By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — A bill that would have provided greater unemployment benefits including allowing for health concerns about the coronavirus was vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu Friday.
In his veto message, Sununu said the bill is filled with provisions that would impact the state’s ability to secure federal unemployment benefits.
“To be frank, this is a terribly written and poorly thought out bill that puts New Hampshire citizens at risk by violating federal requirements,” Sununu wrote in his veto message. “Our job is to open doors of opportunity in times of need, not cut off federal support when families are struggling.”
He said the problems with the omnibus bill prompted three state agencies, the departments of employment security, labor and insurance, to object to provisions.
“Ultimately, this legislation would undermine the state’s effort to recover from the pandemic and would significantly harm employers by subjecting them to higher unemployment taxes if this bill were to become law,” Sununu wrote in his veto message.
But one of the sponsors of the bill, Senate Majority Leader and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Feltes of Concord said the bill was intended to get people back to work safely.
He called the veto an attack on small businesses, worker safety, and public health, while appeasing the health insurance lobby and big corporations.
“As if vetoing paid family leave wasn’t enough, Sununu has now vetoed unpaidleave for COVID-19 for good measure,” Feltes said. “Sununu continues to sweep our broken unemployment insurance system under the rug, opposes testing and health care for those impacted by COVID-19, and refuses to advance worker safety, including free PPE for small businesses.”
The omnibus bill, which also provides a death benefit for families of public workers killed doing their jobs, would require the state to follow federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements, increase the time firefighters would have to claim workers’ compensation for heart and lung damage, allow individual bargaining units to negotiate their own collective bargaining agreements, and allow union certification when a majority of workers file written authorization.
The bill also provides unpaid family and medical leave for workers who have contracted the virus or have family members who have.
The bill passed the Senate on a partisan 14-10 vote, and the House on a 178-154 vote, neither close to the two-thirds needed to override the veto.
Sununu vetoed House Bill 1246 which would have studied what happened at long-term care and nursing home facilities where most of the state’s COVID-19 deaths have occurred.
The bill would have used $35 million in federal CARES Act money, including $10 million for child care scholarships, and created programs for the homeless, a housing subsidy program for renters and homeowners affected by layoffs and job losses due to the pandemic.
Sununu said the bill covers territory already addressed with CARES Act programs created through the Governor’s Office for Relief and Recovery.
“Although this bill is well intended, it is redundant,” Sununu writes. “It aims to create new programs and spend CARES Act funds in areas where the state has already identified concerns and designed programs and devoted significantly more resources.”
He said the bill would be appropriate in a non-emergency situation but not during a time like the current pandemic.
But Feltes said the veto is an attempt to sweep under the table the devastation in long-term care facilities from COVID-19.
“We have a much worse COVID-19 crisis than either Maine or Vermont. Over 300 Granite State seniors have been lost to COVID-19, accounting for 80 percent of our total loss of life, yet Chris Sununu says he is doing a ‘very good job’ protecting New Hampshire’s nursing homes and long term care facilities,” Feltes said. “This veto today denies an independent review of what went wrong with recommendations for a second wave, denies funding for proper infection control measures, testing and supplies of PPE in nursing homes, video conferencing for family members, and keeping facilities that receive Medicaid afloat.”
The bill did not pass the Senate or the House with enough votes to override the veto.
Public Employee Privacy
Sununu also vetoed Senate Bill 19, which would have made the home addresses, personal email and home or mobile phone numbers private for public employees.
“While I fully support providing public employees with more control and privacy over their personal information,” Sununu said in his veto message, “this bill would effectively give one class of private organizations – labor unions – exclusive access to that information.”
The bill results from the federal Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) decision and organizations calling union members encouraging them not to pay dues.
Sununu also vetoed Senate Bill 122 which would use the money the state collects from the multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative auction for energy efficiency projects instead of customer rebates.
The bill is similar to one Sununu vetoed last year.
In his veto message he said while he supports the RGGI program, taking away customer rebates during a pandemic is wrong.
“I am disappointed that the legislature is jeopardizing the longstanding Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) compromise yet again by trying to eliminate ratepayer rebates,” Sununu wrote. “This has become an annual exercise of attempting to strip away rebates for residential ratepayers, which is especially problematic during this pandemic.”
Supporters of the bill say the money should be returned to its original intended use to provide greater efficiency which will benefit all ratepayers into the future.
Sununu signed Senate Bill 166 which allows municipalities and counties that aggregate customers and have renewable generating facilities to participate in the net metering program.
Net metering allows renewable energy generators to be paid for the excess power they generate.
One of the proponents of the bill, Feltes said, while the governor has vetoed nine similar bills, SB 166 will help expand renewable energy in New Hampshire.
“SB 166 is critical renewable energy legislation that both opens up further opportunities for community renewable power and ensures that customer generators, including those with solar installations, get treated fairly in the competitive market,” Feltes said.
But Sununu vetoed House Bill 466, which increases the capacity for net metering from 100 kilowatts to 125 kilowatts.
Sununu said the bill would increase ratepayer subsidies to a select few generators.
“In simple terms, it is a handout to those already profiting at the expense of ratepayers across New Hampshire,” Sununu said, “including those who can least afford to bear the costs of higher energy bills.”
The bill passed the Senate on an unrecorded vote, and the House 202-120, short of the needed two-thirds majority.
Sununu signed House Bill 1249, which allows for multi-county grand juries and electronic witnessing of wills and notary public signatures on estate planning documents.
With the court system closed for most cases during the COVID-19 pandemic, grand juries have not been able to meet.
The bill allows for multi-county grand juries to allow the Superior Court division to reduce the backlog of cases pending before a grand jury.
The electronic witnessing and signature provisions apply while there is a state of emergency related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Sununu signed Senate Bill 63, which requires health and accident insurance companies to file annual reports indicating they have shared a portion of the rebates they received from pharmaceutical companies with enrollees.
Senate Bill 34 was signed into law Friday, providing that a person prohibited from operating a vehicle due to a driving under the influence conviction, not be charged if they are found sleeping, resting or sheltering in place in an automobile.
Senate Bill 209 establishing a commission to create a monument celebrating recovery from substance abuse was signed into law Friday.
The money for the monument has to be raised from private, not public sources.
The governor also signed:
House Bill 1230 which continues funding for substance abuse treatment although the Nashua Safe Stations program is ending;
House Bill 1442, with several changes concerning the Gunstock Ski Area;
House Bill 1520, which establishes the health care professional administration fund,
And Senate Bill 283 which concerns electronic ballot counting devices and auditing results.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.