With 12 bills left, Sununu’s record veto tally nearly complete

  • Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed the Democrat's paid family leave plan on Thursday, calling it an income tax that he wouldn't support.

Monitor staff
Published: 8/26/2019 5:54:48 PM

It was a milestone – welcome or grim, depending on your perspective: Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed his fiftieth bill, cementing his record as the highest-veto-issuing governor in modern times.

That was several weeks ago. Since then, three more bills have fallen to the red pen.

To Democrats, who took full House and Senate majorities last November, the veto list is an outrageous rebuke at odds with voters. To Sununu, a Republican who kept his seat easily in that same election, it’s a bulwark against a wave of extreme legislation.

But whatever the truth, the show is not over yet. In the last week of August, 12 bills remain that have not been signed, vetoed or let pass into law by Sununu – six from the House; six from the Senate. And as the summer weeks wane, decision-time is soon.

Here are a few of the leftovers.

CrossCheck controversy

It’s been an ongoing debate since President Donald Trump first suggested he had lost the state of New Hampshire to voter fraud: How should New Hampshire verify that those who vote in New Hampshire are qualified to vote here?

More specifically, how should the state make sure that those who do vote here didn’t also vote in another state?

For the 2016 election there was a mechanism for that: CrossCheck, a program born from former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The program allowed states to share voter registration information to check for matches of first name, last name and birthday – with plenty of false matches. The New Hampshire Secretary of State then whittled down an initial 96,000 list of matches to 142 potentials.

CrossCheck, which was controversial from the start, has since been disbanded following a federal audit and a court challenge. House Bill 315 would get rid of it entirely and authorize the secretary of state to enter into a different program that Democrats argue is more trustworthy and secure.

The bill is not quite ready for Sununu’s desk, however; a clerical error discovered by the Office of Legislative Services means the bill is awaiting a fix first, according to the Senate.

Absentee ballots for all

House Bill 611 creates the opportunity for something voting rights advocates have been pushing for some time: allowing people to vote absentee for any reason.

Presently, absentee ballots may only be filed with town clerks under specific situations – a religious commitment, an employment obligation, a disability, or a situation brought about by a weather emergency. HB 611 would let anyone submit an early absentee ballot for any reason, provided they are qualified.

Cost of living adjustment

It’s been since 2010 that state retirees got any sort of boost to their annual retirement allowance, a situation that advocates say has left many in difficult financial straits.

House Bill 616 would increase that allowance in what’s known as a cost of living adjustment – for certain retirees at least. Anyone who retired before July 2014 would get a 1.5% annual increase up to their first $50,000 of income.

On this item, the outcome is much better known: Gov. Chris Sununu has already announced he will sign the bill, despite opposition from his own party.

Offshore oil and gas buffer

The aims of Senate Bill 76 are clear. The politics behind those aims are somewhat more convoluted.

The bill would prohibit any oil and gas exploration in New Hampshire’s state waters. That would include any production facilities and support facilities within the three nautical miles of the state’s water border.

Back in November 2018, the Trump administration announced it had approved a permit for companies to begin seismic testing, which could be a first step to allowing for oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.

The move prompted alarm from some in New Hampshire over the environmental implications, as well as potential impacts on the fishing industry. Sununu said he had assurances from Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke – who has since resigned – that drilling would not be approved around the Granite State.

But SB 76, would make that official, by directly prohibiting the state Department of Environmental Services from issuing any permits for offshore oil development.

Chemical constraints

Two bills heading to Sununu’s desk soon would cut back on harmful chemicals that can particularly impact firefighters.

Senate Bill 193 would prohibit businesses and manufacturers from selling or shipping furniture with a significant amount of flame-retardant chemicals. Those chemicals, many of which contain carcinogens, pose health problems for consumers and especially firefighters in burning homes, advocates have argued.

Representatives of the American Chemistry Council and retail groups countered that it would be too burdensome on businesses and that the chemicals also delay the start of fires.

Senate Bill 257, meanwhile, would prohibit the use of perfluoroalkyl chemicals in fire fighting. Those chemicals are specifically used in foam during firefighting operations.

Whatever Sununu decides on the bills, expect to see movement soon: a major deadline lies waiting just around the corner.

That would be Veto Day, when at least 53 are up for legislative review.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, at (603) 369-3307, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)

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