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Committee Head: Sununu's Intervention On Daycare Rules 'Distressing'

Jason Moon, NHPR

A set of controversial new child care rules that were due for a vote this week have been postponed at the request of Gov. Chris Sununu and the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Sununu’s spokesman, Ben Vihstadt, said the governor "has heard from countless constituents who have expressed concerns with these rules."

The proposed rules would have added a number of new mandates for daycare providers — new limits on screen time and new background check requirements, among others. (You can find the most recent summary of the proposed changes here.) They drew opposition from some providers who worried they would be too expensive, and those extra costs would detract from workers’ wages or be passed along to parents. 

A public hearing on the changes took place in June. A few weeks ago, after reviewing public feedback, the department initially posted on its website a final version of the rules and a notice that they would be considered at the Aug. 17 meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules. Last week, the department updated that notice to indicate its plans to request more time before the vote.

Republican Sen. John Reagan, the head of the legislative rules committee, said he approved that delay — but he's troubled by what he sees as a pattern of Sununu intervening on what's supposed to be a legislative issue.

“It's distressing, to say the least, to be operating on legislative things and then have the governor intervene,” Reagan said. 

Reagan previously butted heads with Sununu over his handling of issues before the Senate Education Committee, which Reagan also chairs. He and other members of the rules committee also pushed back earlier this year after Sununu asked for a 90-day freeze on any new state regulations.

"We have a process here in New Hampshire that says the Legislature makes the laws, the governor — if he doesn't veto them — the laws are in effect, and then the departments write the rules, and the Legislature oversees the process to make sure they don't exceed the authority of the rule," Reagan said. 

"I've been in this business now for twelve years. I've never seen a governor do this. All of a sudden we have a governor who thinks he's a legislator,” the senator added. “I don't know what he thinks. I don't know why he does the things he does."

Asked about Reagan's concerns, Sununu's spokesman said: "As Governor, it is critical that he provide leadership and work closely with state agencies when they are proceeding with rules and regulations that have such a profound impact on the wellbeing of our kids and which have caused so much concern among New Hampshire's citizens and small businesses."

Casey McDermott is a senior news editor at New Hampshire Public Radio. Throughout her time as an NHPR reporter and editor, she has worked with colleagues across the newsroom to deepen the station’s accountability coverage, data journalism and audience engagement across platforms.

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