Distant Dome is co-published by InDepthNH.org and Manchester Ink Link
By GARRY RAYNO, Distant Dome
Two days after the Sept. 11 primary election, the House and Senate return to Concord to deal with unfinished business from the 2018 session.
After dealing with more than 1,000 bills, only six do not have a known fate, the six bills Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed.
Sununu showed no deference to either body as he vetoed three House bills and three Senate bills.
Most of the attention will be on the Senate, with three controversial bills: to continue subsidies for wood burning power plants, allow larger solar or wind power arrays to sell excess electricity to utilities and to repeal the death penalty.
The House bills are less controversial: granting the Adult Parole Board sentencing flexibility for parole violators, now an automatic 90 days, licensing requirements for a pilot self-driving vehicle program, and raising the threshold for Executive Council action on dam repair contracts from $75,000 to $150,000.
To override a veto, both the House and Senate have to pass the bill by a two-thirds majority of its members.
The Senate takes up Senate bills first and the House acts on House bills first. If they vote to override, then the bill goes to the other body.
With the dwindling number of media covering the State House, the press corps will most likely follow the Senate in its temporary home in the Legislative Office Building, while its chambers are being renovated.
The House meets in Representatives Hall and both begin at 11 a.m. Thursday.
Judging from earlier votes on the six bills, they all could go either way Thursday.
Sununu has focused on the two energy bills saying he vetoed “The Biomass Tax” in a media ad paid for by the Friends of Chris Sununu PAC (political action committee).
The ad says taxpayers would pay an additional $30 million under the bills, but bill proponents rebuff that claim.
The timber industry, which benefits from the bill that would continue to require the state’s electric utilities to purchase power from the wood burning plants at prices above wholesale costs, says Sununu overstates the costs and does not consider the jobs that would be lost if the veto is upheld.
Sellers of large solar arrays and their customers, cities and towns, and other institutions, as well as commercial and industrial facilities, are pushing back saying expanding net metering to larger solar generators would help diversify the state’s power supply and reduce the need for more transmission lines.
This is not a cut and dried issue, as the bill would help provide lower electric costs for cities and towns and educational institutions as well as businesses, but does increase the cost of electricity for everyone else.
The same is true for wood burning plants, most owned by large European energy conglomerates. While keeping the plants operating helps the timber industry, particularly in the North Country, and provides several hundred high-paying jobs at the facilities, they too drive up the cost of electricity.
The question is whether the state wants to take a long-term look at future energy needs or address the short-term desire to reduce energy costs.
The Sununu administration adopted a new state energy plan focusing on reducing costs, while his predecessors favored a diverse energy plan to increase renewable energy sources.
The pressure is on lawmakers both from the governor’s office and bill proponents.
The wood-burning bill, Senate Bill 365, passed the Senate on a voice or unrecorded vote, and had a 3-0 recommendation from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The committee’s amendment passed on a 17-4 roll call vote with Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, one of the four against.
The bill passed the House on a 225-108 vote which is just barely enough for a two-thirds majority. It passed the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee on a 12-6 vote.
Who will come
Whether overrides are successful depends on who shows up and two things may make it difficult to override bills Thursday. A number of incumbents are usually defeated in primaries, which will be held two days before the veto sessions. Do the losing incumbents show up?
And lawmakers will not be paid milage for Thursday’s trips so that always lowers attendance a little.
The net metering bill, Senate Bill 446, passed both the Senate and House on unrecorded voice votes. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 5-0 for the bill, while the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee voted 19-1 in favor.
An attempt to kill the bill in the House was defeated on a 213-116 vote, which is not enough for an override.
Death Penalty Repeal
The bill repealing the death penalty, Senate Bill 593, faces an up-hill battle. The Senate voted 14-10 to approve the bill, which is not sufficient to override.
Two Democrats from Manchester voted against the bill, the dean of the Senate Lou D’Allesandro, as he always does, and Kevin Cavanaugh.
Those two are not likely to change their votes. Michael Addison sits on death row for killing Manchester police officer Michael Briggs and the fear is a repeal would commute Addison’s sentence.
The House voted 223-116 to repeal, close to a two-thirds majority but not quite there.
House Bill 143, which was introduced at the request of the Adult Parole Board, and its chair, former House Speaker Donna Sytek. The bill would allow the parole board to decide if a parole violation should be the mandatory 90 days in prison or a shorter sentence.
Sytek has said she wants lawmakers to override the veto, and she knows how to convince lawmakers to do the right thing.
The bill passed both the House and Senate on voice votes and had near unanimous votes in favor by the House and Senate committees hearing the bill.
This bill may well be law after Thursday.
House Bill 314 would establish licensing requirements for self-driving vehicle testing and a commission to oversee and establish vehicle testing and deployment issues.
While this bill had wide support in the House and Senate and their oversight committees, it ended up in a conference committee when the House refused to go along with Senate changes to the bill.
The votes on the conference committee compromise were overwhelmingly in favor of the bill, but there were rumblings from a few constituencies about whether New Hampshire really wants to be a test site for self-driving vehicles.
Often in these situations lawmakers step back and take a little more time before moving forward, if at all.
House Bill 1736 is a turf battle between the legislative and executive branches.
The bill would increase the threshold for Executive Council approval of dam repair costs paid from the dam maintenance fund from the current $75,000 — which applies to all state contracts before the council — to $150,000.
The council several years ago up the threshold to $75,000, but Sununu — then an executive councilor — was not in favor of the increase.
Whether lawmakers override this bill will depend on how much they want to continue the turf battle with the Executive Branch. In an election year, this bill is likely to die a quiet death with Republicans controlling the legislature, corner office and the executive council. No need to create a ruckus if you don’t need to heading into what is expected to be a challenging election for the GOP.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.