Gov. Chris Sununu has vetoed bills to create a paid family leave program, to expand absentee voting and to provide relief for people who have trouble making housing payments due to COVID-19, continuing a string of vetoes that has already set a record for a New Hampshire governor.
The measures Sununu, a Republican, rejected Friday had been priorities for State House Democrats and are likely to find their way into election-season messaging by both parties.
The paid family leave bill would give workers up to 12 weeks off to take care of a sick family member or themselves following the birth or adoption of a child.
The mandatory program would be funded by a payroll deduction from workers’ paychecks, which Sununu has said amounts to an income tax. He vetoed a nearly identical bill on similar grounds last year.
The voting bill would, among other things, allow for no-excuse absentee voting and would set up online voter registration next year. Democrats say the changes would modernize the state voting system and make elections more secure.
In his veto message, Sununu noted that the New Hampshire Secretary of State has already said people can vote absentee this year if they have concerns about COVID-19.
Sununu also accused Democrats of taking advantage of a pandemic to try to pass what he called a “partisan wish list.”
The bill is one of two pieces of COVID-related voting legislation the Legislature has sent to Sununu in recent weeks. This one — in addition to expanding absentee voting — would have given local election officials more time to process absentee ballots before Election Day, a primary concern for pollworkers given the anticipated increase in the state’s absentee voting patterns this fall.
Another bill that has more targeted, temporary COVID-related voting reforms is still awaiting action by the governor. That proposal, unlike the one Sununu vetoed Friday, has broader bipartisan support.
Any voter can cast an absentee ballot this fall due to COVID-19, but those provisions aren’t guaranteed to extend beyond the pandemic.
In addition to expanding absentee voting more broadly, the bill vetoed Friday packaged together a number of items that Democrats in the Legislature have been pushing for — and Republicans have been pushing against — in recent years. It would have expanded online voter registration and would have forced the state to join the Electronic Registration Information Center, a system that’s meant to help states keep their voting rolls up-to-date. At this time, ERIC is used by a coalition of 30 states spanning from Texas to Vermont.
The bill would have also forced New Hampshire to formally withdraw its relationship with the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which touted itself as a tool to help states improve the accuracy of their voting rolls and to detect illegal voting. The Crosscheck program was suspended “for the foreseeable future” in 2019, according to the Associated Press, after coming under scrutiny for its efficacy and security practices.
Sununu also vetoed a bill Friday aimed at protecting renters during the coronavirus pandemic. The vetoed bill would have required landlords considering eviction to first offer tenants a six-month repayment plan for rent missed during the coronavirus emergency.
Sununu issued a moratorium on evictions on March 13, but it expired July 1. To ease the transition, the state has allocated $35 million of its federal funding to help people avoid losing their housing, including assistance for past due rent and utilities and help securing more permanent housing.
Sununu also signed a pandemic-related bill into law Friday: a measure that helps town and school districts whose usual process of adopting annual budgets via Town Meeting in March was disrupted. The new law allows communities to hold virtual meetings this year, and to spend money at last year’s rate in the meantime. It also requires the state to publicly list on its website details of how federal coronavirus relief is being spent, including the names of each person or entity receiving payments.
(Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.)