Thursday, May 15, 2014

Bill governing timber sales contracts moving through Ohio House

TIMBER HARVESTING (McGregor, R.) To establish requirements governing contracts for the harvesting of timber and enforcement procedures regarding and penalties for the theft of timber. (CONTINUED; 1st Hearing-Sponsor)
Rep. McGregor said in sponsor testimony that the bill gives the Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry and prosecutors "the necessary tools to move forward prosecuting timber theft and allows victims to seek adequate remediation."  Despite being a state with significant amounts of forested areas, Ohio has no comprehensive laws relating to timber theft, he said. "The sole statute relating to timber theft provides for a very minimal criminal penalty and is essentially ineffective."  Rep. McGregor said the bill would: require a written agreement between a landowner and a timber harvester; require a written record of timber removed from a property; create a new criminal offense that is easier to prove than theft, but carries stiffer penalties; create a "consistent and workable method of valuing wrongfully harvested timber;" recognize the incidental damage to property and other costs should be recoverable from the wrongdoer; clarify that county prosecutors are the primary enforcer of violations; and involve the Division of Forestry more directly in timber theft by having forest officers assist in investigations when requested.  The sponsor said the bill "does not place an unreasonable burden on the forestry industry."  "The current bill is significantly less burdensome to the industry than statutes and regulations in other states, where, despite such more onerous requirements, timber harvesting continues to take place, presumably in a manner which timber buyers and harvesters find profitable and competitive," Rep. McGregor said.  The bill, he added, "is the product of multiple drafts and incorporates input from interested parties over the course of the past two years. The greater likelihood of prosecution, stricter criminal penalties, and the transparency and clarity which will result from the requirement of a written agreement will go a long way in deterring timber theft. In the event that timber theft occurs, it will facilitate bringing the wrongdoer to justice."
Rep. Pelanda welcomed the legislation, saying, "It's high time Ohio addresses this very serious issue." Citing the severity of property damage that occurs with timber theft, she suggested the bill be strengthened with "bonding, registration and licensing" requirements. 
The sponsor agreed the crime is "unlike any other theft.... When someone steals your timber, that is never going to be replaced. You can never be fully compensated."  Nevertheless, Rep. McGregor said he wanted to craft the measure so as not to be "overly burdensome" to an industry that mostly operates above board.
Rep. Thompson, who said the timber industry is important to his district, opined that the bill appeared to be opening up another avenue for litigation. He expressed concerns that the measure amounted to a "regulatory overreach."
"At the end of the day we're talking about theft and individual property rights," Rep. McGregor said. "We do not feel this is overly burdensome" and definitely no more than the tightened regulations recently approved for the towing industry.  He said the new requirements in the bill were "really just good business practices" that will provide affirmative defenses for property owners.
Ohio Forestry Association Executive Director John Dorka submitted written testimony in opposition to the bill, which he said would not curb thefts and instead "creates a new regulatory program relating to the buying and selling of timber on private lands by private individuals and enforces violations of this excessively regulatory program exclusively through criminal sanctions."  "Because there is no exclusion for the private owner who desires to sell timber as part of occasional land clearing activity prior to the use of his property, the private landowner will be required to comply with all aspects of the bill," Mr. Dorka wrote.

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