Sununu signs police reform, absentee voting bill; vetoes unemployment benefit reform

Published: 7/17/2020 4:09:36 PM
Modified: 7/17/2020 4:09:24 PM

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu on Friday vetoed a bill aimed at protecting workers during the coronavirus pandemic, calling it “a terribly written and poorly thought out bill that puts New Hampshire citizens at risk.”

The bill, part of a package of pandemic-related legislation pushed by Senate Democrats, would have provided unpaid leave for those affected by the virus and waived insurance cost-sharing for testing and treatment of COVID-19. It also would have provided personal protective equipment to small businesses and used federal money to upgrade the state's unemployment system computers.

But it was the provisions related to unemployment benefits, including permanently waiving eligibility requirements for those citing the virus as a reason, that Sununu found particularly problematic. He said the provisions would have left the state out of compliance with federal law and jeopardized $30 million in federal funding.

“Our job is to open doors of opportunity in times of need, not cut off federal support when families are struggling,” he said in his veto message.

Supporters of the bill noted that it contained a clause that would have eliminated those provisions if the federal government found the state out of compliance. Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, D-Concord, called the veto an attack on small businesses, worker safety and public health.

“Sununu continues to sweep our broken unemployment insurance system under the rug, opposes testing and health care for those impacted by COVID-19, and refuses to advance worker safety, including free PPE for small businesses,” he said in a statement.

Absentee voting

Sununu signed a bill Friday creating a new box to check that specifies the virus as the reason for not voting in person.

The new law also will allow voters to use one application to receive absentee ballots for both the Sept. 8 state primary and Nov. 3 general election. And it will allow town officials to begin processing ballots several days before the election, though they could not view them or tally the votes until Election Day.

Sununu recently vetoed a bill that would have permanently allowed “no excuse” absentee voting.

“While we celebrate today’s victory, we must also remember that these measures are temporary and as a state, we have a long way to go towards securing and modernizing our election system not only for this cycle, but for every election cycle hereafter,” Sen. Melanie Levesque, D-Brookline, said in a statement.

No chokeholds

On Thursday, Sununu signed into law a bill on criminal justice reform that comes almost two months after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked widespread protests.

The bill would prohibit the use of chokeholds by law enforcement, ban private prisons in the state and require police officers to report misconduct. It also provides municipalities with funding to psychologically screen candidates for law enforcement jobs.

New Hampshire is among several states enacting measures to reform their police departments and provide greater accountability in the wake of Floyd’s death.

“I would like to thank all of those involved in making this bill a reality,” Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement. “This is a good first step, and I look forward to our continued work with the Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community, and Transparency.”

Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton – who drew scattered boos when he said “Black lives matter,” on the day the House approved the bill – said the reforms were long overdue.

“We are in the midst of a nationwide awakening to the realities of racially motivated brutality and discrimination by officers of the law," Cushing said in a statement. "These measures are important and long-overdue but by no means exhaustive and I look forward to continuing the conversation moving forward.”

Senate Judiciary Chair Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, praised the bipartisan nature of the bill that also included additional bail reform measures. It also bolstered domestic violence laws by extending the period in which someone could seek annulment for a misdemeanor conviction from three to 10 years.

“This session, the Legislature worked together on criminal justice reforms including improvements to our bail reform statute, increasing the safety of New Hampshire’s minors, and strengthening accountability for perpetrators of domestic violence,'" Hennessey said in a statement. “We know that ensuring the safety and liberty of New Hampshire must continue to be a bipartisan priority in the next biennium and for many years to come.”

Along with the new law, Sununu formed the Commission on Law Enforcement, Accountability, Community and Transparency. The commission is reviewing police training and policies, procedures related to the reporting, investigation and punishment of police misconduct, and the state of relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

The commission was given 45 days to come up with a series of recommendations to provide to Sununu. But this week, the commission said it may need additional time to complete its work.

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