By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Republicans were able to preserve Gov. Chris Sununu’s vetoes on all bills that came before the New Hampshire Senate on Wednesday.
One bill would have allowed voter registration upon requesting a driver’s license or state identification (SB 7-FN-L). Another would have protected the private information of state employees, (SB 19). Several bills dealt with renewable energy (SB 122 and 124) and one would have allowed for the annulling of criminal records for drug-related offenses.
While each bill to override passed 14-10, each lacked the two-thirds majority required to achieve an override.
Senate President Donna Soucy, who convened the 24 senators in Representatives Hall at noon, noted the body was back for what will likely be their last session together. All Senate seats are up for grabs this November and some are not returning, others are running for re-election and might lose.
While the Senate occupied the 400-seat chamber of the House, the House was meeting at the ice arena at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, also for the last time, to take up their own set of vetoes.
The gathering began with a moment of silence for residents of New Hampshire who have succumbed to COVID-19, with Soucy noting that since they last met in June 71 more people had died for a total of 438.
Due to the pandemic, the public was not allowed into the State House to witness Senate action.
The gallery was restricted to members of the press, but the event was live-streamed on the internet.
Those who greeted the senators outside on the State House plaza held signs in support of overriding the governor’s vetoes.
Chloe LaCasse and Jessica Goff, both of Concord, held signs urging the Senators to override the governor’s vetoes.
It was not to be the case.
The session began with a prayer to remember the less fortunate.
There was also time spent by senators recalling two former senators and a former governor who passed away this year.
State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, eulogized former state Sen. Norman Champagne of Manchester, and Sen. Martha Fuller-Clark, D-Portsmouth, eulogized former state Sen. Harold Janeway, while Senate President Donna Soucy, D-Manchester and Senator Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro spoke of the recent death of former Gov. Steve Merrill, a Manchester Republican.
Bradley said he spoke with Merrill only six weeks before his passing and Merrill reiterated the importance of maintaining what he called “The New Hampshire Advantage,” of no broad-based taxes.
Voter Smart Act
Sen. Melanie Levesque, D-Brookline, said Senate Bill 7 would allow for those who cannot simply go to their Town Hall to register to vote. Instead, any time they went to the Department of Motor Vehicles for a new driver’s license or state-issued identification they would be automatically entered to apply to register to vote unless he or she declined.
COVID-19 has “turned our lives upside down,” and impacted the ability to vote safely in person, Levesque said.
The bill would make registering to vote easier on the public.
“Voting is a deeply ingrained part of the New Hampshire culture,” she said, “It is our civic duty.”
The governor’s veto was sustained.
Senate Bill 19 would have protected state employee’s personal information including email and home address from third parties except for an employee organization for the purpose of collective bargaining.
The vote was again, along partisan lines with 14 Democrats voting to support the veto override and 10 Republicans opposing.
The bill, Senate Bill 122-FN would have addressed ways to make the state more energy-efficient. Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, said energy efficiency is the single most important way to reduce energy costs by not using the power in the first place.
The bill would have ramped up energy efficiency programs for low-income residents which help people survive the winter, Feltes said.
It would have also required the Public Utilities Commission to allocate money to school districts for energy efficiency and improved HVAC systems.
The measure would have required the PUC and the Department of Environmental Services to submit reports with recommendations for the allocation of auction proceeds in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Energy Efficiency Fund.
Sen. Jeanne Dietsch, D-Peterborough, said Sununu’s veto of this bill was an example of the policy of this governor to ignore the climate crisis that exists on our planet.
“This is the most important thing we can address for future generations,” she said.
She said states around New Hampshire continue to address the problem but the state ignores it.
Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, said he believes the bill will allow for energy bills to go down in all 24 Senate Districts.
The vote was 14-10, again not enough to overturn the veto.
Another bill on renewable energy, Senate Bill 124, would have allowed the state to move forward on minimum electric renewable portfolio standards. Fuller Clark said Sununu’s veto message on this bill was “short-sighted.”
She said other states around New Hampshire are far ahead on developing renewable resources and this bill would help advance this. It would revise by .9 percent a year the required minimum percentage of Class I to IV renewable energy in the electric renewable portfolio standards through 2040.
The measure would have provided for an exemption from increases in the annual purchase percentages for certain electrical supply contracts.
Sen. Bradley asked his fellow senators where were they when he offered a compromise on net metering which would balance costs several months ago?
He said New Hampshire has some of the highest electric rates in the nation and this would add costs.
“We need to balance the costs,” he said.
Bradley said this bill would become expensive “when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind does not blow.”
Feltes, who is running against the governor as the Democratic nominee, said all compromises were vetoed by the governor.
This bill is realistic, he said. It’s modest and a compromise.
And Feltes said a veto is to say to the renewable energy industry that the state will not advance on its goals until 2025.
On a roll call vote, 14-10 and the governor’s veto was sustained.
Senate Bill 311-FN would have provided for annulment of criminal records without payment of a fee in certain cases and would have specified a waiting period for the annulment of simple possession drug-related offenses. It would not change the court findings.
It would reward good behavior, said Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, and recognize that young people should not be defined for their drug offenses for their entire lives. The vote was 14-10, again, not enough to override the governor’s veto.