Weekly N.H. News Roundup: March 13, 2020

Mar 13, 2020

The growing number of COVID-19 cases has prompted governments to encourage behaviors that will slow or stop the spread of coronavirus, and in some cases, that has meant closing schools. Some large gatherings of people have been canceled, but lawmakers still gathered in Concord this week to debate legislation. 

 


 

GUESTS:

 

  • Sarah Gibson - NHPR reporter.
  • Kevin Landrigan - Statehouse reporter at the New Hampshire Union Leader.
  • Dean Spiliotes - civic scholar in the School of Arts and Sciences at SNHU.

 

Transcript

  This transcript is machine-generated and contains errors.

 

Peter Biello:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Peter Biello and this is the Weekly New Hampshire News Roundup on The Exchange. The growing number of covered 19 cases has prompted governments to encourage behaviors that will slow or stop the spread of the coronavirus. And in some cases that has meant closing schools. In some cases, large gatherings of people have been canceled. But lawmakers still gathered in Concord this week to debate pieces of legislation. And we'll talk about a few of those in this hour. We'll recap all the week's news stories of significance that are and are not related to the pandemic. And joining us for this part of the show, we've got an our education reporter, Sarah Gibson.

Peter Biello:
So, Sarah, we'll start with you since you've been keeping a close eye on what schools have been doing in response to Covid-19, and the Coronavirus this week, six individual schools and districts, four districts, two schools announced they would be closing because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. Newmarket. Rochester. Mascoma. Hollis. Epping. Governor Wentworth. Monadnock Regional Middle High School. Sarah, was there any prevailing reason for all of these school districts that did decide to close?

Sarah Gibson:
Well, most of them were closing out of an abundance of caution. There was certainly no outbreak, no suggestion that there was Covid-19 necessarily at the school yet. But it was things like staff members being tested or staff members being under quarantine, not because they were symptomatic, but because they had been in contact with someone who was a presumptive positive case. There is also an example of a student leaving sick with some respiratory symptoms. And, you know, we're in a situation with very limited testing right now. So schools, even if they're not hearing it, there is a presumptive case, are trying to be really cautious. So in general, these schools had then opened up then the following day, in some cases after a big clean. But, you know, I think as this as we hear more about covered cases and more people are concerned, they themselves were in contact with someone. We'll probably see these short closures in other districts as well.

Peter Biello:
Ok. And what are the official recommendation from the state to schools?

Sarah Gibson:
So those recommendations are being updated nearly every day. But right now, the DOE is saying that continuity is really important, that there should not be closures unless there's specific evidence of increased risk of Covid-19. But it ultimately is really up to school boards and the superintendent to make the final call. Obviously in conjunction with the DOE and DHHS. But the DOE is also and the State Board of Education are really encouraging districts to get ready for remote learning. And I've talked to a number of districts that are trying to figure that out right now, what it would look like to close the school buildings, but ask students to learn remotely from home for the rest of the semester. And in fact, just yesterday, the state Board of Education passed emergency rules that would make basically shifting to remote learning easier for districts. So they are looking at that possibility very seriously. And, you know, if there are any concerns or questions that emerge, districts are really encouraged to call the state Health Department and the DOE for guidance as things comes up. Then the other thing I'll say is that there's there's a big question about community events, individual districts already canceling all athletic events and asking that there are now no visitors to the school. They're canceling everything from concerts to plays. Right now, the guidance from the DOE for community events is that within New Hampshire, having a community event is okay if it's just people who are local, but out-of-state visitors are, should not come. We saw that last night, for instance, Amherst was going to have a play. There were some people expected from Massachusetts, maybe even Boston. And the superintendent said, we're going to cancel this play. We don't want we don't want visitors from from Boston and Massachusetts in our school building. So these decisions are being made every single day.

Peter Biello:
Okay. And you mentioned that some schools are planning for the possibility of having to do some remote learning. To what extent, Sarah, are are those remote lessons dependent on technology? And if it's to a great extent, our schools properly resourced, do they have the bits of technology that they can loan to students to make sure that they can continue their learning?

