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Gov. Sununu Praises Republican Budget Deal As Full Of 'Good Stuff'

Dan Tuohy / NHPR

Gov. Chris Sununu applauded the $13.5 billion state budget compromise reached by Repulican negotiators in the House and Senate Thursday as a great deal for New Hampshire taxpayers and a prudent response to the needs of the state.

“There’s a lot of good stuff in there,” Sununu said at a Concord press conference.

Sununu pointed in particular to cuts to state business taxes and spending on local aid as highpoints in the deal reached by Republican leaders. Sununu also defended several non-spending items that Republicans have included in the budget plan, including an ultrasound requirement for all people seeking an abortion in New Hampshire and a ban on abortions at 24 weeks, with no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.  

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When asked about the abortion-related items, Sununu said he wouldn’t veto the budget over them. 

“I didn’t propose any part of it, I’m a pro-choice governor and I support a woman’s right to choose,” he added. “At the end of the day I have to look at [the budget] as a collective.”

Sununu has said that, while he considers himself pro-choice on matters of abortion, he finds the provisions reasonable. As a candidate for re-election last year, Sununu said he did not believe any new abortion restrictions were necessary.

Sununu also said he approved of House and Senate negotiators’ agreement on giving legislators more of a say over governors’ ability to extend states of emergency. Some conservative lawmakers have complained that Sununu’s repeated renewals of a state of emergency declaration over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic was an abuse of executive powers, and insisted that new limits be part of any budget plan. Sununu pushed back on earlier proposals limiting that power, but said the deal reached Thursday would create appropriate checks on governors in future states of emergency.

Sununu also responded to questions about the state’s reach into individual schools regarding Republican-backed limits on teachings on racism, another issue that had been debated in the waning days of State House budget negotiations. Republicans in the House and Senate have proposed barring public employees — including school teachers — from teaching that race or gender make people inherently oppressive or oppressed, consciously or unconsciously. The proposal is part of a broader Republican push against critical race theory across the country.

The proposal now in the state budget proposal would also allow public employees, including police officers, from opting out of implicit bias training. 

Critics of the ban say it would infringe on free speech and limit the ability of teachers to talk openly about the impact of racism on American society. The proposal also clears the way for people to sue school districts over material they feel runs afoul of those restrictions.

Sununu said he expected the state Department of Education to provide guidance to teachers on the new regulations if they become law.

“It would be appropriate to put out some guidance, training, things of that nature, so they know what expectations are,” he said.

Several pandemic updates were also provided. Masks are no longer required for asymptomatic people in most indoor and outdoor locations, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Ben Chan, citing the state’s low level of community transition. Chan said this guidance did not apply for immunocompromised people or those wishing to still take the maximum amount of precaution. 

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human services also will conclude its community contact tracing program for those who encounter COVID-19 in public places, in part due to the rollback of quarantine requirements for those who encounter COVID-19 in a public place. The state did ask people to quarantine if someone in their home tested positive. 

About 718,000 people have been fully vaccinated at this point, and well over a million people in New Hampshire have received their first dose, officials said. On Thursday, 30 new people were diagnosed with COVID-19, and the state is still averaging 30 to 40 new infections per day. There are currently 265 people with active infections, and 17 people are hospitalized. Two new deaths related to COVID-19 were reported Thursday. Both cases were related to long-term care facilities. 

Thursday’s press conference was the last in a series of weekly briefings set up more than a year ago to address the COVID-19 crisis in New Hampshire. 

“This is as normal as we’re going to see for a long time...from the emergency and pandemic standpoint, it’s over,” Sununu said.

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