This is the first 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

The 2024 session officially started Jan. 3, when both the N.H. House of Representatives and N.H. Senate met in general session. This is the second year of the biennium, which means three things,

  1. House and Senate leadership and committee assignments are already in place,
  2. There will be some bills from the 2023 legislative session (i.e., bills that were held in committee for study) carrying forward for debate in 2024, and
  3. There will not be a budget debate.

When the full House and Senate met, they did act on several bills of interest to the NHTOA. This is noted in the attached bill tracking spreadsheet.

Next the House and Senate policy committees start their work of introducing bills, conducting public hearings, deliberating, and voting on recommended actions for the full House or Senate to consider. Immediately, there are several bills of interest to the NHTOA being heard today (Jan. 8). This is noted in the attached spreadsheet.

In the attached spreadsheet (click here for spreadsheet) is a list of all the bills the NHTOA is currently monitoring and working on. It contains the 2024 bills recently introduced and the 2023 bills of interest that were held in committee and voted on last week.

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.

If you have any questions about any of the bills on the spreadsheet, please contact me.

Given the diversity of the NHTOA’s membership (landowners, loggers, foresters, and wood processors) the diversity of bills we monitor and lobby for or against is large (80 bills are listed). This also explains why we will be following bills that deal with small business interests, trucking, and renewable energy along with land use and real estate matters. 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 7 on the spreadsheet)

This is a perennial bill that 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. It also seeks to reduce 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. Although the NHTOA traditionally supported 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 9 on the spreadsheet)

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) are incorporating 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 (e.g., “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 over 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 has 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. Moreover, under the current timber tax law (RSA 79:5) a community already has authority 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.”

On Jan. 10 before the House Resource, Recreation, and Development committee, the NHTOA will be testifying in opposition to this bill because while the bill’s sponsor seeks a tax on carbon through the timber tax law, a mechanism already exists and the arena for this discussion is at the administrative rules level through the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration.

House Bill 1484 (line 10 one the spreadsheet)

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.

  1. 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),
  2. It is unclear whether it would require the imposition of a land use change tax on land already participating in a forest carbon program,
  3. 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
  4. It sets a precedent that an unpopular land use could be penalized through current use law.

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 15 on the spreadsheet)

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 in China. “Ownership” is also broadly defined to include leasing, possessing, or exercising control. Given the breadth of this bill, and because we have members that do business with companies based in China (i.e., lumber sales), the implications of this prohibition could extend into some of these business arrangements (i.e., a Chinese-based company leasing warehouse space from a N.H. sawmill to store lumber before shipment). The NHTOA will be opposing this bill at the Jan. 9 public hearing before the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee.  

House Bill 1423 (line 40 on the spreadsheet)

This bill requires the 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. The NHTOA will be testifying in opposition to this bill at the Jan. 10 public hearing before the House Resources Recreation and Development Committee.

House Bill 616 (line 55 on the spreadsheet)

This was a 2023 bill that was retained in the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee. It sought to make structural changes to the state’s renewable energy law that would have negatively impacted biomass power’s ability to participate in this law. All last year the NHTOA spoke in opposition to the bill and in the autumn the committee voted to recommend the full House kill it when they convened the 2024 session. I am pleased to report last week, when the House convened, they voted to kill this bill.

House Bill 166 (line 58 on the spreadsheet)

This is another 2023 bill the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee retained. This bill sought to modify the state’s renewable energy laws by precluding renewable thermal energy (i.e., wood chips, wood pellet boilers). Again, all last year the NHTOA spoke in opposition to the bill and in the autumn the committee voted to recommend the full House kill it when they convened the 2024 session, which is what they did last week.

House Bill 1148 (line 71 on the spreadsheet)

This bill proposes changes to the N.H. Fish and Game commission. The NHTOA has consistently supported the existing commission structure, although this bill proposes more subtle changes and does not dismantle the existing structure. The bill also makes some minor administrative changes to how the commission operates (e.g., meeting notice criteria, etc.) This bill also modifies the criteria needed to be considered for a commissioner seat by reducing from five of the past 10 years to three of the past five years  during which a nominee must have owned a fishing or hunting license and adds “ecology” to the list of possible fields in which a nominee must demonstrate proficiency. On Feb. 6 the NHTOA will be testifying that the current commissioner requirements and commission structure are working and should not change, the administrative changes are acceptable.     

House Bill 1417 (line 72 on the spreadsheet)

This bill addresses wild trout management. Most of the recommendations deal with fishing restrictions. The part of this bill that causes the NHTOA concern is its allowance for the N.H. Fish and Game director to “set forth additional restrictions.” Because we have seen attempts to regulate or restrict forest management activities within watersheds due to the presence of brook trout, the NHTOA will testify in opposition to granting the director such broad regulatory latitude and suggest additional regulations that could impact property rights and land uses, such as forestry, go through a more thorough legislative vetting process. The public hearing on this bill before the House Fish, Game and Marine Resources Committee has been scheduled for Jan. 30.

House Bill 1532 (line 73 on the spreadsheet)

This is another 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. It would also codify 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 their own cameras up on private property (for enforcement or research purposes). Although there might be some fatigue with this issue in the General Court after last year’s protracted debate, the NHTOA’s opinion will be sought At the public hearing before the House Fish, Game and Marine Resources Committee next month, the NHTOA plans to testify in support of those portions of the bill that protect or enhance property rights and add clarity to the law.