing a registry of forest carbon projects at the N.H. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. It was initially thought these credit sales could be recorded on the county registry of deeds, where it could be publicly known what encumbrances or conditions are being placed on the property. But because these contracts do not necessarily run with the land, a real estate interest recording them at the registry of deeds is inappropriate.  

 NHTOA Position: NHTOA collaborated with a stakeholder group to study this issue and develop the amendment for the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee to consider. We are pleased to report last Tuesday that the committee unanimously voted to recommend that the full House support the new bill when they convene later this month.

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 give the buyer documentation that explains 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: This week the House Resources, Recreation and Development Committee voted to commit this bill to interim study.

Senate Bill 381 (line 22 on the spreadsheet)

Background: This bill sought to modify the definition of private road by automatically having any road that is either impassable or where the town has not provided maintenance for more than five years become “private.” This would have caused all Class VI roads to become private roads. This bill was supported by a taxpayer advocacy group claiming that they are unjust taxed for services while living on unmaintained town roads.

NHTOA Position: Because this proposal would dramatically impact access for many timberland owners the NHTOA opposed this proposal.

Status: I am pleased to report the Senate killed this proposal this week.

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 their 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 to 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: This week the House Resources, Recreation and Development Committee voted to recommend the full House kill this proposal when they convene later this month.

House Bill 1423 (line 37 on the spreadsheet)

Background: This bill requires the N.H. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to identify and map “old growth” on all public land. The Department already has a program to do this through their normal land management activities. This proposal differs from existing management work in that the objective of the required inventory was to manage the old-growth stands for carbon storage. This proposal was sought by an out-of-state environmental organization opposed to timber harvesting.

NHTOA Position: The NHTOA opposes this proposal.

Status: This week, a member of the House Resources, Recreation, and Development Committee made a motion to reconsider their earlier recommendation to kill this bill. Fortunately, the motion failed (it was a one vote margin).

House Bill 1532 (line 66 on the spreadsheet)

Background: This is a game-camera and tree-stand bill 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). 

NHTOA Position: 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.

House Bills 1059 and 1387 (lines 74 and 77 on the spreadsheet)

Background: Both bills deal with the state building code. House Bill 1059 seeks to update the code with the new one that will allow for the use of cross-laminated timber (a.k.a. mass timber) in multi-story buildings. This new building technology has been used in Europe for years and is just beginning to catch on in the U.S. It creates new market opportunities for softwood lumber. Much of the text of House Bill 1387 is not germane to the NHTOA, except for the last three lines that remove the code provisions for log structures and biomass boilers. We are keenly interested to hear why the sponsor seeks to remove these two portions of the building code.

NHTOA Position: The NHTOA will be supporting House Bill 1059 and opposing House Bill 1387.

Status: The House Executive Departments and Administration will be hosting public hearings on both bills Tuesday (Feb. 13) morning.

Other News

NHTOA opposes Old-Growth proposal.

On Friday (Feb. 2) the NHTOA submitted formal comments to the U.S. Forest Service to oppose the agency’s mature and old-growth forest management proposal. This proposal comes from an Executive Order directing the agency to inventory mature and old-growth forest across all national forests and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). These lands are to be managed for carbon capture/storage. The NHTOA’s opposition to this proposal is two-fold. First, the NHTOA and numerous other organizations and individuals invested thousands of hours developing a land management resource plan for the White Mountain National Forest that considers the multiple-use management across the forest (including the sustainable production of forest products). The Biden Administration’s order would supersede this work. Second, the proposal is bad science and poor forestry. The proposed definitions to identify “mature and old-growth forests” are simplistic and scientifically wrong.

Although this proposal is being pushed hard by the Administration, we anticipate a second comment period in the coming months and we will be encouraging our membership to weigh in.

To see the NHTOA comments go to,  nhtoa.org/nhtoa-comments-on-old-growth-plan/