Sarah Gibson:
Yeah, that's a big question. So a lot of districts do in the high school have a 1 to 1 ratio. So. Single student has a tablet that they could bring home. It gets a lot more complicated with elementary school students. And there's not necessarily a 1 to 1 ratio for them. They're actually, you know, not using technology in the same way. And even if they were home with a computer and good Internet connectivity, they probably need a parent or adult to supervise them. So in a hearing a couple days ago, there were concerns raised. You know, in Manchester, if there are a bunch of students who don't have good Internet at home, who don't have access to technology, who rely on the Internet at, say, the library or the Boys and Girls Club, what happens when all of those institutions, those community spaces also close?

Sarah Gibson:
What do you do with the students who really rely on public computers in order to to do their work? Those questions are being asked by, I would say, nearly every district I've talked to, and they're trying to prepare as best they can. The other thing that we're already seeing is, is private boarding schools have shifted to remote learning. A number of them, including Phillips-Exeter and St. Paul's, have said to their students, don't come back from spring break, expect to, for at least a couple weeks, do some remote learning. Obviously, they're in a very different situation. But I think it's worth noting that as we see colleges closing, at least temporarily, we're also seeing private boarding schools closed temporarily. And that remote learning is something we can expect a lot of students to have to think critically about doing in the coming months.

Peter Biello:
Are schools preparing in any way for continuing to assist those students who rely on schools for meals?

Sarah Gibson:
Sure. So the DOE actually just applied for waivers from the USDA, which is in charge of the free and reduced meals program that thousands and thousands of students here in New Hampshire rely on. And many other departments of educations are also asking for waivers that basically would mean, say, the building is closed, but you could drop off bagged lunches at at a spot where someone could go with their parent and get their breakfast and lunch or waivers that would allow the school to continue making meals that maybe didn't meet all the requirements the USDA normally has for, you know, all the meal components. But, you know, get someone fed for the month of May.

Sarah Gibson:
So they definitely have applied for those waivers already. But I've talked to folks who are really concerned about what it would mean for, you know, a rural school district that has very high levels of free or reduced lunch students. They're going to be having to figure out how to feed those students were where they did switch to remote learning later on this semester.

Peter Biello:
Ok, so you mentioned that that school boards will be making those decisions about local schools. How are the boarding schools you mentioned? St. Paul's, Phillip- Exeter. How are they going about making their decisions?

Sarah Gibson:
Well, they, again, have been in regular communication with the state Health Department and with the DOE. And I've heard that those conversations have been really productive. And the concern is less our students are going to get really sick and more A, we can't quarantine students in a residential boarding situation. I mean, just it's it's it's would be nearly impossible if everyone with a respiratory problem was quarantined. But then there's also this this question about community health. I mean, there there you see across the country this sense that we kind of need to prepare for the worst in order to slow the spread of the of Covid-19. So if that means asking students who maybe have been, you know, traveling across the country and going to places like New York City and Seattle over spring break, if that means asking them to not come back to New Hampshire for a month, that's that's beneficial for for the community at large here in New Hampshire for in terms of the spread of the disease, really wanting, you know, clinics, hospitals to be able to catch up with what we could see in the coming months, and therefore asking, you know, hundreds of students to stay home and learn remotely. So those were definitely part of the kind of calculations that the private boarding schools have been making and will continue to make since a bunch of them are currently on spring break.

Peter Biello:
Listeners, we want to know your stories. If you have an interaction with with a school in your district that you think your fellow listeners should know about. We want to know how you feel about how your local school district is responding. Please do let us know. We've also heard colleges making changes to the spring semester, Dartmouth announced that they are moving to a remote format until May 1st. The U.N. H system is moving to online classes only for the first two weeks after spring break. Schools in Maine and Vermont have also been making changes to the way they are doing instruction, moving again to to remote learning. NHPR reporters Danniella Allee and Annie Ropeik have been following those stories as they develop. We also want to hear from university students, faculty and staff about their experiences. We're going to continue to follow this story as it develops. Sarah, we're going to talk a little bit about the census as well. But before we do. What will you be watching related to the coronavirus in education going forward?

