Sununu goes 23-1 as House overturns only one veto on ‘grow your own’ bill 

  • ABOVE: Members of the New Hampshire House get ready to vote at the State House in Concord on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • LEFT: Goffstown State Rep. John Burt (left) talks with Londonderry State Rep. Al Baldasaro before Burt went up to speak of not overriding HB 564 during Veto Day at the State House on Wednesday.

  • New Hampshire Speaker Steve Shurtleff calls the house to vote on an override bill on Wednesday, September 18, 2019 at the State House. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 9/18/2019 12:51:11 PM

It’s been called historic, a year with the most vetoes issued by a modern New Hampshire governor, and on Wednesday, all but one of them stood tall.

House Bill 364, which would allow medical marijuana patients to grow cannabis at home instead of purchasing it from dispensaries, will move ahead to the Senate tomorrow despite Sununu’s veto.

Nearly two-dozen others will not.

In a six-hour churn of familiar bills and familiar debates, representatives in the Democratically-controlled House slogged through 24 attempts to overturn the vetoes by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

But overriding those vetoes requires a two-thirds majority, something the Democrats couldn’t deliver without Republican help.

In roll call after roll call vote, efforts to cross that threshold crashed against reality, as Republicans closed ranks and outcomes stayed largely partisan. By the end of the day, 23 of the 24 vetoes sent down by Sununu had been sustained.

Still, some votes were closer than others. In two cases, Democrats got within striking distance, falling short by 10 votes or less.

And when it came to home grow cannabis, they pushed it over the edge.

Here’s a run-down of the major bills on Wednesday.

Firearms

Republican lawmakers took the air out of attempts to override three firearms-related bills vetoed by the governor.

House Bill 109 would have established state background checks for firearms purchases, in addition to federal requirements. The checks would close “background check loopholes” that allow sales without the checks to occur in specific circumstances.

But after some colorful partisan commentary, the bill failed to clear the hurdle.

Two more attempts at gun reform were equally unsuccessful. House Bill 514 would have imposed a three-day waiting period to purchase a firearm, something supporters say is an attempt to cut down on suicide attempts. House Bill 564 would have banned firearms on school properties across the state, allowing school districts to decide who could be exempted.

Democrats said the bills were minimal disruptions intended to keep people safe. Hopkinton Rep. David Luneau called one a “layered approach” to solving an uptick in mass shootings in recent years.

But Republicans said the changes would be ineffective and create unnecessary constraints, and repeatedly touted the state’s low levels of gun violence.

And in the end, few minds were changed. Nearly every vote fell by the same threshold.

Voting bills

In the first two votes of the day, lawmakers took on a touchy political topic: voting. House Bills 105 and 106 are Democratic efforts to dismantle two recent Republican changes to voting at the polls.

They failed on both counts Wednesday to overcome the veto override threshold.

House Bill 105 would undo Senate Bill 3, which imposed a slew of new documentation requirements for voters to prove they are domiciled in the state before casting ballots. And House Bill 106 would effectively repeal House Bill 1264, which made voting an effective act of residency, carrying responsibilities like car registration.

Both bills are currently tied up in lawsuits – the former in Hillsborough Superior Court and the latter in federal district court.

Democrats have decried the changes in law, calling them undue burdens intended to discourage prospective voters. Republicans have argued they are necessary to maintain the integrity of the vote and prevent out-of-state influence.

And on Wednesday, the two sides stayed squarely within their own camps.

One voting-related bill came in with a bipartisan edge. House Bill 706, which would create an independent, external commission recommend how to New Hampshire’s voting districts after the once-a-decade Census, had commanded a bipartisan outcome in the state Senate.

Supporters saw it as a way to aid the Legislature, which has a constitutional mandate to draw the state districts, in carving up the state. Sununu disagreed, arguing it would take the redistricting out of the hands of lawmakers and into the hands of unelected political appointees.

What had once seemed a joint effort came crashing down with a 227-145, near party-line vote.

Gender designations

House Bill 446, which would have standardized the procedures in court to change a person’s gender on their birth certificate, did not survive a veto override attempt Wednesday.

The bill was vetoed by Sununu, who called a birth certificate a “vital record and historical document” and argued that the bill would allow gender designations to be too easily changed.

Transgender rights advocates said it would help those changing genders at no impact to others.

The bill is one of two major transgender bills that passed before the governor’s desk. In July, Sununu allowed House Bill 669, which allows an “X” gender marker on a driver’s license, to become law without his signature.

Home grow

Late Wednesday morning, the House achieved its first veto override for the week. It would ultimately prove to be the only one of the day.

With an over two-thirds margin, lawmakers voted to support a medical marijuana home grow bill. House Bill 364 would allow those who qualify for medical cannabis to grow up to three cannabis plants in the home.

Sununu opposed it as part of a general opposition to the expansion of marijuana in the state. But while the House delivered a bipartisan rebuke Wednesday, the real battle lies in the Senate. The bill passed earlier this year with only a 14-10 margin – not enough for the 16-vote veto override threshold.

A spokeswoman for the Senate, Sara Persechino, said the chamber will take up that veto on Thursday after dealing with the bills on its plate.

Biomass, net metering

It was about as narrow as it gets.

An attempt to override a veto on House Bill 183 – one of the strongest candidates for success today – came up four votes short.

That bill would have provided subsidies to New Hampshire’s biomass energy plants, which burn low-grade wood chips and have struggled to remain competitive in the state’s energy markets with the rise of natural gas.

A similar bill to do the same passed the Legislature last year and overcame a gubernatorial veto, but its implementation has been tied up in the courts as the state Public Utilities Commission awaits a federal advisory on whether it’s legal to enforce.

Supporters of the second attempt to pass the subsidies said that it would rescue an industry that helps the foresting industry by helping clear low-grade wood and keeping woodlands healthy. But Sununu and other opponents said the bill amounted to propping up an industry that has failed to remain competitive. And they said that forcing the utilities or taxpayers to subsidize energy would drive up rates for others in the state.

The vote is a blow to the six biomass plants still existing in the state, some of which have entered de facto “shut down status” as they await legal developments.

In another close vote, House representatives fell just short on overriding a veto of net metering expansion. House Bill 365 would have lifted the cap on the amount of renewable energy that consumers and businesses can sell back into the electrical grid at competitive rates – raising it from one megawatt to five.

Sununu had called the bill a handout to the solar industry and said it would cause others’ electricity rates to rise. Supporters had fiercely opposed that reasoning and said it would support solar producers at no significant cost to the utility companies.

The final override attempt was six votes short of the two-thirds threshold.

Budget troubles

Left unaddressed Wednesday: perhaps the two most consequential vetoes of all. House officials pushed HB 1 and 2 – the state budget bills that Sununu vetoed in June – to Thursday, setting up a 1 p.m. session to reconvene.

At that point, lawmakers will take up the two bills for a veto-override almost certain to fail. And House Democratic leadership will attempt to introduce two potential compromise bills – House Bills 3 and 4 – drafted on Tuesday. Those bills, which Sununu has disavowed, will require

Lawmakers are running out of time to come up with a solution: Three months of stop-gap spending approved by the Legislature just before Sununu’s veto is set to run out at the end of the month.

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




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