Official: House set to attempt override of death penalty repeal veto

  • Gov. Chris Sununu vetoes a bill that would repeal the death penalty during in Manchester on May 3. Nick Stoico / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/16/2019 6:39:40 PM

House Speaker Steve Shurtleff has a “tentative” plan to attempt an override of Gov. Chris Sununu’s death penalty repeal veto next week, according to House leadership officials, a pivotal move that could lead the repeal bill to pass into law by the end of the month.

Shurtleff intends to call a vote to override Sununu’s veto on the bill during a voting session next Thursday – May 23 – officials in the Speaker’s office said. That vote, if successful, would send the repeal bill to the state Senate.

The plans raise the stakes for House Bill 455, which would remove the punishment of death for capital murder convictions and replace it with “imprisonment for life without the possibility for parole.” That bill, a facsimile of an attempted death penalty repeal bill, was vetoed by Sununu earlier this month, after already passing the House and Senate with large majorities.

But while May 23 is the intended day of the vote, a House leadership official stressed that the date could be subject to change. Under the state Constitution, the leaders of the House and Senate have discretion on when to hold veto override votes; while many are traditionally held on “veto day” in September, they can be called at any time by the House Speaker or Senate President during a voting session.

The presiding officer is not obligated to announce the override attempt ahead of time, and the veto override dates are not printed in the calendar.

According to the state constitution, the first veto override attempt must be made by the body in which the bill originated– in this case the House. In order to pass the bill over to the Senate, the House will need at least a two-thirds majority vote in favor of an override.

If that happens, the Senate would not be able to hold an override vote until May 30 at the earliest, according to a spokesperson for the Senate, who explained that the full Senate will not be present on the 23rd.

The new schedule brings the attempt to repeal New Hampshire’s death penalty to the closest in history. The repeal campaign has received renewed momentum in recent years as advocates focused on wrongful conviction cases across the country and key legislators switched sides.

But on May 3, Sununu vetoed the bill, citing support for law enforcement and invoking the case of Michael Addison, New Hampshire’s sole death row inmate. Addison, who was convicted for the 2006 slaying of Manchester police Officer Michael Briggs, is currently appealing his case in federal court.

Recent repeal efforts have fallen short; last year, the Legislature failed to muster the votes to overturn Sununu’s veto of the bill, 18 years after former governor Jeanne Shaheen vetoed an attempt in 2000. But with a 279-88 House vote in March – 76% support – and a 17-6 decision in the Senate, the vote already appears to have a strong chance of surpassing the two-thirds’ threshold.

As of Thursday, nothing had been publicly posted by House leadership about the intended override vote. But some advocate groups appeared to know ahead of time. In a Facebook post Wednesday, the Americans for Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, which supports repeal, urged supporters to contact lawmakers to override the veto.

“Urgent: Call your reps,” the post read. “The vote is next week.”

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

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