Several bills headed to the governor’s desk

    BRIEF

    State House dome
    Republican lawmakers plan to work on the absentee ballot legislation over the summer and reintroduce it during the next session. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)

    On Thursday, the House and the Senate sent several pieces of legislation to the governor’s desk, with both bodies having reviewed the bills and concurred on any changes made up to this point.

    A total of 24 bills were concurred on in the Senate, and 51 were concurred on in the House. 

    When a bill reaches the governor, he can sign it into law, let it become law without his signature, or veto it. In the case of a veto, a two-thirds majority is needed in each chamber to override the veto.  

    Bills that lawmakers couldn’t agree on were either killed or are heading to committees of conference – panels that are made up of members from both bodies to debate the remaining details.

    One contentious energy bill made its way forward Thursday following a vote along party lines in the Senate. House Bill 373 prohibits the Department of Environmental Services from participating in conversations about low carbon fuel standard programs – a measure that opponents have called a gag rule.

    The bill is targeting the Transportation and Climate Initiative, following Gov. Chris Sununu’s determination in 2019 that New Hampshire would not join the effort. Currently, state officials are still briefed about regional policy discussions stemming from the initiative. Opponents of the bill argue that the government agency needs to stay up to date on regional policies and decisions that could impact New Hampshire.

    “It is important for both the executive and the legislative branch to have access to honest, reliable information about the initiatives undertaken by our neighboring New England states regarding such issues so that we can make informed decisions,” said Rep. Peter Somssich, a Portsmouth Democrat, who opposed the bill.

    Somssich said that passing the measure would be asking the Department of Environmental Services to stick its head in the sand.

    The Senate changed language in the bill so that instead of requiring the explicit permission of the governor to participate in talks about low carbon fuel programs, it would require permission from the Executive Council. The bill passed, 195-158.  

    House Bill 309, which deals with renewable energy credits, also made its way forward. Renewable energy credits allow generators to take credit for renewable energy they put on the grid, and they’ve been the subject of contentious policy debate in neighboring states such as Vermont, where renewable energy developers have argued the credits are a shell game that isn’t adequately propelling the development of renewable resources.

    The House approved language the Senate added to the bill, allowing hydrogen derived from water to be a part of the renewable portfolio standard and to also generate the corresponding credits.  

    Election law

    The House and Senate also agreed to advance Senate Bill 89, a hotly debated attempt to assert New Hampshire’s local control over elections and which has largely focused on the state’s response to national legislation reforming election law.

    Democrats opposing the bill have argued that it would create a costly and confusing two-tiered election, separating the process for local and federal elections. Some experts say the bill could face legal challenges if it is passed into law.

    We all know that here in New Hampshire, we pride ourselves in our elections and those are a day where we all come together,” said Sen. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka, a Portsmouth Democrat.

    “Expanding access to elections and making sure that they run with integrity should not be a partisan issue but rather one where we all accept improvements and move on for the good of our state,” she said.

    Perkins Kwoka and her Democratic colleagues voted against the motion to concur with changes made by the House. The vote fell along party lines, 14-10.

    When Sununu was asked about the legislation in a press conference on Thursday, he responded by criticizing the For the People Act, the national legislation to which the bill responds.

    He said the national legislation was “forcing states to take defensive measures,” such as Senate Bill 89. He acknowledged that if both the local and federal legislation in question are signed into law, it could “effectively split up the election into two elections.”

    “The result is, OK, well we need to protect our system because it’s a New Hampshire system designed by New Hampshire citizens in New Hampshire’s volunteer Legislature,” Sununu said.

    “It’s a big mess, which is why I’m praying that that just gets shut down in Washington and we don’t have to deal with any of it,” he said.

    Sununu may have to make a decision on the bill before the outcome of national legislation is known. He said he would confer with Secretary of State Bill Gardner as well as town moderators and town clerks in order to make his determination.

    When life hands you lemons

    Thursday was a good day for young entrepreneurs, as legislation made its way forward that would ensure those under the age of 14 selling lemonade or other soft drinks, like cider, don’t need a permit to do so.

    The House approved of the Senate’s changes, dropping the age of those who would be eligible for the permit exemption from 18 to 14.  

    Discussion over House Bill 183 has focused on whether the issue should be decided by the state or left up to local control. Some lawmakers argued that permits for lemonade stands weren’t a problem, a claim Rep. Tom Dolan, a Londonderry Republican, contested.

    “We also understand and we’ve got new knowledge that there was indeed a lemonade stand closure in Seabrook in the recent past,” Dolan said.

    The bill passed by a large margin, 352-6.

    Broadband funding

    The Senate agreed to changes the House made to Senate Bill 85, which would establish a matching grant fund for broadband. Towns, communication districts, and private providers could all take advantage of the funds, so long as they use it on projects that help reach unserved parts of the state.