NH State Representative Tom Cormen

My votes in the NH House session
of October 26, 2023

This session was devoted only to votes on overriding vetoes by Governor Sununu on bills that passed the House and Senate. Overrides of House bills are voted on first by the House, and if the House votes to override, the bill goes over to the Senate. Overrides of Senate bills are voted on first by the Senate, and if the Senate votes to override, the bill goes over to the House. A 2/3 majority in each chamber is required in order to override a veto.

The Senate did not vote to override any of the vetoed Senate bills. The House voted to override one vetoed House bill, but the Senate override vote failed.

For each bill, the default motion was Override and all votes were by roll call. Discussions of the bills appear below.

Bill Motion Type of vote My vote Result of vote Notes
HB 35 Override Roll call Nay 0-350
HB 142 Override Roll call Yea 194-159 Failed to achieve 2/3 majority to override
HB 337-FN Override Roll call Yea Override 251-104, override vote failed in Senate 12-11
HB 342-FN Override Roll call Yea 184-171 Failed to achieve 2/3 majority to override

HB 35

This bill would have required student ID cards to include the number of the National Eating Disorders Hotline. After this bill passed both the House and Senate, it turned out that the National Eating Disorders Association was unable to maintain a helpline. Consequently, the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Rosemarie Rung, supported the veto.

HB 142

This bill was key to keeping the Burgess BioPower plant in Berlin operating, at least under its current ownership and management. This was a tough one to lose, and I worked behind the scenes to try to override the veto. The bill had some bipartisan support. In fact, it was sponsored by Rep. Michael Vose, a Republican and chair of the Science, Technology and Energy Committee. Rep. Vose went against the governor in voting to override, but did not speak in favor of overriding in the Republican caucus or on the House floor.

I had written a draft of a floor speech in favor of the override. Here is the bulk of it:

Burgess Biopower has been operating in Berlin since 2013. It is our only remaining large biomass power plant in the state, providing 75 megawatts of renewable baseload power. The money that goes into Burgess stays in New Hampshire for the most part because the fuel for Burgess comes mostly from in-state. The fossil-fuel power plants in New Hampshire cannot make the same claim.

Burgess has been a terrific corporate citizen of Berlin. Should this veto be sustained, the plant will close, and hundreds of jobs will be lost at the plant and in the timber industry. Furthermore, because Burgess serves as the largest outlet in NH for low-grade timber products, the forestry industry in the state would be dealt a heavy, heavy blow—possibly forcing many foresters to sell their land to out-of-state interests.

The Governor’s veto message said, “Enough is enough.” Then he should have signed HB 142, because the bill prohibits any future subsidies.

What about this debt that the plant has been accruing? It’s a debt only on paper, and Burgess was forced into it. You see, Burgess and Eversource negotiated a Power Purchase Agreement in 2013, where Burgess would sell 75 MW to Eversource at 6.9 cents per kilowatt hour for 20 years. When the market price is higher than 6.9 cents, Eversource wins, and even sells Burgess’s power into the open market at a profit. The problem that we’re addressing today comes from when the market price is lower than 6.9 cents. The Public Utilities Commission inserted a clause in the agreement between private parties that forces Burgess to carry the difference between 6.9 cents and any lower market price as an accrued debt on Burgess’s books. But there is no actual debt! Eversource simply recovered the difference from their customers as a component of the stranded cost charges that appear on their customers’ monthly bills.

Because they were forced into a bad deal by the PUC, Burgess has tried to renegotiate with Eversource, but Eversource has been unwilling. Meanwhile, Burgess has lived up to the agreement and has been supplying renewable baseload power for 6.9 cents for 10 years.

The fault here does not lie with Burgess.

It lies with the PUC of 2013. And it lies with the Governor who, instead of using his considerable influence to bring Eversource and Burgess to the negotiating table, has chosen to continue to decimate New Hampshire’s biomass power plants.

This floor speech was intended for the representatives from Berlin, but they delivered a different speech. With only 14 Republicans voting to override, there’s nothing they could have said that would have led to a different outcome.

Although I used the word “subsidies” in my draft, there was never a subsidy. Two private companies drew up a contract and the PUC intervened to add this asymmetrical charge that accrues only when the market price is lower than the contract price, but never reduces when the market price is higher. Even Hadley Barndollar, an excellent reporter for the New Hampshire Bulletin, referred to a subsidy. But there was never a subsidy.

Because this bill will not take effect, Berlin, the North Country, and the timber industry will suffer. Burgess is the largest taxpayer in Berlin and supports hundreds of jobs at the plant and in the timber industry. Burgess is the closest taker of low-grade timber in the area. We fear that without a nearby place to sell low-grade timber, many foresters will go out of business and sell their land, possibly to out-of-state or overseas buyers. Perhaps this scenario is a bit extreme, but I could see large tracts of land in New Hampshire eventually being bought by Saudi or Chinese investors.

On the other hand, I’ve heard that there are potential buyers for the Burgess plant. I hope so, and I hope that they will continue operating the plant as it has been run so far.

HB 337-FN

This bill would have directed the Office of Professional Licensure and Certification to provide notice of public meetings 14 calendar days in advance. The governor vetoed the bill because it would create different noticing requirements than for other public bodies. Although the House voted to override the veto, the override vote failed in the Senate, 12-11, with three Republican senators voting with the Democrats to override.

HB 342-FN

This bill would promote testing for lead when children enter daycare or school. The governor’s veto message said that it wasn’t necessary, as it’s already being done. There is some disagreement about this assertion.