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N.H. House delays action on dozens of bills in opening days of legislative year

HousesessionExpoManchester_010622_tuohy.JPG
Dan Tuohy
/
NHPR
Lawmakers gathered at a Manchester expo center to vote on dozens of bills, Jan. 6, 2022.

The New Hampshire House met for the second straight day in a Manchester hotel Thursday. With over 200 bills on its agenda, the GOP-led House chose to table, rather than debate, dozens of issues.

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Concerns over snow in the forecast drove some of the action.

“I know I don’t want to be here Friday,” Education Committee Chairman Rick Ladd of Haverhill said during one debate.

But concerns over COVID were also conspicuous. At one point Thursday afternoon, House Speaker Sherman Packard told any lawmaker who had COVID to leave.

"If there is somebody in this room that has tested positive, I say right now, bluntly, ‘Get out, you shouldn't be here,’" Packard said.

His warning came after Brookfield Rep. William Marsh, a former Republican who switched parties to protest what he sees as GOP inaction on COVID, claimed a lawmaker infected with the coronavirus was at the session.

“I have reason to believe at least one lawmaker in this room has tested positive for COVID,” Marsh said.

Earlier in the day, the House voted to limit any governor’s authority in public health emergencies. Current law, which took effect in July, allows a governor to declare a state of emergency but requires a vote of the Legislature for it to continue after 90 days.

Prior to that, lawmakers could end a state of emergency, but a governor could declare and renew states of emergency every 21 days to protect public health and safety.

The bill passed by House Thursday would give a governor emergency powers for 84 days before lawmakers would need to sign off. It would also grant the Legislature authority to terminate specific emergency orders.

The House chose to set aside many other high-profile bills, including a ban on vaccine mandates, which had been backed by Republican leaders but is opposed by Gov. Chris Sununu. They also tabled a proposal to expand a program where local tax dollars could fund non-public school education.

So were many others, including a measure to repeal the recently enacted mandate that an ultrasound precede any abortion performed in the state.

Packard said he didn’t consider the amendment, which was attached to a bill about “nascent human life,” sufficiently relevant to be permitted to proceed.

“I was inclined to say it was not germane to the subject matter of the original bill,“ Packard told the House.

The House did pass several dozen bills, including one adding a dental benefit to the state’s Medicaid program; a bill to require public notice of federal immigration checkpoints in New Hampshire; and a plan to permit home cultivation and trading of marijuana. That last measure is expected to face an uphill fight in the state Senate.

In other bipartisan action, the House voted to force the Saint-Gobain plastics company, which has contaminated drinking water near its Merrimack plant, to provide filtration for wells affected by PFAS contamination.

Less collegial was the action that closed out the session, when Rep. Kathy Rogers, a Concord Democrat, held the floor under a parliamentary procedure known as “unanimous consent.”

All lawmakers must, and typically do, consent to allow colleagues to speak on topics of their choosing. As soon as Rogers invoked the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capital she was jeered.

Her permission to speak further was voted down, 140-119.