Sununu faces veto decision for rent relief, absentee ballot bills

  • FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2020, file photo New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu speaks at a Cops for Trump rally in Portsmouth, N.H. S AP

Monitor staff
Published: 7/9/2020 4:36:50 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu faces decisions this week on a trio of Democratically-driven bills relating to coronavirus relief – and the possibility of vetoes.

On Monday, Senate President Donna Soucy sent two bills to the governor's desk, one meant to assist renters and homeowners and the other to overhaul the state’s election process during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Then on Wednesday, Soucy sent Sununu House Bill 712, a bill to create a mandatory paid family and medical leave program for Granite State employees. Sununu vetoed an identical version of that bill in 2019. 

Sununu has five business days to sign, veto or let the bills pass without his signature, giving him until the end of the week to take action on the first two bills. If no action is taken, the bills automatically become law. 

The bills reaching Sununu’s desk are part of the flurry of legislation passed by the House and Senate in late June. After the House failed to extend deadlines to continue passing new bills, the Senate used existing legislation to create large omnibus packages under specific themes.

One bill on Sununu’s desk this week, House Bill 1247, is an absentee voting package that seeks to streamline what is expected to be a surge in the usage of absentee ballots for the September and November elections during the coronavirus. 

The bill would create a dedicated checkbox on the absentee ballot application form to indicate that a resident wants to vote absentee due to concerns around COVID-19. Currently, the Secretary of State’s office is permitting voters to request and cast absentee ballots due to coronavirus if they claim a “disability” on the form.

HB 1247 would also combine the application process for absentee ballots for the primary and general elections into one. And it would allow partial processing of the ballots by town election officials in the days ahead of the election itself – though not an actual tally of the votes.

Another, House Bill 1672, would provide new safeguards for renters by preventing evictions for non-payment of rent unless conditions are met. In order to evict for non-payment of rent during the coronavirus, landlords would need to present a six-month payment plan for back rent to allow the tenant to catch up while also paying current rent. Under the bill, if the tenant refused to accept that payment plan or accepted it and fell behind, they could then be evicted. 

Both packages passed the Senate on party lines, and received partisan votes in the House. Republican lawmakers called the absentee voting package unnecessary after the expansion of absentee ballots by the Secretary of State for disability reasons. 

In a statement Thursday, Jayne Millerick, the governor’s chief of staff, declined to reveal the governor's decision on the bills. 

“The governor has until tomorrow to take action on a few of those bills, and announcements will be made once he signs, vetoes, or lets the legislation go into effect without his signature,” Millerick said.

Sununu has indicated public skepticism of some of the bills – and the process used to pass them.

And the governor is no stranger to the veto pen, as he issued a record 57 in 2019, the first year of Democratic control of the House and Senate under his tenure.

Sununu was not available to take questions and did not hold his usual Thursday afternoon press conference this week due to a scheduling conflict, Millerick said.  

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