Sarah Gibson:
Well, really preparedness. So, I mean, that's what we're talking about right now. There's certainly no schools that have indicated they plan to go to transition to remote learning yet. This is all a question of can you be nimble if in three weeks we have a really different situation here in New Hampshire. And certainly we're seeing states across the U.S. already closed all of their schools. So this is a question of flexibility and also just communication, whether or not students and parents feel like they're getting proper communication from their districts and whether or not communication between the DOE, DHHS and school districts continues to be pretty robust. But, you know, as we hear more from, you know, the health reporter Jason Moon here about limited tests, what that means for community fears and community health. You know that that trickles in to to schools and how schools make sense of how to keep each other safe. So I'll be, you know, keeping it and paying attention really every day to what the DOE and State Health Department come out with in terms of their guidance, because, again, it's changing and being updated nearly every day.

Peter Biello:
And NHPR is staying on top of this quickly changing story covering the impacts of coronavirus in a lot of ways, how it's impacting workers, low income families. We're also bringing you the latest statements from government officials like the governor. We're going to continue to bring that news to you on the air. You can also find it at an age, nhpr.org. By the way, if you have a moment, listeners, please fill out the survey. You can find it at NHPR.org. Your questions and stories are certainly welcome there. NHPR.org. Sarah, the census officially kicks off in April, and you reported this week that the U.S. Census Bureau is having trouble hiring enough people. Is it normally hard to find census workers?

Sarah Gibson:
Well, it depends on how the economy is doing, and that is has changed drastically, obviously, in the last couple of weeks when the economy was looking real strong a couple weeks ago, people were saying this is what happens. That's it with really low unemployment rates. It's going to be hard to convince someone to go door to door with a basically a seasonal job, even if you pay them $20 an hour. That's what we are seeing. Things could look really different in terms of job availability and how the economy feels to people in the coming weeks. But but basically at this point, we're in New Hampshire, we're pretty far behind our goal. Sixty seven percent as of yesterday of the goal of of applications for for these census jobs, even though the hourly rate has been increasing and increasing as the months have gone by. And so, you know, this is this is something that that's that certainly, you know, if you go out and see any any advertisments, you'll see this, that the U.S. Census Bureau is really pushing these jobs. So but but certainly in New Hampshire, well, we're still pretty short.

Peter Biello:
And who has the most at stake if there aren't enough workers for the census?

Sarah Gibson:
Right. Well, so just to to lay out the timeline. People include we'll be receiving and maybe have already received forms in the mail alerting you about about the census survey. And so basically, we need more census workers. If people don't do don't fill out the census by themselves. So basically, if you fill out the census either online or in a form and send it in right now, you are not going to have these census workers knocking on your door starting in May. But in areas with low response rates and in areas that are considered with hard to count communities, census workers are going to be following up and making sure that everyone gets counted. And so households could start seeing singles people out their doors as early as April and and certainly in May and June. And part of July. So so really, the extent to which we need a lot of workers on the ground depends a little bit on the census response rate and to what extent we all, you know, fill out the census in the coming weeks.

Peter Biello:
And since we're thinking a lot about Covid-19 today, Sarah Gibson, have you heard anything about how the Census Bureau is thinking about potential quarantines?

Sarah Gibson:
Well. So they're they're certainly thinking about Covid-19. And what that that might do for operations, and that's one of the reasons they're really encouraging people to either get on the phone or get online and fill out the census. They're saying it's never been easier to respond on your own online, over the phone, in the language often of your choice without having to meet a census taker. So they're really pushing this phone, an online method in order to deal with, you know, potential fear that people could have in coming months of interacting with a census worker. I also want to note that a lot of towns in New Hampshire between Durham, Hanover, a large part of their population is college students. And so things are gonna get a little tricky if, you know, if students are not are no longer on campus. Durham, for instance, has been ramping up their operations to make sure every single student is counted. What happens if none of those students show up to campus for the rest of the semester? So what people are being advised to do is even if you are no longer on campus before or on April 1st, due to guidance from your school and public health authorities, you should still use your college address when you're responding to the 2020 census. That's really important for parents who maybe are filling out the census. Their kid is technically learning remotely for the rest of the semester at home. They should still use the college address for for that individual. So that's a message that the census has also also pushing, given given the fact that a bunch of universities and colleges are closing.

