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Dave Solomon's State House Dome: Sununu's vetoes up for a vote

August 11. 2018 11:24PM

Things are fairly quiet at the State House this time of year, but the machinery of government grinds on. Lobbyists and others attempting to influence legislation are still hard at work in the run-up to Veto Day on Sept. 13.

On that day, House and Senate lawmakers will convene to vote again on bills vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu from the last legislative session. Sununu's vetoes will stand unless a two-thirds majority of lawmakers present and voting in both chambers vote to override.

The most controversial and emotional debate surrounds Sununu's veto of the death penalty repeal bill, SB 593.

The original voting in both chambers suggests an override is possible but not likely. The House voted 223-116 in April to repeal the death penalty, followed by a 14-10 Senate vote in March. The Senate was two votes short of the 16 votes needed to override, while the House would need about 254 votes to override the veto if all 385 representatives currently in office show up.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley says he doesn't anticipate much change in the Senate, which bodes well for death penalty supporters.

"I was one of the 10 who voted against repeal in the Senate," Bradley said, "and I suspect that vote will hold. People in the Senate and House will vote the way their conscience dictates."

The most likely target for a successful override is SB 365, which would require Eversource and other distribution utilities to pay above-market rates to the state's six biomass (wood-burning) power plants, the cost of which is passed along to consumers in their electric bills.

Two of the six plants have already announced they are winding down operations.

Sununu is promoting his veto of the bill in some of his earliest campaign ads, portraying himself as a champion of lower electric rates. Even if lawmakers override the veto, Sununu will still be able to claim he did the best he could.

The bill originally passed the Senate, 17-4, and the House, 225-108, suggesting the support is there for an override if the right people show up.

Bradley, the original sponsor of the bill, is optimistic. "I think we're going to have to make a good case, and I think we have a good case," he said. "As I've talked to an awful lot of people, the implications of closing the six plants are significant. I think there is a long-term cost for ratepayers if those plants close."

State Rep. Michael Harrington, R-Strafford, a former member of the Public Utilities Commission, takes the opposing point of view.

"My old friend Sen. Bradley, as usual, over-estimates the value of the old inefficient bio-mass generators and never mentions the subsidies paid for by the ratepayers," he says. "To date these plants have received subsidies in the range of $2 billion."

Sununu's veto of a bill to subsidize solar energy is also at risk. Senate Bill 446 would expand the state's "net metering" program, which forces utilities to buy electricity from solar energy generators at above-wholesale rates, to large-scale solar projects. The bill would raise qualifying projects from 1 megawatt to 5 megawatts, setting the stage for large municipal projects to qualify.

Mayors from some of the state's largest cities, including Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, are working to salvage the bill as they consider big solar projects near landfills or other municipal properties. Dover, Rochester, Nashua, Portsmouth and Franklin are also among the cities lobbying for an override.

The bill passed on a voice vote on both chambers, after an attempt by Harrington to scuttle the bill in the House failed in a 116-213 roll call. "These projects should use incentives already available and compete on their own merits," said Sununu in his veto statement.

The fate of a bill to reform the state's parole system is anyone's guess. HB 143 would give the Adult Parole Board more discretion in deciding whether to send parole violators back to jail, particular if they determine drug treatment might be a better option.

Sununu sided with law enforcement in vetoing the bill.

"It may be that the veto gets upheld," said Bradley. "But virtually all the stakeholders have indicated there is a need for reform, so even if the veto is upheld people will be back next year, hopefully with something everyone can support."

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