By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
Lawmakers will return to Concord Thursday to deal with some unfinished business from this year’s session, Gov. Chris Sununu’s nine vetoes of bills passed by the legislature.
Sununu vetoed four House bills and five Senate bills, a much smaller number than his record setting 53 vetoes in the 2019 session when Democrats controlled the House and Senate.
That year, he even vetoed the budget and other bills legislative leaders believed they had reached a compromise on with the governor, only to find out he changed his mind, like the non-partisan redistricting commission.
This Thursday’s session should be much shorter than the one in 2019.
However, there are bills lawmakers worked hard to reach agreement on believing it would be the best way forward only to have Sununu veto the bill.
House Bill 142 would have allowed the Burgess Biomass power plant in Berlin to continue operating for two more years while owners found a path to wean the plant off ratepayer subsidies and generate electricity that would be closer to the current wholesale rate.
The bill passed the House on a veto-proof 269-109 vote, and was recommended by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a 3-0 vote. It passed the Senate on a voice vote.
In his veto message, Sununu blasted the plant’s owners saying they failed time and time again when state government had given them time to find a solution and that has cost Eversource ratepayers about $200 million.
“Enough is enough,” he wrote.
The bill was sponsored by the chair of the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee, Rep. Michael Vose, R-Epping.
Sununu also vetoed Senate Bill 42, which would have eliminated interest payments for those who received more unemployment benefits than they were legally entitled to.
The beneficiary would still have to repay the overcompensated amount, but would not be charged interest under the bill, which passed the Senate on a voice vote, and the House on a 196-178 vote.
In his veto message Sununu noted “Without the accrual of interest, individuals do not have an incentive to pay these funds back. In other words, this bill would allow ineligible beneficiaries to get an interest-free loan on the backs of New Hampshire employers.”
He noted the state was seeking to recoup $6 million in overpayments between 2017 and 2022 and passing the bill would make it nearly impossible to retrieve the money owed the state.
The bill was sponsored by a bipartisan group of senators and House members.
Sununu also vetoed House Bill 342, which would have added a lead blood test requirement for children entering day care or public schools.
The bill passed the House on a 193-180 vote and the Senate on a voice vote.
Sununu said in his veto message, “This bill raises the threshold for children who enroll in New Hampshire’s public schools and is an unnecessary barrier to entry. This bill may also incentivize future legislatures to require additional blood testing requirements for New Hampshire’s kids attending public school.”
And he said, “Blood lead level testing is incredibly important for both health care providers, parents, and guardians, but has no place on entry forms for schools and daycares.”
The bill was sponsored by a number of Democratic House members.
House Bill 35 would have added the toll-free phone number of the National Eating Disorders Hotline to student identification cards. It was suggested by several high school students and was sponsored by a bipartisan group of House members.
In his veto message, Sununu quotes the National Alliance on Mental Health as saying the national eating disorders staff was laid off and the hotline terminated so under the circumstances he is vetoing the bill.
The bill had passed the House on a 238-105 vote and the Senate on a voice vote after the Senate Education Committee recommended it on a 5-0 vote.
One of Sununu’s favorite veto targets is net metering bills which allow residential and small businesses or public institutions to be paid for the solar power they generate but do not use.
Sununu and others have long claimed the practice raises the cost of electricity for non-generating customers, but a Public Utilities Commission study found the cost shift to be minimal.
Senate Bill 79 defines and establishes requirements for an industrial generator as a customer-generator under the limited electrical energy producers act.
But in his veto message, Sununu says the bill removes the long-time 1 megawatt limit on the net metering program and eliminates all limits except for industrial and municipal hosts.
“Although this may have been unintended by legislators, this change would completely upend the state’s net metering structure and makes this bill unacceptable.”
The governor said any changes in the program should wait until the PUC completes its work on a case on net metering.
Sen. Timothy Lang, R-Sanbornton, sponsored the bill.
Senate Bill 51 would establish a commission to study charitable gaming and historic horse racing, and would have continued a moratorium on adding the historic horse racing to gaming facilities not already established before 2022.
The commission was also established in another bill, but the historic racing done on a kind of slot machine, is currently under a moratorium until next year.
In his veto message, Sununu said “despite significant demand for licenses from potential new operators, Senate Bill 51 would continue state government’s practice of hand-picking who is eligible for HHR licenses until at least 2026. If this bill becomes law, the entities that benefit from this misguided government policy will be back again in 2026 to ask for another extension.”
The bill passed the Senate and the House on voice votes and had a 7-0 vote from Senate Finance and a 20-0 vote from House Ways and Means.
A group of bipartisan senators sponsored the bill.
Senate Bill 256 would require a safety program for off-highway recreational vehicles for those older than 12 years and require operators over 14 years old to be with someone 18 years of age or older to operate a vehicle.
The bill would require a valid driver’s license to operate an OHRV on public roads.
Sununu’s veto statement contends the bill would negatively impact the state’s tourism industry.
“Senate Bill 256 may have been passed with the best intentions, but it would negatively affect tourism in New Hampshire and may steer would-be visitors to other states that do not have such burdensome requirements to ride OHRVs,” Sununu wrote in his veto message. “This bill does little to increase safety and would make New Hampshire one of the most restrictive states in New England for OHRV riders.”
He said he would work with stakeholders in the coming year to better target a bill to address their concerns.
The bill was sponsored by Republicans with one Democrat.
Sununu also vetoed another favorite topic of his, collective bargaining.
Senate Bill 193 would require a bargaining unit in negotiations to meet within 10 days after a request has been filed by the other unit. The period could be extended by 10 days by agreement of both sides.
The bill passed the Senate on a voice vote, and the House by a 200-171 vote.
Sununu said in his veto message “inserting state government into the bargaining process by requiring the parties to meet within 10 business days after a written request from the other party is overly prescriptive. Timeframes for collective bargaining meetings should be defined and determined by the parties involved rather than signed into law through the legislative process.”
The bill was sponsored largely by Democrats with a couple of Republicans.
And Sununu vetoed House Bill 337, which would require the office of professional licensure and certification to provide notice of public meetings and an opportunity for public comment.
The bill passed the House on a 387-0 vote and the Senate on a voice vote. It was sponsored by a bipartisan group of senators and House members.
In his veto Sununu said “Currently, public bodies are required to post a public notice 24 hours in advance and records become available for public inspection after the completion of the meeting. This bill would require OPLC to notice meetings 14 days in advance and provide materials pertaining to those meetings seven days prior to the meeting. This bill would essentially require a legal review for every document that would need to be released in advance.”
He said there is no justification for holding the office of professional licensure and certification to a different standard than other state agencies.
The House will act first on the House bills Sununu vetoed and Senate first on Senate Bills.
If the originating body overrides the veto by a two-thirds majority of those present and voting, then it will go to the other body and will again require a two-thirds majority to override the veto.
The House and Senate will both meet at 10 a.m. Thursday in their respective chambers.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.