This is the 29th and final legislative/policy update for the 2023 New Hampshire legislative session. Yesterday “veto day” marked the unofficial end of the 2023 New Hampshire legislative session. The N.H. House and Senate voted and sustained 9 vetoes signed by the Governor , including the Burgess BioPower bill – House Bill 142.

All attention now turns to the 2024 legislative session. Immediately prior to the 2024 session, beginning (mid-December) I will resume my reporting.  If you do not wish to receive this update, please let me know and I will remove you from the distribution list.

General Comments

Yesterday’s veto votes mark the end of the 2023 legislative activity. Between now and the start of the 2024 session we anticipate several House policy committees will have work sessions to review and debate bills retained in committee. The goal is to have the full policy committee vote on any recommendation by Nov. 17. This recommendation will be considered when the  full House convenes on Jan. 3, 2024.

We are beginning to get a glimpse of the policy debates we will address in 2024 as both the House and Senate have filed the titles (bill language has not been posted yet) of all the bills they will consider in 2024. The only caveat is there are still quite a few “confidential titles” in the Senate. These are placeholders of potential bills. Because they are confidential it is not clear what the subject of the bill will be and whether it will interest the NHTOA’s membership. Although we will not see the actual language of the bills, based on the title we can determine whether a subject is of interest to the NHTOA’s membership. And in some instances, I have contacted the bill sponsor to understand what they are trying to accomplish.

Of the titles filed, 74 will interest the NHTOA. This is in addition to seven bills being carried forward from the 2023 legislative session.

I am attaching the updated NHTOA bill tracking spreadsheet (attached). All the passed and defeated bills have been removed and the new bill titles are added.

Three notes on this spreadsheet:

  1. The link to the bill text (in the spreadsheet) 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. Also, note that the language for the new bills is not available.
  2. 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 or it is blank, we are still gathering information or assessing our position on the bill.
  3. Bills that are either “Retained” or “Rereferred” are tabled within the committee and will be voted on by the full committee later this autumn. In the House, this date is Nov. 17.

-Jasen

LSR 2593 (line 10 on spreadsheet) The sponsor seeks to modify how land in Current Use is assessed. Specifically, open space land assessed under Current Use that is also subject to a conservation easement. The constituent for whom the sponsor submitted this bill is concerned that land enrolled in Current Use can remain under that form of assessment after it becomes subject to a conservation easement. There is a separate tax assessment law that mirrors Current Use, which is specific to land subject to a conservation easement (RSA 79:b). This law allows landowners to apply to have their land assessed as “open space” using the Current Use assessment rates. As with Current Use assessment, landowners need to apply to have their property assessed under RSA 79:b. Most land in New Hampshire subject to conservation easements does not reapply for assessment under RSA 79:b. Because these lands continue to qualify for Current Use assessment, they remain in the Current Use program. Requiring landowners to switch assessment programs is unnecessary and adds an administrative burden. Such a requirement also opens the door to the question of whether a land use change tax should be assessed. Moreover, requiring this is contrary to the intent of Current Use assessment: to tax open space land on its ability to produce forest and agricultural crops, not whether it is subject to an easement.

LSR 2759, 3134 and  2613 (lines 11, 26, and 51 on spreadsheet) These bills come in response to concerns over a forest-carbon deal in northern New Hampshire that may impact timber harvesting on acreage with a specific ownership. The land is subject to a working forest conservation easement held by the State of New Hampshire. We are attempting to connect with the bills’ sponsor to get more details on these proposals.

LSR 2462 (line 31 on the spreadsheet) This is a constituent bill from Nashua where a homeowner got in trouble with a local land-use board because a tree service cut trees the landowner was supposed to leave (i.e., shoreland buffer trees). Although the homeowner was contractually responsible for obtaining the permits/approvals, they felt the tree service should also be held responsible. It is not clear how this proposal would address this contractual issue.

LSR 2052 (line 42 on the spreadsheet) This proposal will require the state to give more attention to old growth forests. Specifically, the N.H. Division of Forest and Lands will need to identify and protect timber stands more than 80 years old. The NHTOA will oppose this proposal for two reasons, 1) the Division already inventories and considers old growth stands through their comprehensive land use and planning process, 2) defining trees more than 80 years old as “old growth” is arbitrary and inaccurate.

House Bill 142 (line 140 on the spreadsheet) – This bill would have established a mechanism at the N.H. Public Utilities Commission to modify the power sales contract between Eversource and the Burgess BioPower facility. As the single largest market for low-grade timber (biomass), the continued operation of this facility is important to timberland owners and managers conducting sustainable forestry. This market is also critical to sawmills that need to manage mill waste (chipped slabs and bark). The NHTOA supported this bill.

Action: Although it passed the full House and Senate earlier this year, Governor Sununu vetoed this bill. Yesterday, the full House sustained the Governor’s veto, killing it. Its failure to become law creates a cloud of uncertainty about the future operation of this facility (see article from InDepth). The owners are assessing the impact of the vote and their options. The NHTOA will continue to monitor the situation and work to keep its members informed of any developments. 

 LSR 2540 (line 87 on the spreadsheet) This is a new game camera bill introduced by Representative Jonathan Smith (R-Ossipee; an opponent of last year’s game camera bill). It seeks to modify the law adopted last year. We will evaluate this bill to determine if it will dilute the new law or if there are elements of it worth supporting.

Professional Licensing (see Gov’t. Administration section) — Several bills are to be introduced that would modify the state’s professional licensing laws. Recall, the Governor, through the budget bill, sought to merge several licensing boards (e.g., land surveyors would be combined with the professional engineers) and to eliminate 34 professional licenses (including forester licensing). The NHTOA opposed these proposals in the last session. Based on the 2024 bill titles the land surveyor and professional engineer merger will be introduced again. We will be scrutinizing the three other proposals to organize professional licensing.