Legislature fails to override most Sununu vetoes

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Republican Gov. Chris Sununu got the last word Wednesday on gun control, voting rights and energy as lawmakers began trying to override his vetoes on more than 50 bills.

Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature, but they need Republican support to reach the two-thirds majority required to override a veto. That proved difficult during Wednesday's House session, when lawmakers voted to override just one of two dozen bills they took up.

That bill, which would allow medical marijuana patients to grow their own supply, heads to the Senate on Thursday, which will take up the 28 vetoed bills that originated in that chamber. But House Democrats fell short on bills that would have required background checks for commercial firearms sales, imposed a waiting period between the purchase and delivery of a firearm, and prohibited firearms on school property.

In arguing in favor of overriding the vetoes, Rep. Katherine Rogers, D-Concord, read half a dozen recent headlines involving gun violence in the state.

"No one law will solve the issue of gun violence in our state or nation, but many of us just want to move toward slowing down the violence," she said. "If we're not taking steps toward slowing down the violence, then aren't we just being complicit?"

In his veto message, however, Sununu touted the state's ranking as one of the nation's safest, and said existing gun laws fit New Hampshire's "culture of responsible gun ownership and individual freedom."

Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, drew both applause from supporters and boos from opponents when he echoed Sununu's comments about safety and added, "The only way to stop a crazy person with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

The House also sustained Sununu's vetoes of bills that would have reversed recent changes to two election laws, both of which are being challenged in court. One bill would have repealed a new law requiring additional documentation from voters who register within 30 days of an election. The other ended the state's distinction between "domicile" and "residency" for voting purposes. That means out-of-state college students who vote in New Hampshire are now subject to residency requirements, such as getting New Hampshire driver's licenses or registering their cars.

The House came much closer to overriding vetoes on two energy related bills, falling just six votes short on a bill that would have raised the limit on how much solar and hydropower towns and businesses can generate and sell back to the regional electric grid, and four votes short on a bill that would have subsidized the state's biomass power industry.

Rep. Michael Harrington, R-Strafford, said past subsidies simply enabled out-of-state corporations to hire more lobbyists to push for more subsidies.

"That's a real kick in the pants, I think," he said. "Enough is enough."

Rep. Erin Hennessey, R-Littleton, argued in favor of the subsidies, saying the ratepayers would pay more in the long run if the biomass plants close.

"Local energy means local jobs," she said. "It's not about the ownership. It's about the jobs and economic opportunity here."

The House also sustained Sununu's veto of a bill that would have created an independent commission in New Hampshire to redraw the state's legislative districts. Sununu and opponents of the bill argue there is no need for the commission because gerrymandering is rare in the state and the current redistricting process was fair.

Democratic Rep. Marjorie Smith, of Durham, the prime sponsor of the bill, emphasized that the bill was written and passed with bipartisan support.

"Rather than being ordered by a court or being directed by a citizen initiative this Legislature on its own initiative — Republicans and Democrats working together, senators and representatives working together— agreed that of the practices that sustain our government, nothing is more important than free and fair elections," said "It's not about left and right it's about right and wrong."

Sununu vetoed just one bill in 2017 and six last year when his party controlled both the House and Senate. But Democrats won majorities in both chambers last fall, sparking a veto spree that has far outpaced the actions of past Democratic governors who faced Republican Legislatures.

Sununu has said he wasn't out to set a record, but was left no choice because Democrats have passed "so many extreme bills." One of bills Sununu vetoed — abolishing the death penalty —has become law, however, after lawmakers overrode the veto in May.

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