CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu’s vetoes of bills on hot-button, election-year issues of gun control, abortion rights, public employee labor rights and citizen suits over PFAS contamination have enough GOP minority support in the Legislature to repel override efforts.
All of the bills the two-term Republican vetoed Friday are expected to come up when lawmakers return some time next month.
The most hotly contested was Sununu’s decision for the second straight year to turn back legislation that would put New Hampshire in the ranks of 19 states with “red flag” laws.
New Hampshire and Maine are the only New England states without them.
These measures permit a judge to temporarily seize the guns of people a judge determines is at “extreme risk” of causing violence to themselves or to others.
Advocates note that since 1999, New Hampshire has experienced the nation’s third-highest increase in suicides.
They point to research that shows suicides declined in some states that adopted these laws, which also keep a dangerous person from obtaining a gun.
Sununu charged that the bill (HB 687) violated the Second Amendment rights of firearm owners, as well as four other constitutional provisions, including unreasonable search and seizure and the right to a speedy trial.
“This bill could lead to situations where law-abiding Granite Staters have their property seized with no notice or opportunity to speak in their own defense,” Sununu wrote.
“The lack of due process in this legislation is antithetical to the New Hampshire and American tradition.”
Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, said domestic violence victims and others deserve the right to seek these extreme-risk protection orders.
“The intention is to give concerned family members and law enforcement the proper tools to request assistance from our courts in protecting someone who may be a danger to themselves and others,” Hennessey said.
“I am extremely disappointed that Governor Sununu has vetoed this life-saving legislation.”
Although Sununu supports abortion rights, he struck down legislation (HB 685), which would require all commercial health care plans that cover maternity costs to insure abortion services.
The governor said that runs afoul of a federal law that bans discrimination against plans that don’t reimburse for abortions.
“This bill would risk the state’s federal health care funding in the middle of a pandemic, take away the freedom of choice for those employees and employers who object to being forced to partake in or to provide abortion services, and expose the state to expensive litigation,” Sununu said.
Kayla Montgomery, acting senior director of public affairs with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said this veto would most hurt lower-income women.
“Governor Sununu’s decision to veto the Reproductive Health Parity Act harms the communities that have the greatest barriers to reproductive health care access, including lower-income communities and communities of color,” Montgomery said.
Officials with socially conservative Cornerstone Action praised Sununu and condemned advocates for falsely branding the bill.
“HB 685 was an attack on the conscience rights of Granite Staters,” the group said in its statement. “No insurer or employer should be compelled to pay for an abortion against their will. No legislator and no governor should get away with calling an abortion mandate ‘reproductive health parity,’ as abortion activists do.”
PFAS suit bill
The PFAS legislation Sununu vetoed (HB 1375) was part of an omnibus health-monitoring measure.
Sununu said that under his watch the state has adopted some of the nation’s toughest limits on PFAS allowed in drinking water and held companies accountable by suing for damages.
But the governor attacked what he considered the vague, legal rights for citizens to sue over contamination.
“By not requiring proof of injury or symptoms and excluding plaintiff’s past or present health status from being considered, this bill could open the floodgates to new, less severe claims which would divert resources from those who truly need them,” said Sununu, citing his own work experience as an environmental engineer.
“This bill could lead to the unfortunate consequence that those most in need are unable to receive what they otherwise are entitled to.”
Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, said it’s long past time the Legislature created this access to courts for victims.
“In a state with the highest levels of childhood, breast, bladder, and esophageal cancer, this legislation is critical to our state and ensuring that families are given the dignity and care they deserve,” Cushing said.
“This legislation was worked on for over a year and a half and had bipartisan support. With this veto, Governor Sununu has once again placed the interest of polluters and big business over the health and safety of the people of New Hampshire.”
COVID-19 worker bill
Sununu said the labor rights bill (HB 1494) he vetoed had some laudable parts to it, but one section would let labor groups get certified as unions by a public, written majority signed by potential members, bypassing the current process done by secret ballot.
“It is particularly odd that the Legislature has now sent several bills that would undermine public employee privacy despite New Hampshire citizens’ resounding passage of a constitutional amendment in 2018 that protects privacy rights of our citizens,” Sununu said.
Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh said Sununu was letting down public employees who have stepped up to protect the public during this pandemic. He focused on Sununu’s failure to come to agreement with state worker unions on a two-year collective bargaining contract.
“Their work has been crucial to the safety and well-being of New Hampshire and deserves more than temporary benefits and empty words of praise,” Cavanaugh said.