House votes on election, education, energy bills

Protesters carrying placards for a variety of causes greeted lawmakers on their way into the State House on Thursday, as the House and Senate considered several high-profile bills.

CONCORD — A Senate-passed bill to ease the path for voting by college students has cleared the House, and is headed to the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu, where it faces a likely veto.

In a party-line vote, 215-138, the House on Thursday passed SB 67, which effectively nullifies a bill passed last year (HB 1264).

HB 1264, signed into law by Sununu after a state Supreme Court advisory opinion as to its constitutionality, requires students and other transients to pay New Hampshire motor vehicle licensing and registration fees if they vote here.

If SB 67 becomes law, it would restore the residency statute to wording that existed prior to 2018, making it more likely that out-of-state college students would choose to vote in New Hampshire.

But the likelihood of the bill becoming law is remote, since it did not pass by veto-proof majorities.

The Democratic majority reversed another election related bill passed last year by Republicans in voting to pass SB 68, regarding access to the state’s centralized voter registration database, in a 214-141 party-line vote.

Democrats have sought access to parts of the database to provide evidence in support of a lawsuit they have pending in state court, challenging the constitutionality of another Republican-passed election law, SB 3, that establishes new requirements for voter verification.

Republicans last year passed a bill that specifically forbids release of the database in such situations, so the Democrats, with the majority this year, came back with a bill that specifically allows it.

SB 68 is also likely to be vetoed by Sununu and did not pass with veto-proof margins.

Election postponement

Also on the election front, the House and Senate finally reached agreement on who gets to postpone town elections due to bad weather or other emergencies.

The House passed SB 104, which gives the town moderator clear authority and guidance on how to postpone elections in consultation with state officials.

The bill is the result of extensive negotiations including the Secretary of State’s office, town moderators and the New Hampshire Municipal Association, all of whom agreed on the final language.

It cleared the House on a voice vote and is expected to be signed into law by Sununu.

Learn Everywhere

The House also passed a bill that gives local school boards the sole authority to grant academic credit for alternative learning or work-based programs. SB 140 cleared the House in a 224-146 vote.

Critics of the bill said its sole purpose is to repeals the “Learn Everywhere” program launched by Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, which allows the State Board of Education to grant credits for learning outside the classroom.

“This program recognizes that much learning takes place outside the classroom and provides credits to students. It would be a disservice to students to repeal the program,” said Rep. Glenn Cordelli, R-Tuftonboro.

Democrats, however, maintained that approving credit for graduation is the job of the local school board, not the state Department of Education.

“Not every alternative, extended learning or work-based program may be suitable to meet graduation requirements established by the local school board,” according to Rep. David Luneau, D-Hopkinton.

“This bill preserves local control by enabling school boards to determine when a student can be awarded academic credit for participation in these programs.”

Net metering

The House also voted to pass SB 165, known as the “Low-Income Community Solar Act of 2019,” in a vote of 229-113. The bill is designed to ensure that low- to moderate-income residents can afford to participate in community solar projects.

“This aligns with one of the governor’s priorities,” said Rep. Peter Somssich, D-Portsmouth.

The bill as amended provides for an additional incentive payment of 3 cents per kWh of energy generated by approved community solar arrays, above market rates, until July 1, 2021, after which the above-market payment declines to 2.5 cents per kWh.

Opponents of the bill said the above-market payments, subsidized by the rest of the utility’s ratepayers, would increase electricity costs, which are already among the highest in the country.