Peter Biello:
Sarah, I want to circle back to education and the coronavirus for a moment, cause we've got a comment from Carole. She wrote in to say, I am a public school teacher in New Hampshire who teaches special education. I have not been able to get any answers in my district about the implications of school closure for special ed students. What happens to the concept of free and appropriate public education and specialized instruction in a remote learning situation?

Sarah Gibson:
Yep, that is one of the major questions. And the DOE is getting asked that, as are all the districts I've talked to. Honestly, people are still figuring it out. And I think it's I think special ed students with IEPs. That is one of the major, major concerns about what happens when a school building is closed. There are certainly people who are going to be able to learn okay from their tablet at home, particularly with parental supervision. That gets really, really different, if you rely on speech pathology services, on reading specialists and another services to make sure that you can actually stay up to speed with the rest of your classmates. So I don't think there's a good answer for that yet. That's certainly something I'll be looking into.

Peter Biello:
I'm not sure there's a good answer for this question from Eric who who asked on Facebook. What will happen to hourly workers like paraprofessionals and custodians if schools close?

Sarah Gibson:
That's a great question. Again, I don't have the answer to it, but that's a question that institutions and workers are asking across across the state really at this point and I don't I don't know what the answer is to that.

Peter Biello:
So many open questions, Sarah. But we do appreciate you taking the time to to answer some of those for us. We have we really appreciate it. Thank you very much. It's NHPR's education reporter, Sarah Gibson. We're going to take a quick break, but when we come back, we're going to return with Kevin Landrigan of the Union Leader and Dean Spiliotes of SNHU. We're going to talk a little more about Covid-19, the coronavirus. We'll talk about the governor's response to it. We've got some some tape from him. And we'll also talk about some legislative news of the week, because lawmakers were debating many pieces of legislation in Concord. This is the weekly New Hampshire News Roundup. I'm Peter Biello. We'll be right back.

Peter Biello:
This is the Weekly New Hampshire News Roundup on The Exchange on NHPR. I'm Peter Biello and we're speaking about the week's news today with Dean Spiliotes, civic scholar in the School of Arts and Sciences and SNHU, joining us by phone today. And Kevin Landrigan, statehouse bureau chief for the Union Leader, joining us by Skype. We're going to stay on the topic of coronavirus for just a moment, because earlier this week, Governor Sununu spoke on MORNING EDITION. That was actually a couple days ago on whether he sees a state of emergency in New Hampshire's future.

Governor Sununu audio clip:
Nothing I see right now. To be honest, I can't speak for other states. Here in New Hampshire, a state of emergency allows the governor to access certain public funds and in emergency funding, that's one of the most powerful things that does. Funding is not really the issue. Right now, the federal government has provided an initial five million dollars. My guess is there could be more money coming for reimbursement of a lot of our mitigation costs. So that's not the issue right now. So we don't want to, you know, just heighten the level just for the sake of heightening the level. This is definitely not a time to panic. We have good folks on the ground we're dealing with. We're at the point where we can still get with everything on a case by case basis. Reach out to the contacts. We're asking folks to self-quarantine as we find those contacts. And again, it's really about spreading out that that potential impact to the community. And that's all part of the mitigation plan going into effect.

Peter Biello:
And NHPR's Rick Ganley also asked Governor Sununu on MORNING EDITION if state employees would be able to take sick time or have alternative options.

Governor Sununu audio clip:
You know, we've got we want to put the best idea on the table, we have a few different ideas. But I think in the next week or so, you'll see something come out where we're at least providing some opportunity for those most in need.

Rick Ganley, audio clip:
Can you give us an idea of what that might look like?

