New Hampshire lawmakers will huddle this week to reconsider dozens of bills and vetoes by Gov. Chris Sununu, including his rejection of a plan to change the state's last-in-the-nation primary date.
Topping the Legislature's agenda when it meets in person on Wednesday is an override vote on Sununu's veto of a measure that called for moving the state’s primary election to the first week in August. The measure passed in June 2021 with bipartisan support.
Lawmakers who approved the measure argued that moving the primary would boost voter turnout and provide a more even playing field for challengers running for state and local offices.
Critics say the late primary – which has been held on the second Tuesday in September since 1910 – favors incumbents because it gives challengers who win their party's nomination little time to prepare for the general election.
But Sununu vetoed the bill in August, arguing that shifting the primary date would dampen turnout and create confusion in a system that hasn't reported any major issues for voters.
“New Hampshire's elections are the gold standard for the rest of the country and our primary date schedule has stood the test of time,” Sununu wrote in his veto message.
At least 31 other states – including New York, Maryland, and Colorado – hold their primaries in June, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who oversees the state's elections, also opposes moving the state primary date up in the calendar. He has suggested it would dampen voter turnout.
A University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll conducted in February 2021 showed that at least 86% of voters support moving the state's primary date.
Lawmakers also plan to revisit vetoes of bills extending the statute of limitations for juvenile victims of first-degree and second-degree assault, requiring public school students to take classes on financial literacy, and allowing firearm owners to carry their weapons on snowmobile's and all-terrain vehicles.
Sununu said the firearm legislation contained a provision that would have eliminated the state's “gun line” and put the Federal Bureau of Investigation in charge of conducting background checks for firearm sales.
“New Hampshire has taken steps to improve technology, processes, and staffing in order to address this issue without legislation,” Sununu wrote in his veto message. “This bill would create substantial unintended negative consequences by ceding control of our state process to the federal government.”
Besides revisiting those measures, lawmakers also have nearly 1,000 bills filed over the past year to go through before reassessing in July.
The issues range from the state's pandemic response to renewed push to legalize recreational marijuana and proposals to tighten laws on abortions and voting.
The ongoing winter surge of COVID-19 infections has forced the 424-member Legislature to relocate its meetings and take additional COVID-19 precautions.
New Hampshire's 400-strong House of Representatives will be meeting in a 30,000-square-foot exposition center in the DoubleTree by Hilton in Manchester.
House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, said the expo center will provide ample space for social distancing for members and there will be sections for lawmakers who want to wear masks. Packard said he has sent rapid COVID-19 antigen test kits to House members and has encouraged them to get tested before attending the in-person session.
“Self-testing is voluntary, and not a requirement for attendance or participation,” Packard wrote to fellow lawmakers in the Dec. 30, 2021, edition of the House calendar. “Even if your test is negative, or you choose not to use the test, we trust each member to stay home if experiencing any symptoms of illness.”
Additionally, the 24-member state Senate has moved its upcoming sessions to the House chambers at the Statehouse, which will allow for more social distancing.
New Hampshire lawmakers have been squabbling over access to remote and in-person meetings since the outset of the pandemic.
Democratic lawmakers filed a lawsuit last year alleging Packard was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by refusing to provide accommodations for 28 lawmakers with health concerns when the House began indoor meetings.
The lawmakers argued that their disabilities put them at heightened risk for COVID-19 infections. The outcome of that lawsuit is still pending.
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