2019: Northern Pass Killed, Death Penalty Repealed and Ed. Funding Back in Court

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Garry Rayno is InDepthNH.org's State House Bureau Chief. He is pictured in the press room at the State House in Concord.

, InDepthNH.org

This year was one of great expectations and even greater disappointments for many in the Granite State.

For the first time in a decade, Democrats controlled the House and Senate with high hopes of advancing a new agenda after years of GOP control.

Reality struck when Republican Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed many of their priority bills, including the two-year $13.3 billon operating budget passed by the House and Senate.

Lawmakers ended the state’s death penalty after overriding Sununu’s veto by one vote, while a Massachusetts driver, who should have had his license suspended, plowed into motorcyclists in Randolph killing seven.

Some of the state’s top stories this year were familiar.

The state’s education funding system was back before the courts and Pamela Smart’s latest attempt for a reduced sentence for her involvement in her husband’s murder was turned down by the Executive Council.

This year’s top story has been a continuing saga as well.

Northern Pass

After a decade of guerrilla warfare by opponents of the $1.6 billion high-voltage, transmission project to carry Hydro-Quebec electricity to southern New England, the project died “not with a bang, but a whimper.”

The developer of the project first proposed in 2010 pulled the plug after the state Supreme Court sided with state regulators who voted 7-0 to deny the project’s application because Eversource failed to prove the transmission line would not adversely impact the orderly development of the region, one of four criteria needed to grant approval.

Eversource spent $318 million trying to win approval but could not convince the Site Evaluation Committee Northern Pass would produce enough benefits to offset its harms.

Death Penalty

The legislature first voted to abolish the death penalty in 2000 but then Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vetoed  the bill and the legislature failed to override her action.

Since that time, nearly every two-year term the House voted to abolish the death penalty, but the Senate refused to concur.

After the election of Maggie Hassan as governor in 2012, who was receptive to a repeal, proponents were buoyed but failed to convince enough senators to make it reality.

This year repealing the death penalty was approved by more than two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate, but Sununu vetoed the bill and then worked to convince Republicans to change their votes to uphold his action.

In the end, repeal was approved by a one-vote majority in the House and had just the needed two-thirds in the Senate to become law.

Record 57 vetoes

Sununu bragged to conservative Republicans early in the 2019 session he had his veto pen ready with a Democratically controlled legislature and he lived up to his words, vetoing a record 57 bills.

The most gubernatorial vetoes in modern times was 15 by former Democratic Gov. John Lynch with Republicans holding a 75 percent majority of the House and Senate during the 2011 session, and 28 vetoes over the two-year term.

Among the bills Sununu vetoed were bills dealing with guns, reversing changes the GOP made to voting laws, increasing the minimum wage, subsidies for wood-burning electric generators, net metering, returning teacher tenure to three from five years, and an independent redistricting commission to draw the state’s political boundaries.

Sununu will see many of the bills again in the 2020 session.

Budget Veto

Democrats crafted a two-year budget they claimed worked for everyone in the state not just businesses and the well-to-do, increased education funding more than any time since the state overhauled education funding in 1999 after the Claremont lawsuit, restored revenue sharing, and increased appropriations to address the opioid crisis and the mental health system, as well as children’s protective services.

Sununu said the budget was unsustainable and did not include the business tax rate cuts that went into effect Jan. 1.

The veto created a number of problems for state agencies and uncertainty for municipal, school and county officials trying to craft budgets for 2020.

After three months of negotiations, legislative leadership and Sununu settled on a budget that spends $13.5 billion versus the $13.3 billion budget he vetoed, but cuts state spending by $83 million while increasing the use of one-time money and federal dollars.

School Funding Unconstitutional

A Cheshire County superior court judge sided with a lawsuit brought by Con-Val School and other districts claiming the state has failed to provide enough money for an adequate education for students, or define what it is.

The ruling was the second major setback for the state’s education funding system still largely dependent on local property taxes with varying rates. The Supreme Court ruled more than two decades ago, the reliance on property taxes was unconstitutional.

The state Supreme Court is expected to hear the state’s appeal of the superior court ruling next year.

No Paid Leave

Calling a paid family and medical leave program that was the Democrats’ top priority and popular among state residents an income tax, Sununu vetoed the bill and then auctioned off a copy of his veto message at a GOP function as well as the flag that flew over the State House the day he vetoed the bill.

Seven Motorcyclists Killed

The driver of a truck who should have lost his Massachusetts license killed seven motorcyclists in Randolph when he swerved into their lane.

Questions were raised as to why the driver, Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, 23, still had his license after he had been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol a month earlier, and refused to be tested for alcohol, which should have disqualified him from operating a commercial vehicle for a year under Massachusetts law.

The incident caused Massachusetts and New Hampshire to change their license tracking procedures.

Climate Change 

While climate change has taken center stage around the world with warming temperatures, severe weather, massive brush and forest fires and newly flooded areas as the polar ice cap melts, it also has had its effects in New Hampshire.

A King tide in January flooded the Seacoast in what many scientists said was a harbinger of things to come with the melting polar ice.

No Sentence Reduction

The Executive Council voted 4-0 with one abstention to turn down Pamela Smart’s latest attempt to have her life sentence reduced for her involvement in her husband’s murder.

Smart, 51, is serving life in prison without the chance of parole for being an accomplice to the murder of her husband Gregg Smart 29 years ago in Derry.

Ethics Investigation

The Legislative Ethics Committee said House Majority Leader Douglas Ley should not have participated in a number of labor related bills due to a conflict of interest signaling greater scrutiny of lawmakers.

For Impeachment

The state’s two representative to Congress, Ann McLane Kuster and Chris Pappas, vote to impeach President Donald Trump. The impeachment was approved by the Democratically controlled House without any Republican support.

Presidential Primary

Despite concerns over the state presidential primary’s vaulted status, presidential candidates continue to pour into the state seeking an early victory in the race for their party’s nomination.

Garry Rayno may be reached at garry.rayno@yahoo.com.

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