Governor Sununu audio clip:
No, I really can't. Only in that. I mean, again, it could be anything from opening up some type of unemployment compensation. I don't know if the fund, the Fed. There are federal rules that don't necessarily allow that. But maybe there's something that set up temporarily, temporarily in the state.

Peter Biello:
So I want to throw this to Kevin Landrigan of the Union Leader, because you've been spending some time covering the legislature and state government this week. Kevin, have you heard anything else from the governor?

Kevin Landrigan:
Yeah, the we at the end of this week, both the governor and Democratic legislative leaders kind of unveiled an outline at least of their own options for how to help folks with who are displaced from work due to Covid-19. And as the governor hinted in that tape with you, it primarily deals with unemployment benefits. There are a lot of obviously, as you know, Peter, there are going to be a lot of reasons why people aren't working due to Covid-19. You could have the virus and test positive or you could be home caring for a loved one who has the virus. Other ways you could lose work of course is if your business were to close or had to lay off people due to less business for, say, a service industry would lay some people off and then you would lose work. So this legislation would essentially allow you to receive unemployment benefits if you lost work due to Covid-19 for any period of time. A really important provision here is, as folks may know in New Hampshire, we have a one week waiting period. You have to be out of work for more than one week before you can actually collect benefits. This would waive that one week period. This particular legislation that's going to have a hearing on Tuesday before the Senate Health Care Committee. So you wouldn't have to wait in order to receive your benefits. The other change, important change it would make is that, folks may or may not be aware, if you own a business and you lay people off, you actually end up paying more into the unemployment insurance fund to support those people. Your tax rate effectively goes up. This again would waive that. So a business would not be penalized for having people out of work due to Covid-19.

Peter Biello:
Indeed, I wanted to give you a chance to weigh in on what we've heard from the governor so far.

Dean Spiliotes:
Yeah, you know, it's been really interesting watching both the state and federal governments ramp up to deal with the threat. And you know, there's been some controversy about the federal response in terms of testing and other aspects of organizing, marshalling federal resources. But you know, any kind of crisis, and particularly this kind of crisis is really an opportunity and an imperative for governors and local officials. We're seeing mayors in a number of the large cities like New York and Seattle and San Francisco mobilized. So much of the response is really driven by what governors and what local officials do on the ground dealing, whatever the particular situation is. So, as you know, Kevin outlined really well the challenges in terms of the economic impact on hourly workers, etc. There are other questions as well. For instance, you know, should the legislature be meeting and can people, if they're quarantined vote from home? There was some legislative discussion about that recently. So, you know, I think it's imperative on the governor certainly and the state legislature to come up with a package that acknowledges a lot of these challenges. But everybody is really figuring this out as they go along. But we have noticed that both governors, state, local officials, private sector, are moving almost more rapidly than the federal government to to deal with a lot of economic and logistical issues that are raised by it.

Peter Biello:
And to pick up on something you just said there, Dean. Kevin, you reported this week that House lawmakers voted against allowing some lawmakers to vote from home if they've been asked by a doctor to stay at home. What was the debate around this issue like?

Kevin Landrigan:
Yeah, that was interesting. I think it really it sprang from a situation that occurred earlier this week in which a school, the middle school and high school in Epping, closed because it was thought that it was a polling place on Tuesday and it was thought someone who had Covid-19 had contracted the virus. So they closed the school. It turned out two legislators had been at that polling place that day and had come in contact with this person. So those folks were not allowed to come to the legislature for a debate and to turned out the person had the flu. The schools were reopened. The legislators were allowed. I think, as Dean pointed out, we're all trying to figure this out as we go along. And I don't think there's opposition to this idea of trying to figure out what to do if. But it seemed premature to do that. One thing they did this week that was noteworthy is both the House and the Senate adopted sort of an emergency rule that deferred that gave the presiding officer in this case, Senate President Donna Soucy and House Speaker Steve Shurtleff the authority to change the deadlines going forward. But that has to be in consultation with both political parties. So, in other words, as we'll talk about the House finished a very late marathon session actually early this morning and are now, both the House and the Senate, are subject to the call of the chairs for when they come back again. So this particular rule change is going to allow that if if there has to be a pause on sessions or there should be a pause for a number of weeks and we miss these deadlines. This will allow bills not to die.

