‘Largest energy relief package ever’ becomes law, as governor’s vetoes sustained

By: and - September 16, 2022 6:03 am
House lawmakers meet in Representatives' Hall for Veto Day

House lawmakers meet in Representatives’ Hall for Veto Day, Friday Sept. 15, 2022 (Amanda Gokee | New Hampshire Bulletin)

With energy costs skyrocketing, Gov. Chris Sununu signed what he called the state’s largest energy relief package ever into law Thursday, hours after it passed the Legislature. The move came as lawmakers met for the state’s veto day, leaving all of the governor’s vetoes intact. 

Funded through the state’s general fund, the energy bill could send up to $650 in energy assistance to income eligible residents. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were full of praise.

“Utility rate increases could mean the difference between heating and eating,” said Rep. Kat McGhee, a Hollis Democrat who spoke on the House floor in favor of the bill.  

Rep. Steven Smith, a Charlestown Republican, said House Bill 2023 won’t solve the state’s high energy costs. But he argued the money should be in the hands of state residents who are struggling to afford their bills. “It’s their money,” he said. “It’s sitting in the bank. We might as well give it back to them. It does them more good than it does us.”

His colleagues in the House and Senate agreed. The bill passed on a voice vote in the House, and 23-0 in the Senate. 

In June Sununu proposed a $60 million program, while the Legislature Thursday approved $42 million in spending from the state surplus, with $200 credits for electricity and $450 in heating aid to residents earning between 60 and 75 percent of the state median income – or around $90,000 for a family of four. 

“While this final legislation looks a little different from what we originally proposed, this is a big win,” Sununu said in a statement. 

The emergency legislation sailed through on a packed day for the Legislature, which offered a brief reunion midway through campaign season. The Legislature also met Thursday to take up bills vetoed by Sununu, sustaining all of his vetoes on bills that addressed topics ranging from ivermectin and  buffer zones at abortion clinics to landfill setback requirements. 

Legislature sustains governor’s vetoes

Logo for Democracy Day storyTo become law, a bill has to gain approval from both the House and the Senate. It is then sent to the governor, who can sign it, let it pass into law without a signature, or veto it. When a bill is vetoed, the House and the Senate have a chance to overturn the governor’s veto if they have a two-thirds majority vote in favor of the bill in both bodies. Lawmakers were unable to reach that threshold on several bills Thursday.

Among the vetoes left intact was House Bill 1022, which fell 144-170 on Thursday. That bill would have allowed pharmacists to dispense ivermectin under a standing order without a prescription, just as they can with medication for smoking cessation; naloxone, to reverse an opioid overdose; and contraception, including emergency contraception. 

The bill originally  passed the house by 24 votes and the Senate by four, and required anyone who received ivermectin from a pharmacy to sign a document stating there is no proven benefit to treating COVID-19 with ivermectin.

In his veto message, Sununu said the medications currently available without a prescription went through rigorous reviews and vetting prior to being available by standing order. Ivermectin should be subject to the same process, he wrote. 

While abortion clincis have never used the law allowing them to keep the public up to 25 feet from their entrances, they will still be able to after lawmakers failed to override Sununu’s vote of House Bill 1625. The 145-175 vote wasn’t close to the two-third majority needed.

The bill, which passed the House 168-162 and by an even lesser margin in the Senate, 12-11, would have repealed the “patient safety zone” law. Clinic directors told lawmakers they wanted to retain the option to set buffer zones as anti-abortion protestors have become increasingly hostile and aggressive. 

In vetoing the bill, Sununu said, “In the eight years since this law was originally enacted, we know of no instance where an individual or group has been harmed by it. As a result, I am not looking to make any changes at this time.”

Senate Democrats failed to make progress on another abortion bill Thursday when Republicans rejected their request to reconsider a bill codifying the right to an abortion state law. Senate Bill 436, 12-12 which Republicans tabled in February, would have prevented the state from further restricting access to abortion beyond the existing 24-week ban. 

Rep. Alexis Simpson, an Exeter Democrat, announced last week that she will reintroduce the legislation in the next session.

Schools will retain the authority to set school mask policies in future public health emergencies. House lawmakers fell short of overriding Sununu’s veto of House Bill 1131, 150-170, which would have prohibited school districts from mandating masks. The bill passed both chambers along party lines save for six House Republicans who joined Democrats opposing it.

Sununu called the bill an infringement on local control when he vetoed it.

“Just because we may not like a local decision, does not mean we should remove their authority,” he wrote in his veto message. “One of the state’s foremost responsibilities is to know the limits of its power.” 

And landfill setbacks will remain the same, after the Senate failed to override the governor’s veto of a bill that would have created a new requirement. While the House voted 256-65 in favor of doing so, the Senate lacked the necessary votes to override, voting 11-12. 

That news was a disappointment to ​supporters of House Bill 1454 who rallied outside the State House Thursday morning. Some traveled to Concord from the North Country, where Casella Waste Systems has proposed New England’s first new landfill in over a decade. HB 1454 would have created a site-specific setback, requiring landfills be located far enough from waterways that it would take five years for any potential contamination to reach the water. There is currently a 200-foot setback requirement.

In his veto message, Sununu said he opposed the bill he believed would “curtail landfill development in the state,” raising the cost of waste disposal by forcing the state to dispose of its waste out of state.

“Our environment is the basis of our economy up there,” said Rep. Matt Simon, a Littleton Republican about the North Country. “If we ruin our waterways, people don’t come.”

 

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s energy and environment reporter. She previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.

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