Gov. Chris Sununu is about to be inundated with bills to sign, veto or allow to become law without his signature, now that the House and Senate have reconciled their differences on more than 120 pieces of legislation.
Many bills involve technical changes to existing law, the creation of study commissions or other routine business of government.
But some major policy proposals have now worked their way through the legislative process, and await action by the governor as lawmakers enter the final two weeks of the current session.
The House met on Thursday to vote on all House bills that were passed with amendments in the Senate, and in most cases concurred with the Senate changes, clearing more than 50 bills. The Senate did likewise on more than 70 bills.
About 30 bills they couldn’t agree on will be sent to conference committees of House and Senate members next week, where a deal will be struck or the bills will die.
Sununu is expected to veto many of the bills coming out of the Democratically controlled Legislature, particularly those having to do with gun control and election law.
Two bills likely to be vetoed are HB 109, requiring background checks for all commercial firearms transfers, and HB 480, which imposes a waiting period between the purchase and delivery of a firearm. The House agreed to the Senate changes in those bills, and they are headed for the governor.
The third high-profile gun-related bill of the session is still in dispute between the two chambers. HB 564 would allow school boards to declare gun-free zones on school property, a prerogative now preserved exclusively for the state Legislature.
The House didn’t want to concur with a Senate amendment that requires at least one public hearing before such a policy is adopted, so the matter heads to a conference committee scheduled for Wednesday.
The Senate agreed to House changes in a bill that extends the state’s anti-discrimination protections to school children in public schools, SB 263.
The House amendment adds that the attorney general is empowered to initiate civil action against a school or school district in Superior Court or before the state Human Rights Commission.
The Senate also agreed to House changes on a bill requiring menstrual hygiene products in school restrooms, SB 142.
The House modified some word choices, like changing “Feminine Hygiene Products” to “Menstrual Hygiene Products,” and added that “a school district may seek grants or partner with a non-profit or community-based organization to fulfill this obligation.”
One bill Sununu is almost certain to veto is HB 183, which started out as an innocuous measure establishing a committee to study micro-grids for the distribution of electricity in parts of the state, but was amended by the Senate to add an unrelated provision to protect the state’s wood-fired power plants.
The Legislature passed a bill last year to require the state’s largest utility to buy electricity from the six wood-fired plants at higher than wholesale prices in order to keep them operating in the interest of fuel diversity and to help sustain the state’s forestry industry.
Sununu said the impact on rates for electricity consumers was unfair, and vetoed the bill. The House and Senate overrode his veto, but opponents of the bill petitioned to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to block the legislation anyway.
Sen. Jeb Bradley, a big proponent of the biomass subsidy, helped develop the amendment to HB 183 in the hope that it would neutralize the argument opponents are using at FERC by changing the way the energy from the biomass power plants is classified.
Even if the House and Senate can override Sununu on the biomass subsidy again this year, there’s no guarantee HB 183 will mean the end of delays that have already caused the six plants to cease operations.
The FERC action was filed by the New England Ratepayers Association, and director Marc Brown says that action will continue, whether or not HB 183 becomes law.
“From our counsel’s point of view, we are not willing to concede that (HB 183) avoids all the problems that (the biomass subsidy) creates,” he said.
Other bills that the House and Senate have agreed to send to the governor include HB 364, allowing qualifying patients and caregivers to cultivate cannabis for therapeutic use, and HB 399, allowing for the annulment of arrests or convictions for possession of small quantities of marijuana.
Both chambers have also agreed on a bill to allow transgendered individuals to obtain a new birth certificate that reflects a sex designation other than the one assigned at birth.