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January 08. 2014 11:28AM

NH House sustains 3 Hassan vetoes

CONCORD -- The New Hampshire House Wednesday sustained Gov. Maggie Hasssan’s veto of legislation that would give local election officials more flexibility in when they begin processing absentee ballots.

It also sustained her vetoes of two other bills, dealing with a committee to study “end-of-life” decisions and revamping the state Economic Development Advisory Council.

The vote on the ballot bill was 176-163 in favor of overriding the veto, but the vote fell far short of achieving the necessary two-thirds majority needed.

Under current law, election officials in communities across the state must wait until 1 p.m. on election day to begin processing absentee ballots but cannot actually count the ballots until after the polls are closed.

House Bill 183 would have eliminated that set time for processing and allowed processing to begin any time after two hours after the polls open. But it did not change the requirement that ballots cannot be counted until after the polls close.

Opponents of the bill objected because with no advance notice, political party officials would not know when the processing would begin in the event that they wanted to observe the process.

Hassan said in her veto message that while the effort to increase efficiency and convenience for election officials is understandable, the bill “improves flexibility and efficiency without adequately preserving the element of transparency that is the foundation of our election system.”

Rep. Gary Richardson, D-Hopkinton, asked the House to sustain the veto.

He said an “easy fix” will be made later in the 2014 session through a provision to require moderators to provide notice when the polls are open and notice when the absentee ballot will be processed.

Bill sponsor Rep. James Belanger, R-Hollis, a long-time moderator, said the “proposed fix is worse than what is perceived as a flaw.”

He said that even if the notice is posted, it will be difficult for member of the public to know when and where it will be posted.

Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, asked that the veto be overridden.

“This current law is really a pain to the town clerks and the people who run the polls.” He said that at polling places, “there is a “huge lull” at mid-morning when the processing could begin.

Twenty-seven Democrats joined 149 Republicans in voting to override the veto. Six Republicans voted to sustain the veto.

The House also sustained Hassan’s veto of House Bill 403, which would have set up a committee to study “end-of-life” decisions.

Hassan said existing “advance directive” laws made the bill unnecessary. The vote was 218-124 in favor of sustaining the veto.

The House also sustained Hassan’s veto of House Bill 505, which proponents said would have streamlined the state Economic Development Advisory Council.

Rep. John Cebrowski, R-Bedford, urged an override and said the council is too unwieldy and ineffective. He said his bill would specify the duties of the council and to reduce its size to make it more manageable.

But the vote was 175-165 in favor of sustaining the veto.


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