By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu late Friday afternoon vetoed the last four bills of the legislative session, about one-third of the legislation passed by the House and Senate sent to his desk.
For the 2020 session, Sununu vetoed 22 bills, the second most vetoes during a legislative session. Last session he vetoed a record 57 bills.
The session ended much like it began with highly partisan fight bickering and resentment.
In a number of his vetoes this session, Sununu criticized Democrats for failing to follow traditional procedures in vetting bills, and echoed claims by House Republicans that the Democratic leadership failed to include them in major decisions during the truncated session. The coronavirus pandemic suspended legislative activity for three months.
Democrats expressed their frustration saying he failed to work with the legislature and the House Majority Leader called him the most partisan governor in state history.
Senate President Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said Sununu again refused to work with the legislature and chose to govern by veto.
“Rather than engaging in the process, Gov. Sununu followed through with his declaration to defer to vetoes by killing 36 percent of all bills that reached his desk – of those 22 bills, all but three had bipartisan support,” said Soucy. “His excessive vetoes this year are particularly offensive given the Senate’s diligent, bipartisan work completed in the middle of a global pandemic in an effort to preserve legislative initiatives critical to the economic vitality and wellbeing of Granite State workers, families, small businesses, and communities.”
She noted he vetoed bills that would have provided death benefits for state employees, an independent redistricting, paid family and medical leave, and bills sponsored by every ranking Republican in the Legislature, and even requests from his own department heads.
House Majority Leader Doug Ley, D-Jaffrey, said Sununu’s partisanship has been a major detriment to New Hampshire.
“On issue after issue, Gov. Sununu has chosen politics over working together to help Granite Staters, vetoing far more bills than any other governor in New Hampshire history,” Ley said.
“New Hampshire voters expect their elected officials to work across party lines to move our state forward.”
He said Democratic governors worked with Republican controlled legislatures for the good of the state.
“Granite Staters will unfortunately suffer because they refused to put partisanship aside,” Ley said. “Gov. Sununu likes to act like a moderate at his daily press conferences, but his 79 vetoes show he is the most partisan governor New Hampshire has had.”
Friday’s vetoes included three bills championed by Democrats intended to protect workers, abortion rights and public health.
House Bill 685 would have required insurance companies covering maternity services to also cover emergency and elective abortion procedures.
Adopting the provision would have allowed New Hampshire insurance companies to bypass new federal rules requiring abortion billing to be done separately from other medical procedures.
“This legislation is unnecessary, and would threaten the State’s ability to receive federal funding for our many healthcare programs in the middle of a global pandemic,” Sununu said in his veto message, and would “take away the freedom of choice for those employees and employers who object to being forced to partake in or provide abortion services, and expose the State to expensive litigation.”
He said the bill clearly violates the “Weldon Amendment,” which has been in every federal appropriations bill since 2005, putting the state at risk of losing federal funding for many health programs.
And the governor said the vast majority of the commercially insured in New Hampshire already have coverage of abortion services.
Supporters of the bill say it will make it more difficult to ensure affordable access to safe abortions.
“While Chris Sununu claims to be ‘pro-choice,’ his actions speak louder – and truer – than words,” said Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua. “Five years ago this week, then Executive Councilor Sununu cast the deciding vote to defund Planned Parenthood health centers and jeopardize access to health care for thousands of Granite Staters.”
Today he vetoed the Reproductive Health Parity Act – a bill to ensure affordable access to safe, legal abortion for Granite Staters, she said, “making clear once and for all that Chris Sununu does not support reproductive rights.”
But Republicans praised the veto saying it would have increased the cost of health insurance for all Granite Staters.
“If you are concerned about the cost of health insurance now, just imagine how much more it would be if insurers would be required to provide coverage for abortions,” said House Minority Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack. “If you are concerned about abortions, just imagine if your insurance premiums went up because the government told insurance companies they have to cover abortions.”
He said the bill goes too far and is but one of the insurance mandates Democrats passed this year.
The vote was 14-10 in the Senate and 196-132 in the House, not enough to override the veto.
