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Spiking COVID-19 Cases Lead Lawmakers To Gather Outside To Kick Off New Session

Dan Tuohy/NHPR

Incoming state lawmakers will meet outside Wednesday at the University of New Hampshire to elect leaders, an unusual move prompted by spiking coronavirus cases across the state.

COVID-19 concerns have made UNH an almost home-away-from-home for the New Hampshire House since last spring, as the school’s indoor athletic facilities could better accommodate the social distancing needs of the body’s 400 members. But rising caseloads scuttled the Legislature’s original plans to swear in lawmakers and elect leaders inside the university’s Lundholm Center for the traditional Organization Day to kick off the next legislative sessions.

Instead they will meet outdoors, on the artificial turf of an adjacent field hockey field.As during the prior indoor session at UNH’s Whittemore Center, lawmakers will be asked to wear masks. Those who refuse will be required to sit in a separate areas.

The outdoor meeting comes at the request of GOP caucus leaders Rep. Dick Hinch of Merrimack, and Sen. Chuck Morse of Salem, who are expected to win election tomorrow as House Speaker and Senate President.

Some Democratic lawmakers were also threatening to skip Organization Day if it were held inside.
Gov. Chris Sununu, who will be on hand to swear in lawmakers, had meanwhile voiced concern about lawmakers – particularly the 400-member New Hampshire House – meeting in person without sufficient social distancing.

The state Constitution requires lawmakers to meet to elect leaders, the secretary of state and New Hampshire treasurer the first Wednesday in December in every election year.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.

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