NH House seeks to lead way on cryptocurrency

Mar. 15—CONCORD — A first-in-the-nation financial reform aimed at making New Hampshire a beachhead for investment in cryptocurrency cleared the House of Representatives Tuesday.

The legislation would make the state the first to adopt a draft of the federal Universal Commercial Code that's still being finalized to pave the way for advances in "controllable electronic records," such as bitcoin and other digital currencies that may be bought online.

The legislation follows the lead of Wyoming, which in 2018 became the first state to exempt all its sellers and developers of bitcoin and similar products from its own securities laws.

State Rep. Keith Ammon, R-New Boston, who authored this bill (HB 1503), told his colleagues five years ago that cryptocurrency would change the global economy.

"We are in the fourth industrial revolution and data is the new oil," Ammon said. "Controllable electronic records, these are the building blocks of the future economy."

After earlier skepticism, Rep. Jess Edwards, R-Auburn, said he is convinced about Ammon is right.

"If I had followed the vision of my friend from New Boston five years ago, I would be filthy rich," Edwards joked.

Bitcoin is a digital or virtual currency — an online version of cash. It can be used to buy products and services, though China and eight other countries have banned it.

Transactions can be done without a middleman, which means those buying with bitcoin don't have to use a bank.

Hasty move?

State Rep. Joyce Weston, D-Plymouth, said the legislation is premature. She noted that that the UCC language hasn't been finally adopted at the federal level.

"What's the hurry? I don't know about you, but I would not write a blank check nor sign a contract without reading it," Weston said.

The House voted, 187-150, to pass the legislation over to the state Senate.

A move to table the bill failed, 188-149.

House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, R-Auburn, praised the action.

"HB 1503 would attract investments and jobs by signaling to this rapidly growing industry that we are open for business. I look forward to working with Gov. Sununu and the Senate to make this bill law," Osborne said.

The governor's spokesman put out a statement that was non-committal on the bill.

"Should this bill pass the Senate and reach his desk, he will carefully review the language and determine whether it is in the best interest of New Hampshire," spokesman Benjamin Vihstadt said in a statement.

Last month, Sununu signed an executive order creating a 12-person commission of experts on this topic and directing it to complete a report with recommendations by Aug. 8.

"New Hampshire is a hub of financial innovation, and this executive order will further our commitment to attracting high quality banking and financial businesses in a safe and responsible manner," Sununu said at that time.

"I am excited for the work this commission will undertake and the recommendations they will provide so that New Hampshire can continue to advance necessary reforms that promote economic growth, foster innovation, and meet changing customer needs while ensuring safety, soundness, and consumer protection."

Sununu said he followed Wyoming's legislation, but wanted this commission to come up with a "New Hampshire approach" to responsibly promoting innovations in this area.

klandrigan@unionleader.com