What to watch for on Veto Day
House lawmakers meet in Representatives Hall for last year's Veto Day, Friday, Sept. 15, 2022. (Amanda Gokee | New Hampshire Bulletin)
Lawmakers return to Concord Thursday for Veto Day, the annual opportunity to override bills that Gov. Chris Sununu has vetoed. This year, Sununu rejected nine bills passed by the Republican-led House and Senate – four from the House and five from the Senate.
In order to prevail Thursday, lawmakers in both chambers must vote by a two-thirds majority to override the veto. House lawmakers will take up House bills and Senate lawmakers Senate bills; only if a bill clears the two-thirds threshold in the first chamber will it move to the second.
Here’s what is up for a vote.
Eating disorder hotline bill
House Bill 35 would require that public school student identification cards feature the national eating disorder helpline. The cards are currently required to display the suicide prevention hotline. But the organization referred to in the bill, the National Eating Disorders Association, has since experienced internal turmoil and no longer offers a staffed eating disorder hotline.
HB 35’s sponsor, Rep. Rosemarie Rung, a Merrimack Democrat, later requested that Sununu veto the bill; Sununu agreed.
A bailout for Burgess BioPower
House Bill 142 would provide a crucial financial extension to a 10-year-old wood-burning facility in Berlin: Burgess BioPower. In 2011, the facility was approved by the Public Utilities Commission to sell power to the company now known as Eversource. But the PUC imposed a condition: The facility could not exceed $100 million in total over-market costs – meaning that it could not charge Eversource more than $100 million over the cost to buy the same amount of energy from traditional sources. If it did, Burgess would be required to pay back any amounts it charged in excess of the $100 million total.
Burgess BioPower began exceeding the $100 million limit in 2017; since 2017, state lawmakers have been passing legislation to exempt it from paying back the excess. Supporters of the plant say it provides needed energy diversity during difficult winter months and supports the timber industry in an area reeling from the decline of paper mills – even though the energy production is less financially efficient than traditional energy sources.
But Sununu disagreed, arguing that the state should not help keep Burgess BioPower afloat and that its financial situation indicates that its business model may not be viable. “Enough is enough,” he wrote in his veto message.
More public notice for licensing board meetings
House Bill 337 would increase the amount of notice that licensing boards in New Hampshire must give before meetings and hearings. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Gary Merchant, a Claremont Democrat, would require a minimum two weeks heads up before any such meeting.
In his veto message, Sununu said those requirements are overly burdensome, and would go above and beyond the 24-hour notice requirement for most public entities under the state’s right-to-know law.
Increased lead blood testing for children
House Bill 342 would require that a lead blood level test be included on the physical test required for a child to enter public school, day care, or residential care – and that the test be conducted before the child is 6.
Sununu called the bill “an unnecessary barrier to entry” for elementary school children, and noted that the state already requires that children living in the state at age 1 and 2 be tested for blood lead levels.
Eliminating interest payments for unemployment benefit debt
Senate Bill 42 would get rid of interest payments on collections by the state against people wrongly awarded unemployment benefits. Advocates for the bill have argued that many of those recipients applied for unemployment benefits without understanding that they didn’t qualify, and have said that adding interest onto the debt creates an unnecessary financial burden.
Sununu countered in his veto message that passing the exemptions would incentivize dishonesty, and that the interest payments encourage recipients to pay back the debt quickly.
Limits on gambling licenses for historic horse racing
Senate Bill 51 would create a study commission to look into the state’s recent increases of historical horse racing gambling. But it would also extend an existing moratorium on new applications by businesses to host horse racing gambling games by another two years. Currently 15 businesses have applied but only seven have been licensed, according to the bill’s supporters; those supporters said the state should slow down new approvals until the licensing could catch up.
In vetoing the bill, Sununu said the extension of the moratorium would amount to “picking winners and losers,” and said that historical horse racing should not be limited to businesses that were licensed in 2020.
Net metering expansion for consumers
Senate Bill 79 would remove the current 1-megawatt limit on net metering, allowing businesses and institutions to sell up to 5 megawatts of renewable energy back to the electrical grid at premium prices. Supporters said it would encourage businesses to invest in renewable energy such as solar power and help those businesses mitigate high fuel costs.
But Sununu said the bill inadvertently extended the expansion to consumer generators as well, a change he said “would completely upend” the current net metering system and allow larger companies with resources to build renewable energy production to benefit at the expense of ratepayers who might face higher bills.
Minimum meeting requirements for collective bargaining
Senate Bill 193 would attempt to require collective bargaining disputes between state employee unions and the state to move more quickly. The bill would create a presumption in law that both parties must try to meet within 10 business days of a request for contract negotiations. That presumption could then be used by the New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board to force a meeting; currently, that board can use its discretion to determine whether one side is stalling.
In his veto message, Sununu called the bill “overly prescriptive” and said the law already requires good faith negotiating tactics. “Timeframes for collective bargaining meetings should be defined and determined by the parties involved rather than signed into law through the legislative process,” Sununu wrote.
In 2017 and 2018, Sununu and the state’s four employee unions were locked in contract disagreements for nine months; a tentative agreement for a contract was eventually made in April 2018.
Driver’s ed for off-road vehicles
Senate Bill 256 would require people to take a safety certificate course from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department before driving off-highway recreational vehicles (OHRVs). The training program would also educate operators on what to do when traversing private property via right-of-way trails. Supporters said it would address residents’ concerns about behavior by some vehicle drivers, particularly in the state’s North Country – and that the bill would prevent landowners from shutting down access points due to frustration.
But Sununu said the bill would hurt tourism and put New Hampshire at a disadvantage compared to other states. “This bill does little to address safety and would make New Hampshire one of the most restrictive states in New England for OHRV riders,” the governor wrote in his veto.
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