This is the eighth 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 both the House and Senate held general sessions  and both chambers’ policy committees conducted public hearings, deliberations, and voted on recommended actions for the full House or Senate to consider. The House and Senate are taking next week off and will meet in general session again on Thursday (March 7). April 11 is “Crossover Day.” This is the date when all bills must be acted on by the chamber where they originated. This date means all the policy committees must complete their public hearings, deliberations, and vote on a recommendation by April 3. For bills needing amendments this deadline can be difficult to hit.   

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:

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.

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.

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.

NHTOA Position: Originally, House Bill 1709 attempted to establish a tax on carbon through the timber tax law. Last week the sponsor recognized his bill was in trouble and 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. Fortunately, the sponsor removed the timber tax reference and most of the Current Use references, but the membership composition and study duties for the commission are still problematic.

Status: The full House approved the amended bill with the study commission yesterday (Feb. 22). Because the study commission will have a fiscal impact (e.g., mileage for participants) the bill will now go to the House Ways and Means Committee for a public hearing, deliberation, and vote on a recommendation.

Senate Bill 504 (line 9 on the spreadsheet)

Background: Originally, this bill modified 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 being introduced at the Governor’s request to help law enforcement agents deal with illegal border crossings in northern New Hampshire.

At the public hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the NHTOA raised concerns with the proposed posting language, as we believe it will create confusion among members of 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. Could someone assume a property with the proposed signage allows motorized recreation (i.e., off-highway recreational vehicle use)?

NHTOA Position: While the bill was in committee, the NHTOA worked with the sponsor to amend the bill to replace “recreational uses “ with the list of recreational uses currently allowed on unposted lands enrolled in Current Use; skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, fishing, hunting, and nature observation. Because the amended bill will not modify the Current Use law, the NHTOA is OK with the proposed change.

Status: The amended bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate will vote on it March 7. We can anticipate a debate over state sovereignty as regards border control.

House Bill 1183 (line 11 on the spreadsheet)

Background: This bill prohibits the ownership of agricultural land and land essential to New Hampshire critical industries (technology, manufacturing, and health care) by the Chinese government or Communist Party. It is very broad as it applies to companies, or subsidiaries that are owned whole or in-part or controlled by the Chinese government or Communist Party. The prohibition also applies to companies that are located within China and “Ownership” is also broadly defined to include leasing, possessing, or exercising control.

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.

Status: The full House voted to committee this bill to an “Interim Study.” Although this does not kill the bill (the subject could still be studied), the bill will not proceed any further in the legislative process.

House Bill 1234 (line 12 on the spreadsheet)

Background: This bill seeks to require road-use agreements for residential owners on municipal Class VI roads. The agreement would obligate the landowners to contribute to the cost of maintaining the road and have the right to bring a civil action to enforce it. It is not clear what prompted the sponsor to introduce this bill.

NHTOA Position: The NHTOA will be opposing this bill for two principal reasons. It

establishes a precedent that private landowners would be obligated to pay for maintaining a public right of way, and

forces landowners into an agreement they may not wish to enter.

Status: Yesterday (Feb. 22) the full House voted to kill this bill.

House Bill 1202 (line 13 on the spreadsheet)

Background: This bill would establish a review time limit for the N.H. Department of Transportation’s (NHDOT) issuance of driveway permits onto state highways. Currently, the driveway permitting process varies among NHDOT district offices in terms of review periods and conditions. Standardizing this will greatly improve the planning process for foresters and loggers scheduling timber harvests.

NHTOA Position: At the hearing for this bill the NHTOA supported it and raised our concerns about the existing permitting process. We also recommended an online permitting process landowners, loggers, or foresters could use to obtain these permits. Although the primary concern the committee had with the permitting process was obtaining timely permits for residential developments, our concerns were well received.

Status: Yesterday (Feb. 22) the full House passed an amended version of this bill that addresses residential driveway permitting. The chair of the House Public works and Highways Committee has committed to working with the NHTOA to help address our timber harvest driveway permitting process.

House Bill 1697 (line 16 on the spreadsheet)

 Background: This bill originally 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 between timber taxation and 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 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. The NHTOA supports the amended bill.

Status: The full House passed the amended bill yesterday (Feb. 22)

House Bill 1208 (line 26 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 there 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 is opposing this bill.

Status: The full House killed this bill yesterday (Feb. 22)

House Bill 1423 (line 34 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: Yesterday (Feb. 22) the full House voted to commit this bill to “Indefinite Postponement.” The bill is dead and because of the motion, the subject cannot be reconsidered this session (i.e., as an amendment to another bill).

House Bill 1532 (line 60 on the spreadsheet)

Background: This is a game-camera and tree-stand bill being sponsored by several opponents to the 2023 game camera bill advanced by the NHTOA, N.H. Farm Bureau Federation, and N.H. Wildlife Federation. The bill does several things to this new law.

It modifies and clarifies the dates when 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: The full House voted to committee this bill to an “Interim Study”. Although this does not kill the bill (the subject could still be studied), the bill will not proceed any further in the legislative process.

House Bill 1408 (line 70 on the spreadsheet)

Background: Last year, through the state budget, the Governor proposed an overhaul of the state’s professional licensure and certification system, including the review boards associated with the licenses and certifications. This bill seeks to remove two public members (forest landowners actively engaged in forest management) from the Forester Licensing Board. 

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 opposes this bill.

Status: This week a subcommittee of the House Executive Department and Administration met and unanimously voted to recommend the full committee vote to recommend this bill go to an interim study.