Democrats largely fail to override governor's vetoes

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Republican Gov. Chris Sununu's long list of vetoed bills emerged largely unscathed Thursday after two days of override attempts.

Lawmakers in May successfully overrode Sununu's veto of a bill to abolish the death penalty, leaving more than 50 other vetoed bills to be taken up this week.

Of those, only one was enacted — a bill to allow medical marijuana patients to get prescriptions even if they haven't had the same doctor for three months. The House also overrode a veto of a bill that would have allowed medical marijuana patients to grow their own supply but an effort in the Senate fell short.

Other bills that the Legislature failed to override included creating a paid family medical leave program, raising the state's minimum wage and measures related to labor and employment law.

"I thank members of the House and Senate for siding with commonsense in upholding 98% of my vetoes this week," Sununu said in a statement. "The bills were extreme, and the Legislature was right to sustain these vetoes."

Democrats accused the governor of playing politics at the expense of the state's residents.

"This week, Chris Sununu has been twiddling his thumbs and tallying political points, while Granite Staters begin to face the daily consequences of his reckless vetoes," Holly Shulman, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party, said in a statement. "What Granite Staters need isn't a political scorekeeper. It's a governor who will support policies like minimum wage and paid family leave that move the state forward."

The lone bright spot for Democrats on Thursday came when lawmakers managed to override the veto on marijuana prescriptions.

In his veto message, Sununu said current law allows patients to obtain appropriate treatment while preserving responsible prescribing. But senators who supported the bill argued that it was unfair to make patients wait three months when no such rules apply to far more dangerous drugs, including opioids.

"This is an attempt to trust the medical providers," said Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield. "They can write a prescription for opioids that can kill us that day, but they can't write a recommendation for cannabis, which has never killed anyone."

New Hampshire legalized medical marijuana in 2013. As of late last year, more than 7,000 patients were enrolled in the program. For now, they must travel to one of the state's four dispensaries to get the drug.

The Senate also voted to override the governor's veto of bills that would have prohibited employers from asking about criminal histories on job applications, and another that would have boosted funding for a program that helps towns and cities preserve land and rehabilitate historical buildings. But support in the House failed to reach the necessary two-thirds threshold.

In his veto message, Sununu praised the New Hampshire Land and Community Heritage Investment Program but rejected increasing the fee paid on real estate deed transactions from $25 to $35, saying he'd favor a voluntary opt-in, rather than a mandatory fee increase. Supporters of the bill argued the fee increase was "measly" or "meager," and that the state's economy reaps $6 for every $1 invested through the program. But Rep. Andy Renzullo, R-Hudson, said a $10 increase on a $25 fee is a "whopping" increase that would burden homebuyers.

Senate Democrats also witnessed the death of some of their highest priorities Thursday as they failed to override vetoes on bills that would have created a paid family and medical leave program and established a state minimum wage. The state currently relies on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, the lowest in New England. The vetoed bill would have set it at $10 per hour in 2020 and $12 per hour in 2022.

"So often as we've debated other issues this session, I've heard many of you say there's nothing more important than the value of work," said Senate President Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, who sponsored the bill. "If the dignity of work is to be maintained and revered, we should pay a wage that respects the dignity of work."

But Republicans countered that such legislation interferes with the employer-employee relationship. Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, said the New Hampshire economy is thriving because government has gotten out of the way.

"This bill tends to head in the opposite direction," he said of the family leave bill. "It says, 'We know better up here in Concord."

Sununu vetoed just one bill in 2017 and six last year when his party controlled both the House and Senate. But Democrats won majorities in both chambers last fall, sparking a veto spree that far outpaced the actions of past Democratic governors who faced Republican Legislatures. Sununu has said he wasn't out to set a record, but was left no choice because Democrats have passed "so many extreme bills."