Sununu also vetoed House Bill 1494, an omnibus bill that would have provided greater unemployment benefits, a death benefit for families of public workers killed doing their jobs, required the state to follow federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements, increased the time firefighters would have to claim workers’ compensation for heart and lung damage, allowed individual bargaining units to negotiate their own collective bargaining agreements, and allowed union certification when a majority of workers file written authorization.
Republicans opposed the bill saying it would increase property taxes and stretch already reduced state resources.
But Democrats said the bill would put policies in place to protect public workers who have stepped up to do yeoman’s work during the pandemic.
In his veto message, Sununu said he supports some sections of the omnibus bill but raised the issues of worker privacy and added governmental costs while the state and municipalities are facing significant budget deficits.
“The current (union) election process helps safeguard worker privacy and freedom of choice by ensuring the employees’ secret ballots are not traced back to them,” Sununu wrote in his veto message. “It is particularly odd that the legislature has now sent several bills that would undercut public employee privacy despite the New Hampshire citizens resounding passage of a constitutional amendment in 2018 that protects privacy rights for our citizens.”
And he said the bill would add significant costs not only to the state but to counties and municipalities by requiring they meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards.
“This bill would add significant costs making it even more difficult for the State, counties and municipalities to prioritize resources,” Sununu said. “Adding new costs at this time as a result of this legislation would only deepen the hole from which we must dig out.”
But bill supporters said state workers have been without a contract for two years, yet they have stepped up to respond during this pandemic.
“Throughout this pandemic our state employees have stepped up to keep New Hampshire running. They have taken our emergency calls and provided support, oftentimes at personal risk to themselves and their families,” said Senate Commerce Chair Kevin Cavanaugh, D-Manchester. “I am extremely disappointed that Gov. Sununu could not stand with our state employees and sign HB 1494 into law, particularly as he has left them without a contract for nearly two years.”
But Hinch called the bill another example of failed Democratic leadership during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Rather than working with Republicans on setting up a reasonable vetting process, they forged ahead and used it as an opportunity to pass wish-list items and bills that have not been vetted in the House,” said Hinch. “Regardless of their heavy-handed and mismanaged process, they can’t really expect Republicans to support an unfunded mandate on our communities while they are wrestling with lost revenue.”
But House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee chair Brian Sullivan, D-Grantham, said the public workers have kept the state moving during the pandemic.
“This is another slight to our state employees by a governor who has continued to reject contracts approved by the various state employee bargaining units,” Sullivan said.
Sununu also vetoed House Bill 1375, which would have allowed the medical monitoring of a person who has been exposed to a toxic chemical although he or she is not currently ill.
The bill was aimed at exposure to PFAs (polyfluoroalkyls) which has contaminated drinking water around the state particularly in Merrimack and the Seacoast.
In his veto message, Sununu said, he has done much to protect the drinking water of the state and while the bill is well intended, it is too broad and it could be costly for the state’s businesses and consumers.
As an environmental engineer, Sununu said, “this legislation would subject businesses to increased liability by creating a pathway for almost anyone exposed to hazardous or toxic substances to prove a claim for medical monitoring damages, regardless of the level, risk or consequences of exposure.”
Many hazardous substances have very limited health risks, he noted.
“By not requiring proof of injury or symptoms and excluding plaintiffs’ past or present health status from being considered, this bill could open the floodgates to new, less severe claims which would divert resources from those who truly need them,” Sununu wrote.
But Democrats said the state has some of the highest levels of certain cancers and people need additional monitoring.
“Today, Gov. Sununu abandoned Granite State families seeking relief from toxic exposure to chemicals at the hands of a negligent third party,” said House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee chair and the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton. “In a state with the highest levels of childhood, breast, bladder, and esophageal cancer, this legislation is critical to our state and ensuring that families are given the dignity and care they deserve.”
Cushing said the legislature worked on the bill for over a year-and-a-half with bipartisan support.
“With this veto, Governor Sununu has once again placed the interest of polluters and big business over the health and safety of the people of New Hampshire,” Cushing said.
The legislature is scheduled to return after the primary elections September 8 primary election to take up the 22 vetoes.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com