Peter Biello:
So let's let's talk about a few pieces of legislation that were up for debate this week. One of them that you reported on, Kevin, was the passage in the House of a bill that would limit the cost of insulin for people who have health insurance. Tell us a little bit about this. What was the goal of this bill?

Kevin Landrigan:
It's an interesting issue and one that states across the country are starting to deal with, as folks know who have diabetes or have loved ones who have diabetes, the cost insulin over time has gone up enormously for consumers. And states, as I say, are starting to grapple with this notion of trying to cap the price of insulin for consumers, because in New Hampshire and in many states, the concern really is that people can't afford their insulin. They're going to start rationing that. And if they do, ration it and don't take it as often as they should, there obviously can be health, serious health consequences as a result. This New Hampshire bill that passed the House would cap the cost to consumers at $100 a month for insulin. That's the total out-of-pocket costs. Colorado and Illinois are the only states that have acted on this. But legislators in 30 states are looking at it seriously. One big change we made that these other two states have, we'd be the first one to do it, is your deductible wouldn't count. So in other words, you if you have a $5000 deductible for your health care expenses, you obviously would have to keep spending the actual cost of insulin until you hit that deductible. This bill would eliminate that and would provide that you only have to pay $100 a month total in order to get your insulin.

Dean Spiliotes:
Yeah, and that's actually turned out to be one of the one of the points of contention with Republicans.You know, that's sort of the general argument you're hearing against this from Republican legislators is that by putting these kinds of additional regulations on the private insurers, the net effect will be to drive up the overall cost of insurance. But this is an issue where we're seeing, as Kevin mentioned, state governments, as the federal government has struggled. Congress has struggled to make progress on prescription drug prices, even though it's something that's talked about constantly on the campaign trail, particularly the stories around the need for insulin. But it certainly affects the .

Peter Biello:
Did we lose you? We may have. I think we may have lost Dean. But I did want to ask you, Kevin. Yeah. What are the chances of this bill prevailing in the Senate? And what about the governor? Is the governor on board for something like this?

Kevin Landrigan:
Governor hasn't weighed in as yet on this, but he's certainly been, he's certainly been open to prescription drug reform, sort of. The sponsors are hopeful they can bring him along. The bill has some prominent support in the state Senate. Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, who's a Democratic candidate for governor, is one of its sponsors, really supports it. I suspect the Senate will pass this bill and it will be up to the governor to decide what to do about it.

Peter Biello:
And. OK. So what other stories NHPR has been following this week. Senate Democrats passed a paid family medical leave bill yesterday, though it faces a near-certain veto from Governor Sununu. Paid family leave allows workers to take time off to care for a sick, loved one or after the birth of a child. Republicans say the funding mechanism for the Democrats version, a .5 percent payroll deduction amounts to an income tax. Also this week, a new bill in Congress would give states $20 billion over the next 10 years to test and treat their water supplies for toxic PFAS chemicals. The bill would give out billions in grants to treat public drinking water supplies and private wells for PFAS. It would also fund groundwater cleanup. And the New Hampshire House voted this week to raise the age for marriage in New Hampshire from 16 to 18. Until last year, the minimum age for marriage here was 13 for girls and 14 for boys. The bill now moves to the Senate. Let's talk a little bit about gun legislation, because, Kevin, the House voted to approve gun free school zones banning guns on school property except for a law enforcement or anyone in the school board authorized to carry. The vote was 182 to 141. Kevin, have we been at this point before with respect to gun free zones in schools?

