Speaker Says N.H. House Will Meet In Person, Despite COVID Concerns | New Hampshire Public Radio

Speaker Says N.H. House Will Meet In Person, Despite COVID Concerns

Feb 5, 2021

N.H. House Speaker Sherman Packard - shown here speaking during a House 'drive-in' style session Jan. 6, 2021 at a parking lot at UNH in Durham.
Credit Dan Tuohy / NHPR

New Hampshire House Speaker Sherman Packard has announced plans for the 400-member House to meet in person later this month, though he declined to disclose the precise location.

In a notice to lawmakers Friday, Packard said the House is planning to meet on Feb. 23 and 24 in a 55,000 square foot venue that is heated and equipped with contagion-reducing HVAC equipment.

Packard wrote that outdoor meetings — which is how the House met most recently, in a UNH parking lot — aren’t practical in winter, and said more details will be announced when the venue is confirmed.

Last year, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature could meet remotely without violating the state constitution. But in his notice to lawmakers, Packard reiterated his view that without a specific rule permitting remote meetings — which the House has so far declined to enact — lawmakers must gather in person.

“There is no plug and play solution,” Packard wrote. “Just as no viable solution was identified in the first eight months of the pandemic, no viable solution has been identified in the two months since Organization Day.”

The question of how to meet and conduct business has been a charged topic this legislative year, especially since House Speaker Dick Hinch died from COVID-19, just one week after being elected to the speaker's post.

House Democrats have repeatedly urged Republican leaders to consider a remote system for House sessions, given the risk of COVID-19 transmission and the age of the Legislature, many of whose members are in their 70s and 80s.