The New Hampshire Bankers Association is gearing up for numerous fights in next year's legislative session.

Lawmakers will debate more than 60 bills, and at least a third of them - not to mention the four that the bankers group helped develop - address banking.

However, it's a bill to increase banking taxes that New Hampshire banks, almost all of them homegrown, will watch most attentively.

Bank Franchise Tax

HB 1418, "would reinstitute the bank franchise tax, and we'll be working to fight it off' says Jerry Little, executive director of the bankers' group.

The franchise tax required banks to pay 1% of their annual payout for deposit interest. It was repealed after the state enacted the Business Enterprise Tax, which applied a 0.25% tax on bank interest - but also on salaries and dividends paid by all other New Hampshire businesses.

"There were some people who weren't very happy that the new tax would be slightly less for banks than the franchise tax had been," says Diane T. Vickers, senior vice president of government relations for the bankers group.

Donald Bossi, executive vice president of Centerpoint Bank, Bedford, N.H., says "it would seem to be very punitive if we're required to pay an added tax on interest. It's just another sign of overregulation in our industry."

Ms. Vickers argues that taxing interest twice would also be unconstitutional. Rep. Rick Newman, D-Portsmouth, who authored HB 1418, was not available for response.

Next on the "watch list" for the bankers group is HB 1320, by Bonnie Packard, R-Ipswich. The measure would allow a consumer to request an investigation of apparent errors in credit reports, and require the errors to be deleted if they are confirmed.

It also would allow a consumer to eliminate by phone, or in writing, their names and addresses from any list available for prescreening requests. "We just hope the bill won't track the federal bill and impede our ability to evaluate a credit, or impose penalties for any inaccuracies on credit reports," Ms. Vickers said.

Much different than any bill the U.S. Congress has considered recently - if ever - is HB 1371, by Donna Lee Lozeau, R-Nashua. It would require lenders to notify borrowers of their qualified homestead rights in a foreclosure.

New Hampshire's homestead law originally allowed property owners to keep $5,000 of their property to help them survive after losing their homes. In 1990, that amount was increased to $30,000 per individual and $60,000 per couple - assuming a borrowers refused to sign a homestead waiver before a mortgages were issued.

In practice, "borrowers sign the waiver because they want the mortgage, and the waiver ensures that the bank, a taxing agency and other lienholders will be satisfied in the event of default. But it's one of those laws no one really understands," Ms. Vickers says.

Among the bills supported by Ms. Vickers group is HB 1339, which will streamline board meetings by allowing a committee, instead of the entire board, to O.K. substantial revisions in credits and collateral.

Other bills with the bankers' imprimatur - as yet unnumbered - would exempt bankers from the "unanimous vote" provision of the federal insider-lending regulation, and provide environmental liability exemptions for trust departments.

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