Will any bills survive when lawmakers vote on vetoes?

Energy, workplace measures among 53 rejected by Sununu

Among the bills vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu was SB 1, which would have set up a family and medical leave insurance program. The governor rejected the measure, saying a 0.5% payroll deduction to pay for it amounted to an “income tax.”

Paid family leave: vetoed.

An increased minimum wage: vetoed.

Expansion of net metering: vetoed.

Those were among the results of a legislative session during which the Republican governor and a Democratic Legislature were at loggerheads, a session during which groups like the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire “mainly played defense,” in the words of Senior Vice President David Juvet, a session that will reach a climax on Sept. 18 and 19, when lawmakers return to deal with the bills that were met with Gov. Chris Sununu’s record number of vetoes.

At deadline, Sununu had vetoed at least 55 bills, including the budget and the accompanying trailer bill. Some 32 vetoes were business-related, with 17 having to do with labor or energy.

It is likely that all but a few will be sustained, since most were not passed by the necessary two-thirds vote needed to override a veto.

This is good news to many business groups, who on the whole sided with the governor — but not all, and not always. Businesses are not a monolithic lobbying bloc. Sometimes interests clash, and this session was no exception.

Take the two bills that Sununu’s office mentioned when asked what he thought were the most important bills he vetoed during the session.

One was Senate Bill 365, which would allow a major expansion of net metering. The other was House Bill 664, which would force insurance companies to pay for the cost of accident repairs that follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for repair processes.

Interestingly, those bills had the most bipartisan support, and therefore the best chance of surviving past veto day. They are also bills that sharply divide business groups.

HB 664 pits the insurance industry against auto dealers and the auto repair industry. The bill would make it clear that auto insurers must reimburse repair shops as long as they make fixes that comply with manufacturer’s recommendations.

In vetoing the bill, Sununu argued that the measure would “increase the cost of auto insurance premiums by limiting the ability of insurers to negotiate what is reasonable in the repair process” and thus “raises insurance rates.”

The New Hampshire Automobile Dealers Association argued that out-of-state insurance companies refused to approve commonsense repair procedures, such as requiring a computer scan after a repair — analogous to requiring an X-ray after setting a broken bone, according to Pete McNamara, president of the NHADA.

“The people who built the car know how to best fix the car,” said Pete McNamara. “This veto means the safety of 1.3 million local car owners in New Hampshire is decided by faceless accountants far outside the Granite State.”

The bill passed the Senate on a voice vote and the House on a 247-101 veto-proof majority, so it has a fighting chance.

Net metering

So does SB 365, the net metering bill.

Most people think of net metering — the method that credits renewable energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid — as something for homeowners and small businesses with rooftop solar. But SB 365 would increase the maximum size of a system eligible for the payments from 1 megawatt — perhaps the size used by a big-box store — to 5MW, which would accommodate a large industrial user or municipality.

The big dispute, however, is not over the size, but the rate that utilities would be required to pay to reimburse system owners for any excess energy produced. Residents had gotten the best deal, and that was the focus of litigation between the utilities and the clean energy industry before the Public Utilities Commission eventually endorsed a temporary settlement, along with fiddling with the less generous commercial rate, which would be expanded under SB 365.

Sununu vetoed a similar bill last year — it was narrowly sustained — but that was before Democrats took over the Legislature.

This time, the Senate passed a net metering measure on a voice vote and the House voted for it, 254-98 — another veto-proof majority. The bill approved this time has a little twist, preventing utilities from reselling the net metering energy they buy. Instead, they have to treat it as electricity they didn’t need to produce. Eversource objected, arguing it prevented them from lowering their customer’s cost.

The BIA argued that bill would “result in cost-shifting to the business community since the tariff (or credit) given to net metering customers would be above the utility’s avoided cost.”

In his veto message, Sununu wrote that the bill would “cost ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars in higher electric bills” and would “massively subsidize those who can afford to construct 40-acre solar farms.”

“There is no evidence of cost-shifting of net metering to other ratepayers,”
etorted Madeleine Mineau, executive director of Clean Energy NH. The group argues that the PUC rate is at least fair, and might be too low, since renewable energy lowers peak demand, saving all ratepayers money.

The New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association and some large individual companies and municipalities that plan to take advantage of net meteing are also pushing for an override, which is a top priority for both Senate and House leadership. House Majority Leader Doug Ley, D-Jaffrey, said it was one of the few bills that would “have legs” in the override votes.

More energy bills

There was a similar debate over HB 183, which — unlike net metering — is an undisputed subsidy to keep six struggling biomass generating plants open. It was the second such attempt to get the support passed.

Sununu vetoed the first attempt last session, but lawmakers overrode his veto. Then the New England Ratepayers Association challenged the measure before the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency. In the meantime, the plants have been “limping along,” in the words of Timberland Owners Executive Director Jasen Stock. HB 183 is another way to get the same result that might withstand future challenges

Though the legislation requires that Eversource buy the power, the company has not officially taken a position on the bill, but the BIA has opposed it as a $25 million subsidy, and Sununu vetoed again calling it “another immense subsidy for New Hampshire independent biomass plants.”

