Sununu vetoes red flag law, mandatory PFAS testing bill

Monitor staff
Published: 8/7/2020 4:36:54 PM
Modified: 8/7/2020 4:36:42 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a “red flag law” Friday, quashing a Democrat-led effort to allow for the temporary confiscation of firearms when a court deems a person at risk to themselves or others.

The veto, which Sununu said he issued as a result of constitutional concerns, came as part of a package of four vetoes the governor issued Friday.

Sununu also vetoed a bill to require that insurance companies cover reproductive health care such as abortions if they already cover maternity care.

And he struck down a bill allowing courts to require that companies pay for PFAS screenings in settlements, and a bill to provide a state death benefit for public works employees killed in the line of duty.

The vetoes bring to a near-close an acrimonious final chapter of the legislative biennium, marked by new Democratic majorities in the House and Senate in early 2019 and a Republican governor. On Sept. 16, the House and Senate will reconvene at the Whittemore hockey arena at the University of New Hampshire in Durham to take up the vetoes and attempt to vote to override them.

Democrats had passed House Bill 687, creating the red flag law, as a means to reduce suicide rates. The bill would allow family members or loved ones to petition a court to write an order requiring that a person surrender their firearms temporarily if found to be a risk to themselves or others. After the initial confiscation, the gun owner would have an opportunity to fight the action in court.

Gun rights groups have long opposed the law, arguing that it deprives firearms owners of Second Amendment rights and a right to a fair trial before the weapons are initially removed. Sununu agreed, writing in his veto message that the bill “goes too far and would weaken the constitutional rights of law-abiding New Hampshire citizens,” citing the second, fourth, fifth, sixth, and 14th amendments in the U.S. Constitution.

“I will continue to prioritize suicide prevention and mental health as there is much work yet to be done in New Hampshire, but that work cannot come at the expense of the constitutional rights of our citizens,” Sununu wrote.

But Democrats said the opposition was misplaced and the bill was targeted at suicide, citing 1,200 New Hampshire residents who died by suicide between 2013 and 2017 and estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the state’s suicide rate increased 48% between 1999 and 2016.

“The intention is not, as the opposition has wrongfully argued, to take away guns from their lawful owners,” said Sen. Martha Hennessey, a Hanover Democrat. “The intention is to give concerned family members and law enforcement the proper tools to request assistance from our courts in protecting someone who may be a danger to themselves and others.”

Sununu vetoed the abortion care bill arguing that it could threaten federal funding and would hurt the ability of employers to provide insurance that does not cover abortions if it’s against their conscience. Democrats said it indicated that Sununu is not as pro-choice as he says.

The governor said his veto of House Bill 1375 – the bill creating a legal remedy to require companies to pay for screenings of PFAS and other chemicals – was done to protect businesses and consumers from unfair results. Some toxins don’t produce strong negative health benefits and forcing companies to pay for screenings of all toxins “could open the floodgates to new, less severe claims which would divert resources from those who truly need them,” the governor wrote.

And Sununu said that the bill creating a death benefit for public works employees included a provision he couldn’t support: a change in the way public unions are able to be certified by the New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board. The newly proposed process would bypass the current need for a secret ballot among union members to make that move, Sununu said.

Democrats called the PFAS medical monitoring bill “crucial legislation” and said it would have provided the tools to monitor long-term health impacts of the man-made chemical, which can cause cancer. And they said the veto of the public worker bill was an affront to state employees.

“Throughout this pandemic our state employees have stepped up to keep New Hampshire running,” said Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh, a Manchester Democrat. “...Their work has been crucial to the safety and well-being of New Hampshire and deserves more than temporary benefits and empty words of praise.”

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


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