Continuing Coverage: N.H. Lawmakers Try - And Mostly Fail - To Override Sununu's Vetoes

5 hours ago

Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, speaks in favor of sustaining one of Gov. Chris Sununu's vetoes during a Senate floor speech Sept. 19, 2019.
Credit Dan Tuohy / NHPR

Updated 12:15 PM:

The New Hampshire Senate on Thursday sustained Gov. Chris Sununu's veto of a proposed family and medical leave act, which the two-term Republican said amounted to an income tax.

The Senate, where Democrats have a 14-10 majority, overturned three of the governor's vetoes, as of midday:

RELATED: 2019 Veto Tracker 

The House and Senate are in session Thursday

Updated 4:37 PM:

The New Hampshire House failed to override almost every veto they considered during their session Wednesday.

The mostly-Democratic bills got override support along party lines, but most couldn't muster the two-thirds majority needed to become law.

Rep. Gerri Cannon urged colleagues Wednesday to override the governor's veto of HB 446, providing a procedure for a new birth certificate to reflect a sex designation other than which was assigned at birth. The House voted 230-148, which lacked the two-thirds margin to overturn the veto.
Credit Dan Tuohy / NHPR

The failed bills include some that have been contentious - dealing with voter registration, gun control, and renewable energy (details below).

The only veto the House overturned would allow medical marijuana patients to grow cannabis at home.

The state Senate will take up its own vetoed bills tomorrow, and will consider adding its override to make that marijuana bill law.

The House will also still have to vote on any overridden Senate vetoes. Governor Chris Sununu vetoed a record number of bills this year - more than 50. Lawmakers voted to override one earlier this summer, successfully repealing New Hampshire's death penalty.

Click here to see NHPR's veto tracker.

4:00 PM:

For the second year in a row, state legislators have narrowly voted down an expansion of net energy metering for towns and businesses. Their vote today of 248 to 132 upholds the governor's veto of the bill, falling six votes short of an override.

This same bill was vetoed last year. State reps were 14 votes short of an override then. The bill would have raised the limit, from 1 megawatt to 5, on how much energy large customers can generate themselves and sell back to the grid to lower their energybills.

Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Keene, discussing a vetoed bill Sept. 19, 2019.
Credit Dan Tuohy / NHPR

It was seen partly as a referendum on larger-scale solar power in New Hampshire, where the sector has been far slower to grow than the rest of New England. Several towns and businesses have said they would have moved forward with new solar projects or hydro expansions if the bill passed. Opponents argued this bill's failure does not preclude developers from building larger solar arrays, which already receive some subsidies.

One Veto Overturned Wednesday 

The House did override one of Governor Sununu's vetoes. The House voted 259 to 120 to overturn Sununu's veto of a bill to allow qualifying patients and caregivers to grow a limited amount of marijuana as part of the state's therapeutic cannabis program. The bill now goes to the Senate, which passed the "home grow" provision 14-10.

11:20 AM:

State lawmakers have narrowly upheld the governor's veto of a new subsidy plan for New Hampshire's small biomass power plants. The proposal was attached to a bill that would have set up a study committee on microgrids.

The 251 to 132 vote fell about four votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for an override. It shows wood-fired energy remains a tightly contested, bipartisan sticking point in New Hampshire politics.

Last year, House lawmakers succeeded in overturning a veto of a similar proposal by just one vote. But the law quickly stalled amid a federal challenge. After months of delay, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is scheduled to take up that case tomorrow

11:06 AM:

State lawmakers have upheld Governor Sununu's vetoes on three contentious bills, including two focusing on voter registration.

In a statement, Dick Hinch, the House Republican leader, said the votes to sustain voting bills HB105 and HB106 that Sununu's vetoes showed New Hampshire residents that "Governor Sununu is committed to ensuring election integrity in our state."

Click here for NHPR's coverage of voting laws and the politics around them since Sununu's election in 2016.

10:00 AM:

New Hampshire House lawmakers begin voting today on whether to overturn a record number of vetoes handed down this year by Governor Chris Sununu.

Click here to see NHPR's veto tracker.

The legislature is considering more than 50 vetoes – they’ll need a two-thirds majority vote to override any of them.

Senate President Donna Soucy thinks her Democratic majority can get the Republican support it needs to push through at least a few bills – including two dealing with renewable energy.

One would subsidize six economically strapped biomass power plants through a small fee utilities would be required to charge ratepayers. The plan is attached to a bill that proposes a study committee on microgrids.

The biomass subsidy is a version of a proposal that passed last year after a narrow veto override fight. But that law is hung up on a federal regulatory challenge.

The other energy-related veto Soucy hopes to override this year is also a repeat. It would raise the limit on net metering by towns and businesses.

This practice lets energy customers reduce their bills by generating their own power, such as with solar panels and hydro dams.

Governor Sununu has argued without clear evidence that more net metering by big customers will raise rates for residents. Utilities say net metering can contribute to rate hikes, but it’s far from the main driver.

Several towns and businesses say they’d like to take advantage of the increase, if it goes through, by installing more solar power or making more use of existing facilities.

In the bill’s fiscal note, the Public Utilities Commission says it can’t determine what effect the increase would have on electric rates – but it says at least 25 projects would be newly eligible to net meter if the veto is overridden.

The net metering and biomass bills, Soucy says, “had very broad bipartisan support and are really geographically very important for certain senators and House members. So I think those have a real possibility.”

She’s also optimistic about a bill allowing medical marijuana facilities, which must currently register as nonprofits, to become for-profit businesses.

The House will take up its own bills first today, then it will vote on Senate bills. The Senate begins meeting to consider its overrides tomorrow.