“There is a cost,” admitted Mineau, “but there is clearly a benefit,” and NHOTA is going all out for an override, arguing, “the veto also inflicts real damage on New Hampshire’s $1.4 billion timber industry, the state’s third-largest industry and a direct and indirect provider of thousands of jobs.”

The bill also has a champion in Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, the Senate minority leader, who argued that the veto has caused “widespread job loss and havoc in the forestry industry.” The Senate passed the bill on a voice vote, but the bill did not pass the House by a veto-proof margin, though it was close on the final vote.

Five other vetoed energy bills have less of a chance, including SB 168, which would have increased state’s solar renewable portfolio standard from .07% to 5.4%. (Utilities that don’t meet that standard pay into the Renewable Energy Fund to back such projects.) Sununu called the measure “crony capitalism at its worst,” a bill that came “from the solar lobby to boost their profits while forcing higher costs onto ratepayers.”

“Massachusetts already has 10% (RPS),” said Catherine Corkery of the Sierra Club. “We thought this was a really good compromise.”

HB 582 was also billed as a compromise. It would have ended the rebate to residential customers who install renewable energy systems from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative carbon auctions, and shifted all those funds into energy efficiency. On the other hand, it would have totally rebated funds to commercial customers. The BIA didn’t oppose the bill, but Sununu vetoed it because it “unjustly favors businesses over people by eliminating the cost for commercial and industrial customers … it attempts to buy off business.”

Workplace issues

Bills involving employment and workforce issues were the target of 10 vetoes, none of which are likely to be overridden.

SB 1 — the bill that would create a family and medical leave insurance program — was the Senate’s top priority. “We know paid leave is a critical tool to address New Hampshire’s caregiving crisis, combat our opioid epidemic, and attract and retain the workforce of tomorrow … while also leveling the playing field for small businesses who cannot afford to provide this much desired benefit independently,” was the way Senate President Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, put it. Lawmakers even put it in the budget and then removed it in a failed attempt to appease Sununu, who vetoed the budget anyway.

The governor repeatedly called the half-percent payroll deduction to fund the program an income tax. That particularly rankled NH AFL-CIO president Glenn Brackett, who said to “mislabel it an income tax is rank partisan politics at its worst.”

Some businesses backed the legislation. A group of 100 businesses signed on in support, and many testified in favor of the bill. the New Hampshire Medical Society also favored it.

After some initial hesitation, BIA came out against it.

“Companies [or potentially individual employees] would have been forced to pay for this benefit, even if they never asked for it or used it. New Hampshire employers know what benefit packages are best for their employees,” said BIA President Jim Roche.

Bruce Berke, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, was particularly concerned that the 12-week family leave mandate would be extended to small businesses. “In a small business with only five employees, two people going out on leave at the same time would impact 40% of its workforce,” he said during one hearing on the bill.

But the issue won’t go away. Sununu is working on a voluntary program that has yet to materialize, and the House retained HB 712, another version of family and medical leave, which Ley promised to bring back next session.

The bill at the top of the NFIB’s agenda was SB 10, which would have increased the minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $10 next year and $12 in 2022. Initially pooh-poohed because so few workers are paid the minimum in this tight labor market, business groups now argue that it was significant because it pushed all wages upward.

The NH Lodging and Restaurant Association opposition to the bill strengthened after an attempt to lessen the impact of the wage increase on tipped workers failed to find its way into the final legislation.

The Association of General Contractors said it was particularly concerned about SB 271, which would require that companies working on state-funded projects pay the prevailing wage, a view that Sununu echoed. “The last thing we should do is reduce competition in our construction markets,” the governor said.

But a low minimum wage will hurt the state’s competitive position in attracting workers, said supporters of both wage bills.

“If you can’t pay a person any less than in New Hampshire then you wonder why people leave,’ said Brackett of the AFL-CIO.

Of the trio of vetoes on hiring restrictions, SB 100 — known as the “ban the box” bill — had the most bipartisan support. It would prohibit asking job applicants about their possible criminal history before the interview stage, giving them a shot to explain their record.

“Each individual business should have the right to determine whether to inquire about the criminal records of potential applicants at any step of the application process,” said Sununu in his veto.

“Governor Sununu’s veto of this bipartisan legislation holds New Hampshire back from providing survivors of the opioid epidemic the opportunity to compete for jobs and re-enter the workforce,” said Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, a prime sponsor of the bill, after the veto.

The BIA did not take a position on that bill, but the NFIB opposed it. It initially passed the Senate with a two-thirds majority, but failed to achieve that in the House or a subsequent Senate vote.

The BIA favored SB 2, another bill vetoed by Sununu. It would have allowed $6 million from the unemployment trust fund to be spent on job training, three times the current amount.

The bill would “irresponsibly divert millions of dollars from the unemployment trust fund, triggering additional taxes,” said Sununu in his veto message. But the BIA’s Juvet said the workforce shortage “is our highest priority concern.”

