Only a single Sununu veto reversed by House and Senate to become law

  • Senate President Donna Soucy (standing left) speaks in favor of her bill to set N.H.’s minimum wage Thursday in the Senate chamber of the State House. AP

Monitor staff
Published: 9/19/2019 11:08:05 AM

If there’s one thing Republican and Democratic state lawmakers can agree on, it’s licensing reform for medical marijuana patients. 

But that’s about the only thing.

After two days of marathon, whirlwind voting days in the House and Senate this week, the Republican minority held the line, backing up Gov. Chris Sununu at nearly every turn.  

Fifty of Sununu’s 55 vetoed bills this year failed to attract the two-thirds support necessary to overcome the Republican governor this week, putting to rest a slew of Democratic proposals on issues like paid family, a state minimum wage, voting, guns, and energy. 

One bill did get through Thursday. Starting Nov. 18, patients seeking to sign onto the state’s therapeutic cannabis program will not be required to demonstrate a three-month doctor-patient relationship before moving ahead.

Thanks to Senate Bill 88, that three-month requirement will soon be eliminated. Patients will still need to meet one of a wide range of qualifying conditions – from chronic pain to cancer. But the doctor certifying them can be brand new.

Sununu had argued that the present system works fine, and that the three-month minimum requirement allows for more responsible licensing. But both chambers rebuked that stance, with Republicans joining Democrats to push the bill over the line.

Thursday’s votes make SB 88 the second bill to ever overcome a gubernatorial veto in Sununu’s three years in office. Lawmakers abolished the state’s death penalty over the governor’s veto pen in May.

Several other bills came close to breaking through Sununu’s veto effort on Thursday. The Senate mustered two-thirds support for a bill to prevent employers from immediately asking criminal histories from job applicants and another that would raise register of deeds fees to expand the state’s Land and Community Heritage Investment Program.

But both efforts failed to clear the same threshold in House, whose members showed up in force Thursday.

Meanwhile, a House bill that had survived a veto override Wednesday – to allow for the home grow of cannabis for medical marijuana patients – came three votes short of success in the Senate.

For Democrats – who control both chambers but don’t command a two-thirds majority – it’s been a lesson in the limits of legislative control. During a similar session Wednesday in the House, the pace was brisk; lawmakers moved through the budget without long speeches, choosing not to linger over outcomes already known.

The Senate commanded a different dynamic, with a cherished tradition of speechmaking after a summer of simmering anticipation for today’s session. Still, on Thursday, most of the speeches were perfunctory, and the votes quick.

For Democrats, the fight is not over; many have filed House bills this week to carry the same efforts into next year. And two bills passed earlier this year have not made it to Sununu’s desk after lawmakers elected to make tweaks on Thursday. Those bills will come before the governor later in coming weeks.

For now, though, the dust has settled. Here’s a review at what happened in the Senate on Thursday.

Senate Bill 140

In a narrow, 15-9 vote, the Senate came short of clearing the two-thirds threshold for Senate Bill 140. That bill would have required that any alternative learning program a approved by the state Board of Education also be approved be local school boards before they can count for credit in schools. The bill is a Democratic response to an initiative by Sununu’s Department of Education: Learn Everywhere, which seeks to expand alternative credit programs for students outside of the classroom.

Senate Bill 106

Senators just barely failed to overcome a veto by a 15-9 vote on Senate Bill 106, which would have changed the definition of a “political advocacy organization” for the purposes of campaign finance law. Presently, PAOs must report expenditures for communications sent within 60 days of an election – but only if they explicitly advocate for the success or failure of one candidate. SB 106 would have taken away that latter requirement; PAOs would need to report any communications, not just the ones for a specific candidate.

Senate Bill 100

In the chamber’s third veto override, senators voted 17-7 to flip Sununu’s veto of Senate Bill 100. This bill, referred to some as “fair chance hiring” or “ban the box,” would prohibit employers from inquiring into the criminal background of prospective hires on the application. Instead, it would require them to wait until an interview to ask into the candidate’s criminal history and provide a chance for the applicant to explain it in person.

Senate Bill 99

By a 14-10 vote, senators failed to override Senate Bill 99, which would amend the state’s workers’ compensation law by requiring that those receiving worker’s comp to find a job that pays similarly to their last job – not just any law – before being taken off of it.

Senate Bill 88

Senators voted 17-7 to override Senate Bill 88, which would simplify the process by which medical marijuana users could obtain licenses for therapeutic cannabis, including by eliminating the present requirement that patients have a three-month relationship with their doctors before getting an ID card.

That veto was later overridden in the House, becoming the second bill of 2019 to be overridden by both chambers. The first: the repeal of the state’s death penalty.

Senate Bill 74

In its first override of the day, the Senate moved to overturn Sununu’s veto of Senate Bill 74, which would increase the fee to change records at the register of deeds by $10, and put the money into the state land and community heritage investment program (LCHIP). That program goes to grants to improve local preservation and conservation efforts in cities and towns, but advocates have said that the money is flagging and the waitlist is lengthy.

Even though the Senate voted 17-7 to overturn the veto, the House, however, sustained the bill Thursday afternoon, bringing it to an end.

Senate Bill 72

In a 14-10 vote, senators failed to clear the hurdle to override Senate Bill 72, which would take away a crediting process whereby electric utilities can used net-metered consumers to offset their requirements to buy renewable energy certificates.

Supporters had argued that the crediting process allowed utilities to get off the hook on buying the certificates, which support renewable energy projects. Sununu, in his veto message, said the credits didn’t need to be scrapped.

Senate Bill 67

Senators sustained 14-10 Senate Bill 67, one of several voting bills before the body. The bill would have carved out an exemption for college students, military personnel and temporary workers from a law passed last year that makes voting an act of residency.

Senate Bill 20

The Senate voted 14-10 to sustain Senate Bill 20. That bill would have reversed a law passed last year to raise the number of hours teenagers can work during school weeks. Those higher limits will move ahead.

Senate Bill 2

The Senate failed to override Senate Bill 2, which would have boosted workforce training programs by shifting money from the state unemployment fund and changing employer contribution structure, in another 14-10 vote.

Senate Bill 10

In its first vote of the day, the Senate failed to override a bill to pass a minimum wage. Senate Bill 10 would have created a $12 minimum wage by 2022. Presently, New Hampshire has no minimum wage, which has not risen since 2009. The state defaults to the federal minimum of $7.25.

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

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