CONCORD, N.H. — Republican Gov. Chris Sununu delivered an optimistic State of the State address on Thursday, calling on lawmakers to build upon recent progress in education, regulatory reform, the opioid crisis and other areas.
“We are at a critical point in our state’s future. Will we build upon the foundations we’ve laid, or will we let politics impede on progress?” he said. “We’ve made great strides, but we cannot let the negativity of Washington politics define who we are as Granite Staters. We cannot let up on our momentum.”
Sununu cited lower taxes, fewer regulations and increased educational opportunities such as full-day kindergarten and a school voucher proposal as highlights of the last year, and said it’s no accident that life in New Hampshire has improved since he took office a year ago. The state is becoming a model of civic engagement, community service and economic opportunity because it embraces policies that put people first, he said.
“And we understand that how we work together and treat one another is just as important as the results we achieve,” the governor said.
Looking ahead, Sununu said a program he has been talking about for months, Recovery Friendly Workplaces, will formally launch March 1.
The latest data from the National Center for Health Statistics show New Hampshire ranks third in the country in the rate of drug overdose deaths, and Sununu frequently urges businesses to take a greater role in preventing opioid misuse and helping workers connect with treatment. The new program will help businesses improve safety, productivity and profitability while addressing opioid addiction “head on” in the workplace, he said.
He also announced a new robotics competition, called the Governor’s Cup, that will reward winners with a free semester at one of the state’s public colleges, universities or community college campuses. He also urged lawmakers to pass a proposal to add victims’ rights to the state Constitution, expand services for abused and neglected children and pass a bill he called a game-changer when it comes to regulatory reform. He said it would streamline permitting processes and reduce confusion about local regulations.
Sununu, who called New Hampshire a “regulatory police state” during his campaign, appointed a regulatory reform steering committee to conduct in-depth reviews of state regulations and recommend changes. The result was a bill that covers more than a dozen topics, ranging from professional licenses and building codes to foster home inspections and wetlands permits.
After his speech, Sununu planned to sign an executive order to improve coordination of veterans care. The House recently voted to further study a bill that would have brought existing resources for education, housing and health care under one roof in a new department.
“As civilians, we carry the obligation of ensuring we will be there for them just as they stood for us, and that means a simplified system of care with clear and direct accountability,” he said.
Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, of Wolfeboro, praised the speech.
“The things that we’ve done to encourage business growth, kindergarten, property tax relief … these are all things that are nonpartisan, they’re well respected. And so I think you see the enthusiasm and support he gets in here and across the state,” he said.
But Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, of Whitefield, said Sununu was focused more on props than policies. He and other Democrats say they wanted Sununu to show more leadership on reauthorizing the state’s expanded Medicaid program instead of just mentioning it briefly. They also complained that the governor didn’t mention paid family leave or workforce development.
Deputy Democratic Leader Rep. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, noted that Sununu ended his speech urging lawmakers to pass a bill aimed at preventing animal cruelty.
“I was struck by (him) starting with children and ending with animals, rather than honing in on our workforce. He didn’t even mention bringing in young people to the state as a challenge we face,” she said. “I was hoping to hear more about Medicaid expansion as well. We need to have his leadership.”