The Bulletin Board

Sununu vetoes bill limiting governor’s emergency powers, angering some on right

By: - May 31, 2022 12:59 pm
Chris Sununu

Gov. Chris Sununu said the additional restrictions were unnecessary. (Courtesy)

Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a bill that would have limited the governor’s powers over declaring a state of emergency, transferring those powers to the Legislature. Sununu called the attempt “irresponsible.”

In a veto of House Bill 275 issued Friday afternoon, Sununu said the bill could prevent assistance from reaching people in need if the Legislature didn’t move fast enough. 

“If signed into law, this legislation would allow inaction by the state Legislature (such as the inability or unwillingness to meet) to end critical services necessary to serve the people of our state,” Sununu wrote. 

The move was met with immediate backlash from some conservatives in the House, with one, Rep. Melissa Blasek, a Merrimack Republican, calling Sununu a “deceitful man” who was “drunk on his own power.”

Under current law, New Hampshire’s governor has the authority to declare a state of emergency anytime a “a natural, technological, or man-made disaster of major proportions is imminent or has occurred,” provided that that disaster affects the “safety and welfare” of inhabitants. That state of emergency can last up to 21 days, but the governor can indefinitely renew the declaration for another 21 days. 

During budget negotiations in June 2021 – and shortly after Sununu ended a 14-month state of emergency during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic – lawmakers added into the state budget new provisions enabling the Legislature to override a governor’s state of emergency with a majority vote in both the House and Senate. 

HB 275 would go further. It would limit the executive powers by capping the governor at three renewals of the 21-day declaration. A governor would need the Legislature’s approval for the state of emergency after three renewals, the bill states. The Legislature, in contrast, would be able to vote to declare states of emergency up to 90 days in length and could renew those declarations indefinitely, according to the bill.

Sununu said the additional restrictions were unnecessary after his office and the Legislature had already reached agreement in the 2021 budget. 

“It is irresponsible to further bind a future governor’s ability to address and respond in a crisis, especially when the Legislature already has the power to suspend a State of Emergency at any time,” he said.

But members of Rebuild New Hampshire, a conservative group that railed against Sununu’s state of emergency, objected to the veto, which they said was an about-turn from the governor’s promises to work with the Legislature on reforming the state’s emergency powers law even after the 2021 budget agreement.

“This is the pattern of a scoundrel consistent with his lust for power that he exhibited during the State of Emergency when he unconstitutionally controlled the lives of everyone in this state,” said Blasek, in a statement distributed by Rebuild NH.

Overriding Sununu’s veto appears unlikely. While the bill cleared the Senate on a unanimous voice vote, it passed the House 190-165 with nearly all Democrats opposed, far below the two-thirds threshold to overturn a veto. 

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel. Email: [email protected]