Sununu vetoes six priority bills for Democrats, including three on gun control

  • At the Legislative Office Building in Concord, N.H., on Monday, August 5, 2019, a crowd came to hear speakers and lend their voices calling for Republican Gov. Chris Sununu to sign several gun control measures in the wake of two mass shootings over the weekend. (Concord Monitor - Geoff Forester) Concord Monitor - Geoff Forester

Monitor staff
Published: 8/9/2019 4:11:21 PM

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed six bills Friday afternoon – many of them major Democratic priorities – adding a fresh jolt to deep political divisions over guns, employment and voting.

The vetoes included three gun control bills, which Sununu argued are unnecessary. New Hampshire is one of the safest states in the nation and has a long and proud “tradition of responsible firearm stewardship,” the governor said in his veto message.

The bills passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature included background checks for commercial firearms sales, imposing a waiting period between the purchase and delivery of a firearm, and prohibiting firearms on school property.

But Sununu said the bills wouldn’t solve national issues or prevent evil individuals from doing harm, “but they would further restrict the constitutional rights of law-abiding New Hampshire citizens.”

The vetoes had been expected.

In a statement, Democratic Rep. Katherine Rogers, of Concord, sponsor of the background check bill, said Sununu “has turned his back on a vast majority of Americans seeking a safer society.”

Minimum wage

Sununu also quashed a Democratic effort to raise the minimum wage to up to as high as $12 an hour in 2022.

Senate Bill 10 would have raised New Hampshire’s minimum wage to $10 in 2020 and to $12 in 2022, with the option of an $11 minimum for those businesses that provide 10 days of paid sick leave to employees. And it would have raise minimums for tipped employees from $4 to $7.25, providing that the tips add up to at least $12.

Democrats had said the state minimum – which would have been first increase since 2009 – would have helped increase living standards for those working multiple minimum wage jobs, and brought the state in line with neighboring states. New Hampshire currently does not have a state minimum wage, deferring to the federal floor of $7.25.

But Sununu said it would be an artificial increase that would push businesses into difficult economic arguments that could lead to cutting low-wage jobs entirely. And he argued the reduction of those jobs would hurt younger workers looking for a foothold into the workforce.

“While the intentions of the bill’s supporters may be well-intended, the people they want to help would be hurt by this legislation,” the governor said in his veto message.

Senate President Donna Soucy, a champion of the bill in the Senate, said the decision would not deter her.

“While it is disappointing that Governor Sununu vetoed legislation today to re-establish and raise New Hampshire’s minimum wage, I remain committed to this fight and extend my sincere gratitude to the advocates and lawmakers pushing to raise the wage. New Hampshire values work – it’s far past time for us to guarantee that hardworking Granite Staters earn enough to support themselves and their families,” Soucy said in a statement.

Sununu also vetoed Senate Bill 2, which would have funded workforce training programs by restructuring the flow of funds into the state unemployment fund, calling it “financially irresponsible.”

Independent redistricting

The governor also vetoed House Bill 706, a bipartisan bill intended to create a new process for dividing up the state’s voting districts.

Under New Hampshire’s state constitution, state lawmakers are charged with redrawing districts every 10 years after a new federal Census, in order to account for the movement of people and make districts proportionate. The governor also has a say over whether to veto or accept the new districts.

The present process has meant that the political parties that control the Legislature and governor’s office have the most sway in drawing the districts. Advocates for reform had argued that that leads to more partisan maps, including the use of “gerrymandering” to create districts easier to win.

HB 706 would have created an independent body of 15 members to create and propose a map for the Legislature – five of them chosen by Republicans, five by Democrats, and five by the first ten. The proposals would be optional; the Legislature could still vote them down. But advocates argued the process would constitute a more trustworthy approach that would force parties to work across the aisle and design fair districts.

The bill, which struggled to attract Republican support in the House, left the Senate unanimously after a series of bipartisan compromises. But in his veto message, Sununu objected to the essence of the practice, arguing that the 15-member body would be unaccountable to the public and that the process should be wholly in the Legislature’s hands.

“Legislators should not abrogate their responsibility to the voters and delegate authority to an un-elected and unaccountable commission selected by party bosses,” he said, claiming that “issues of gerrymandering are extremely rare in New Hampshire.”

Sununu’s veto drew condemnation from various voting advocacy and civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, which called it “putting politics above fair elections.”

“Today’s veto signals that politician-made maps and gerrymandering will continue to be the status quo in New Hampshire,” said Henry Klementowicz, a staff attorney at the organization. “This bipartisan legislation was designed to take the power to draw districts out of the hands of politicians and put it in the hands of an independent redistricting commission, as many states have already done.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.)



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