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N.H. joins other GOP-led states in suing over federal vaccine mandate

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Utah Public Radio
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New Hampshire has joined 10 other Republican-led states in a lawsuit challenging the Biden Administration’s new rule requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to have a vaccinated workforce or implement weekly COVID-19 testing and mask requirements.

In announcing the suit, New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella reiterated that COVID vaccines are “safe and effective,” and encouraged every eligible state resident to get one,

Still, Formella said, the Biden Administration’s new vaccine requirement was “illegal and would impose significant burdens on New Hampshire businesses and their employees."

This lawsuit asks a federal judge to halt the implementation of the federal vaccine mandate. The guidelines for the mandate, set through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, give a January 4th deadline for workers to be vaccinated.

Failure to comply could trigger penalties against businesses of nearly $14,000 per violation.

This suit, like another one New Hampshire joined last week challenging mandates for government contractors, was filed in a federal court in Missouri. That state’s attorney general, Eric Schmitt, is leading the case.

"The federal government should not be forcing private employers to require their employees to get vaccinated or foot the cost to test those employees," Schmitt said.

Plaintiffs in the case also include a Missouri trailer manufacturer, Sioux Falls Catholic Schools, the Christian Employers Alliance, and the Home School Legal Defense Association.

While New Hampshire’s COVID-19 vaccination rate has essentially stalled through the fall, vaccines - and vaccine mandates - have proven a volatile political issue in recent months.

When President Biden announced the federal vaccine mandate in September, Gov. Chris Sununu and other Republicans immediately promised to fight it. GOP leaders in the New Hampshire House called an outdoor press conference to oppose the mandate. That quickly devolved into a shouting match on the State House plaza between lawmakers and the anti-vaccine activists Republicans had presumed would be their allies.

“You are yelling at the wrong people,’ House Speaker Sherman Packard bellowed at the protestors at the time.

Last month, some of those same vaccine and vaccine mandate opponents helped spur the Republican majority on New Hampshire’s Executive Council to reject $27 million in federal funding to boost vaccination efforts.

A major concern for the Republican councilors who voted down the funding as a bloc was the fear -- which both Formella and Sununu said was unfounded -- that taking the money would obligate the state to enforce federal vaccine mandates.

State health officials say not taking the money will slow New Hampshire’s effort to vaccinate children aged 5 to 11 who became eligible for shots earlier this week.

In a statement Friday, Sununu described COVID-19 vaccines as “the most effective tool we have to protect ourselves and our community from this virus.”

But he also reiterated his full support for New Hampshire joining the lawsuit.

“As the head of state, I recognize the limitations of government in mandating this personal medical decision,” Sununu said.