The language of that bill is in the vetoed budget, he noted, so it might survive in a budget compromise.

Business-related bills vetoed by Gov. Sununu, scheduled to be voted on during veto days Sept. 18 and 19

Votes:  These are all previous votes on the vetoed bills. S is for Senate. H is for House. CC is a vote to approve committee of conference. VV means voice vote in favor of bill. All others are roll call votes for passage unless otherwise stated.  When there are multiple votes, the latest are provided, unless the votes different, when both are provided. Bolded vote tallies indicate a veto proof majority. Italicized vote tallies indicate it was close to a veto proof majority.

Bill Number Description Votes
HB183 Requires utilities to purchase baseload renewable generation credits from eligible biomass facilities H: 206-132
S: Voice Vote
HCC: 222-123
HB365 Increases the maximum project for net metering from 1 to 5 megawatts, allowing larger businesses and institutions to take advantage of the law H: 254-98
SB168 Increases the solar renewable portfolio standard from .07 to 1.9% in 2020 to 5.4% in 2025 S: 14-10
H: 217-139
HB582 Would use all residential proceeds from RGGI for residential energy-saving programs and all commercial proceeds to be rebated to customers H: 215-133
S: 14-10
SB167 Sets up a commission to investigate the cost-effective procurement of renewable energy generation resources S: VV
H: 209-140
SB205 Allows the PUC to continue to raise the system benefit charge for energy efficiency without legislative approval until 2023 (as opposed to 2020) S: VV
H: 197-127
SB72 Prevent utilities from using unclaimed Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) rather than buying those producing renewable energy.  This would increase the price of RECs and help the renewable energy market. S: VV
H: 199-123
HB326 Include sections of less than 50 feet wide in the definition of a prime wetland if a municipality deemed it important to the integrity of the wetland. H: 212-134
S: 16-8
SB74 Increases the Register of Deeds fees from $25 to $35 to increase support for the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) S: VV
H: 136-200 Study amendment
SB1 Provides for 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave insurance, via a half-percent workers payroll deduction, though businesses can buy in or provide their own program S: 13-10
H: 219-142
SB10 Increase the minimum wage to $10 at the start of next year, and $12 at the start of 2022 S: 14-10
H: 209-139
HCC: 207-143
HB211 Prevents employers from asking prospective employees about salary history before an interview H: 212-139
S: 13-11
HB293 Prohibits employers from using credit history in employment decisions H: VV
S: 13-11
SB100 Would “ban the box” asking a potential employee whether they have been convicted of a crime on an application, though the employee can asked at the interview. S: 16-8
H: 217-130
SCC: 14-10
SB140 Authorizes local school boards to grant academic credit for alternative, extended learning and work-based programs, not the state DOE, effectively repealing Learn Everywhere S: VV
H: 224-146
SB146 Eliminate the waiting period before eligibility to receive unemployment benefits S: 13-10
H: 201-137
SB151 Establishes an administrative hearing procedure and penalty for an employer who fails to make payment of wages or who fails to secure workers’ compensation coverage S: 13-10
H: 212-145
SB2 Increases the amount that can be spent for job training from the unemployment trust fund from $2 to $6 million. This could increase unemployment insurance premiums slightly in the last half 14of 2021. S: 14-10
H: 207-140
SB20 Slightly increases Department of Labor’s ability to enforce notification requirements for employees and the youth. It would limit youth workers hours during the school term from 40.25 rather than 48. S: VV
H: 202-135
SB271 Requires prevailing wages and benefits on state-funded public works projects S: 14-10
H: 213-140
SB99 Expands benefits for partial disability under workers compensation to include workers who are able to work but not able to earn as much as they were before S: 14-10
H: 204-152
SB145 Allows alternative treatment centers to convert from nonprofit organizations to for-profit ones S: 14-10
SB88 Eliminates the requirement that a provider see a patient for three months before dispensing medical marijuana S: 17-7
H: 263-90
HB364 Permits qualifying patients and designated caregivers to cultivate cannabis for therapeutic use or to donate to other patients H: VV
S: 14-10
HB109 Requires background checks on all commercial firearms sales, in an attempt to end the gun show loophole H: 203-148
S: 13-10
HB514 Imposes a waiting period of seven business days between the purchase and delivery of a firearm H: 199-147
S: 13-10
SB156 Requires a political contribution by a limited liability company be allocated to members for purposes of determining whether a member has exceeded the contribution limits S: 13-10
H: 212-139 Division vote
HB292 Includes brokers fees in the calculation of the insurance premium tax H: VV
S: 15-9
HB664 Requires insurance companies to pay for the cost of accident repairs that follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for repair processes H: 247-101
SB218 Authorize the state Commissioner of Transportation to enforce federal regulations on drones S: VV
H: 206-148
HB409 Increases the maximum optional fee for transportation improvements that may be charged by municipalities when collecting motor vehicle registration fees from $5 to $10 H: 234-103
S: 15-9
Categories: Government