This is the second 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 neither the House nor Senate held general sessions to act on bills. Instead, both chamber’s policy committee met to conduct public hearings, deliberate, and vote on recommended actions for the full House or Senate to consider.

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 and in some cases—where the NHTOA is seeking assistance from our membership in the lobbying process (i.e., calling a local Representative or Senator—sending a letter or email to a committee, or attending 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 1422 (line 5 on the spreadsheet)

Background: This perennial bill seeks to reduce several taxes. It seeks to reduce:

the business profit tax from its current rate of 7.5% by 0.1% each year for 5 years.

the business enterprise tax from its current rate of 0.55% by 0.10% annually for 3 years.

Although they are not of direct interest to the NHTOA, other taxes that will be reduced are communications service tax and meals and rooms tax. The projected fiscal impact of the proposed taxes is $2 billion by 2031.

NHTOA Position: Although the NHTOA traditionally supports lower taxation (especially in the context of their interplay with property taxation), the debate for such a significant tax cut should also be occurring in the context of the budget debate. The NHTOA supports reasonable tax reform and fiscal prudency and the need for the state’s policymakers to review and debate this subject. In as much as this bill provides an opportunity for this debate, we support it for that reason.

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. In recent years, the market for forest-carbon credits has grown as more companies (domestic and international) have incorporated the purchase of forest-carbon credits into their corporate greenhouse-gas-emission reduction strategies. 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. Highlighting this concern is a recent announcement by a large landowner in Coös County to reduce timber harvesting and instead sell more forest-carbon credits.

NHTOA Position: 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.

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 Wednesday’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. NHTOA also testified that existing timber tax law (RSA 79:5) allows a community to assess a tax on uncut wood if they believe they are being “unreasonably deprived of revenue because of the failure of an owner to cut standing wood or timber when it shall have arrived at the degree of maturity most suitable for its use.” NHTOA also testified that the venue for this debate should be within the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration where tax experts, forestry professionals, landowners, and industry representatives could explore RA 79:5

Status: The committee is deliberating on this bill now.

House Bill 1484 (line 8 one the spreadsheet)

Background: This is the second forest-carbon bill introduced by the same North Country representative unhappy with the recent shift in management of the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters property in Pittsburg to put a greater emphasis on forest-carbon storage and sequestration. Again, writing state law to address a single transaction has unintended consequences and again, that is true with House Bill 1484. 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 will be testifying in opposition to this bill.

House Bill 1183 (line 12 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 concerns over national security, the NHTOA signed in opposing this bill at its hearing on Jan. 9.

Status: There was little support expressed for this bill at the hearing, other than the bill’s sponsor. The committee is now deliberating its merits.

House Bill 1697 (line 18 on the spreadsheet)

Background: As printed, this bill sought to change New Hampshire’s participation in a regional carbon cap and trade program commonly known as RGGI (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative). At Tuesday’s public hearing before the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee the bill’s author admitted modifying RGGI was not his intent and instead he introduced an amendment to replace the entire bill with a proposed two-year moratorium on forest-carbon credit sales. His 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).

NHTOA Position: Although sympathetic to many of the sponsor’s concerns, based on the many technical and constitutional problems with the bill, the NHTOA cannot support it.

Status: Due to the large number of people wishing to speak on the bill, the hearing was recessed, and the committee will be taking time over the coming weeks to educate themselves on forest carbon programs and will host a continuation of the hearing (not scheduled yet). Stay tuned.   

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. In the bill’s fiscal note, the department estimates it will require seven new staff members to identify and map “old growth” on all state, federal, and municipal lands. This requirement alone is a distraction from the department’s charges of forest health, wildland fire protection, timber harvesting law enforcement, and the management of state lands and is an unnecessary waste of resources, as the state has already identified the few stands of “old growth” on their land already. Moreover, the bill fails to define “old growth,” although earlier drafts had defined it as any stand of trees over 60-years old. Therefore, to legislate this is inappropriate.

NHTOA Position: The NHTOA testified in opposition to the bill at the Jan. 10 public hearing before the House Resources Recreation and Development Committee. The hearing went well with only the sponsor, Sierra Club, and an out of state organization opposed to timber harvesting called “Standing Trees” providing testimony in support. Joining the NHTOA opposing the bill was the Society for the Protection of N.H. Forests, while the N.H. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources expressed their concerns.

Status: The committee is now deliberating the bill.