Kevin Landrigan:
Yeah, it's been a it's been a pretty constant debate in the legislature for, gosh, going on almost two decades now, we were one of the we're one of very few states that essentially exempted ourselves from the gun free school zone law, the federal law that exists here and and attempts. There've been attempts and not just by Democratic lawmakers, but by some Republican lawmakers in the past to try and change this. This this bill sort of has a different wrinkle in this respect. It would be in the carrying of guns on school property, except for law enforcement or someone who the school board. Authorized to carry on the property. So, if, for example, just occurred just to taken a case in point, if I'm the mother of a child was involved in a domestic issue with regard to a partner or ex-spouse or what have you, that that mother could go to the school board and say, I don't feel safe on school property. I want to be able to carry because of my concern. The school board could give that person the right to do that. And that's that's what this bill would do. I don't think it's. However, I don't think it's going to satisfy, it certainly doesn't satisfy the gun lobby in New Hampshire. I'm not sure it's going to satisfy Gov. Chris Sununu who as we know, last year vetoed five different gun control measures and they were all sustained by the legislature.

Peter Biello:
And also in the news this week with respect to guns in-depthNH.org reported that the House approved a bill that would limit the bullets in gun magazines to fifteen for a handgun and 10 for a long rifle. Only Democrats supported this bill. Kevin, where did the inspiration for this legislation come from?

Kevin Landrigan:
Well, it's really about these mass shootings that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, or Orlando, Florida. Parkland, Florida, Las Vegas, where these weapons with a high quantity in ammunition in them can cause so much devastation in such a short time. You know, manufacturers right now can use 30 bullets really as the standard for most weapons, although some magazines can carry up to 100 rounds. And this, as you pointed out, would you would limit the bullets and gun magazines to 15 per handgun and 10 for an actual rifle.

Peter Biello:
And Deanm, I think we have you back there. Dean, are you there? Yeah, sorry about that. Technology is what it is, my friend.

Dean Spiliotes:
Even landlines have batteries these days.

Peter Biello:
Well, I want to get you to weigh in a little bit on the the gun legislation that we've been talking about it. Because it seems like and I asked this to Kevin as well. Is there anything different about this?

Dean Spiliotes:
Well, you know, we've talked about this a number of times on the roundup, and they really has become a an ideological litmus test between the two parties. And we're in an election year and we've seen a number of these bills before. And just in general, things like high-capacity magazines and gun free zones, school zones. They've been popular among Democrats, but also something that Republicans typically oppose. And so, you know, Governor Sununu has already opposed a lot of this stuff on Second Amendment grounds. It's an election year. His core supporters are going to be strongly opposed to any kind of additional restrictions on gun rights. And so I imagine this is the kind of thing that's going to be an election year. But I don't know that we're going to see a lot of progress on most of the stuff coming through. It's been a well, a well-defined split between the two parties for a while now. I mean, you go back to we often go back to Newtown and Sandy Hook and the inability of the Congress to get anything done after that tragedy. And it's been a it's been a struggle ever since for people who support these kinds of reforms.

Peter Biello:
Want to let you know that some towns do have meetings tomorrow, town meetings, to vote on budgets and warrent articles. Chester, Henniker, Jaffrey, Richmond, Piermont, Hinsdale, Nottingham, to name a few. And I bring it up because we get a note from someone in Betsey who wanted to know, should town meetings be canceled for tomorrow? Now, we don't want you, of course, to give your opinion on that. But, have you heard anything from the state about any guidance on whether those meetings should be canceled? Kevin Dean?

Kevin Landrigan:
No, certainly as we heard from the governor earlier in the program, I think there is a real desire at the state level to not encourage mass cancellation of large events and to leave, but to leave the decisions up to the local officials or authorities to make their own calls about this. And I think one of the concerns that has developed already with regard to the state response is that a lot of state officials in the public health arena are becoming concerned that local jurisdictions, business groups, whatever they are, if they're contemplating canceling an event or limiting attendance or many of them aren't reaching out to the state for advice, they're just on it in an ad hoc basis, making the decision and which they're able to do. But the state would like to be able to give them the best available advice, and they'd they'd like them to reach out to them, because sometimes there are things that can be done short of a cancellation of an event and then that can still allow it to take place.

