Sununu Vetoes Family Leave, Voting Rights and Housing Protection

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Paula Tracy file photo

Gov. Chris Sununu


CONCORD — As expected, Gov. Chris Sununu on Friday vetoed a paid family and medical leave bill approved by lawmakers this year.

He vetoed a similar bill last session calling it an income tax and auctioned off a copy of his veto message and the flag flying over the State House the day he vetoed it at a Republican county fundraiser.

This year he said the same thing, saying lawmakers may use “linguistic gymnastics” but it is still an income tax.

But Democrats who backed the bill as their top priority for the 2019-2020 term, said Sununu is once again siding with insurance lobbyists and big corporations over working families.

The paid family and medical leave bill was one of three Sununu vetoed late Friday afternoon.

He also vetoed a bill to protect renters and mortgagees after the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures ends, and an omnibus bill dealing with elections and voting rights that includes allowing absentee ballots to be cast for any reason.

Family, Medical Leave

“Whether one chooses to characterize it as a ‘premium on wages,’ or a ‘payroll deduction,’ the reality remains that if it looks like an income tax, functions like an income tax, and takes money out of the pockets of hard working taxpayers like an income tax, then it is an income tax,” Sununu wrote in his veto.

But one of the key proponents of paid leave, Senate Majority Leader and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Feltes, D-Concord, said New Hampshire citizens need paid leave with the state’s high health-care costs and in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said Sununu has never supported family leave and instead provides tax giveaways to large corporations and businesses that already provide paid leave.

“More than ever, no one should be forced to risk their family’s economic security to take care of a loved one, take care of oneself, or be there for a new baby,” Feltes said. “As is always the case, the governor sides with the insurance lobby and big corporations over working families and small businesses, even when their health and safety is at risk.”
Under the bill, family leave would be open to all New Hampshire employers and would allow a worker to take up to 12 weeks off to take care of a sick family member, himself or herself or for the birth of a child.

The plan Sununu proposed would begin with state workers and allow other businesses to join in the future and would provide fewer benefits.

House Minority Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, said it is “Groundhog day again.”

“Republican actions last year made it clear that we will not support this plan, and Democrats sending a nearly identical bill to the Governor’s desk shows they were not serious about getting something passed,” Hinch said. 

But House Finance Committee chair Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, said family leave allows someone to be with their loved ones when they most need it.

“It is a fact that employees with access to this type of leave report higher job satisfaction, are more likely to stay in their jobs for longer, and even work more hours in the years following taking the time they need to care for themselves or a loved one,” she said. “We have been working on this legislation for over 20 years, and now the only person stopping it is Governor Sununu.”

She said although he proclaims to support family and medical leave on the campaign trail, Sununu repeatedly vetoes bipartisan legislation creating it.

The House and Senate will return in the fall to act on vetoes, but Democrats lack the votes to override the family leave veto.

The bill passed the Senate on a partisan 14-10 vote, and passed the House 215-141, neither by the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto.

Voting and Elections

Sununu also vetoed an omnibus bill that would make significant changes in voting and election laws including rolling back restrictions approved by Republicans two years ago.

In his veto message Sununu called the bill a Democratic “wish list of unreasonable and unnecessary provisions, some of which have already been vetoed and sustained last year.”

The bill would have allowed absentee voting without having to give a reason. In his veto message he notes he supports House Bill 1266 which temporarily allows absentee voting for the upcoming fall elections due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The proponents of House Bill 1672 seek to take advantage of a global pandemic to fundamentally and permanently weaken New Hampshire’s election system,” Sununu said.

The bill would have allowed on-line voter registration and had the state join the Electronic Registration Information Center. Proponents claim it would have modernized state voting.

Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Chair Melanie Levesque, D-Brookline, said the measures in the bill have been proven and would allow better access to free and fair elections.

“Rather than allowing New Hampshire, a state that prides itself on commitment and participation in the democratic process, to move forward, Sununu has chosen once again to hold up unreliable, antiquated systems that systemically put up roadblocks for new voters,” she said. “This veto is not surprising given the governor’s history of voter suppression and strengthens our resolve to continue the fight for New Hampshire voters.”

The bill did not have a two-thirds majority vote in either the House or the Senate.

Housing Bill

Sununu also vetoed House Bill 1247, which would have provided protection for renters and homeowners unable to make their payments during the pandemic emergency.

A moratorium on evictions and foreclosures was in place until July 1.

Sununu said once the moratorium ended, the state extended the eviction notice requirement from seven to 30 days and allocated $35 million in federal CARES Act money for a housing relief program.

“House Bill 1247 adds a major structural problem to an already precarious housing environment,” Sununu said in his veto message. “The effect would be to take a bad situation and make it worse.”
Under the bill, renters could not be evicted unless a landlord offers a six-month repayment package to recoup the unpaid rent.

Banks would have to act “in good faith” with homeowners who are unable to pay their mortgages.

Feltes was the prime sponsor of the housing relief plan and said the governor’s veto denies working families financial relief as they struggle to overcome the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This veto is a slap in the face to the hard working New Hampshire families who have been devastated by this pandemic,” Feltes said. “Creating a housing fund is fine, but a housing fund is not housing protection.”

The bill did not have a two-thirds majority vote in either the House or the Senate.

Municipal Relief

Sununu signed House Bill 1129 which contains several changes that will make it easier for municipalities to adjust to shutdowns and missed meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill changes requirements for municipal public hearings, provides optional town meeting procedures, and requires online reporting of CARES Act disbursements.

“House Bill 1129 provides the crucial guidance that our municipalities and school districts need in order to move forward,” said Sen. Jon Morgan, D-Brentwood. “Municipalities with March and May town meetings can now continue to make reasonable fund expenditures based on the prior fiscal year’s budget, allowing these local governments to continue functioning.”

Sununu is expected to receive several more bills passed by the House and Senate in the next day or two including several omnibus bills.

Garry Rayno may be reached at

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