Dean Spiliotes:
Yeah. You know, we have these town meetings really is kind of one of the traditional cores of participatory democracy and local control in New Hampshire. And so I think, you know, as Kevin said, I think that certainly in the interest of the state to maybe give some guidance or an opinion. But ultimately, I think a lot of the stuff will be decided at the at the local level. And, you know, we've seen debates over whether or not the whole voting and town meetings during snowstorms. Now, this is obviously a more, more urgent, urgent, urgent matter perhaps than than a typical snowstorm. But but we've seen how the kind of relationship has played out in the past.

Peter Biello:
This is the Weekly New Hampshire News Roundup on The Exchange on NHPR. We're talking about the week's news. And still to come, we'll talk a little bit about net metering. We'll also talk about a bill that would have eliminated the criminal statute of limitations for sexual assault, but that will not move forward per the New Hampshire house. We'll break down the details of that. This is the weekly New Hampshire news roundup. I'm Peter Biello. We'll be right back.

Peter Biello:
This is the Weekly New Hampshire News Roundup on The Exchange on HPI. I'm Peter Biello and we're here with Dean Spiliotes civic scholar in the School of Arts and Sciences at SNHU. He's on the line with us. And we've got Kevin Landrigan, statehouse bureau chief for the Union Leader, joining us by Skype today. Let's talk a little bit about net metering, because Senate lawmakers overturned the governor's veto of the net metering bill again, this bill would have raised the cap on how much energy consumers could sell back to the grid from one megawatt to five. Let me start with you, Kevin. So I said again, why did this come back? Why is this happening again?

Kevin Landrigan:
Yeah. This is actually the third year in a row in which net metering has has come before the governor and it could come before the governor. The bill now goes over to the House. They'll vote on whether to override the governor's veto. There's a lot of support for this concept, particularly among municipalities, about being able to generate, being able to have larger, in most cases solar projects, qualify for these lower electric rates. Essentially, net metering allows you to generate your own power and then sell it back to the utility company at a competitive rate. The governor has been opposed to this legislation because he's concerned that the utility company, once it has to buy that kind of power at that higher rate, is going to pass on that higher utility cost in higher electric bills to every other customer of the company. So but as I say, there's a lot of there's a lot of support across the state and it does cross political lines, partisan lines. There are a number of Republicans in the legislature, in the House and the Senate, who have voted for this kind of bill in the past. The governor has tried to signal in this session that he's willing to move on net metering, but not this far, that he does not, he thinks this bill is too costly. So he's supported alternatives that would make it easier, for example, for legally, for groups of communities to congregate together and form a co-operative that could then sell power as a group to the utility company. He thinks that would make net metering more feasible, particularly in smaller towns and smaller projects. Where if you group them all together in a cooperative municipal or even county wide net metering project, could could be fruitful for particularly for smaller communities. But supporters of this legislation to expand, as you point out, that net-metering from one Megawatt to 5 megawatts continue to push it. It'll be back in the house. We should have a vote in in the next month in the House. I think it's going to be very close. And that's back to your point. Why does this keep coming up? Because they keep coming really close. I mean, two years ago, it was lost by two votes in the Senate last year. It failed to override his veto by five votes in the House. The vote on this particular bill that is just coming back over. The vote on this particular bill originally in the House was within four votes of overriding the governor's veto. So folks keep pushing the issue and hoping they can create just a few more converts in order to make it happen.

Peter Biello:
Also in the news this week, a bill that would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for sexual assault decided that would not move forward in the New Hampshire House. The current statute of limitations for the sexual assault of a minor is 22 years and it's six years for an adult victim. Kevin, why? What did supporters of the end of the criminal statute argue in favor of getting rid of it?

Kevin Landrigan:
Yeah, certainly people who who supported this bill point out that New Hampshire has one of the more restrictive statute of limitations, and we're talking here about the time limit for folks who can prosecute someone criminally for a sex assault and and those who support lifting the statute of limitations, particularly for adults.

Peter Biello:
because it's critics are arguing that that's too short a time period for this.

Kevin Landrigan:
Right. And one of the reasons they argue that essentially is that sexual assault obviously very traumatic. We know from the data that that so many people who experience sexual assault. It goes unreported and in many cases, and not only does it go unreported, it causes an immense emotional trauma for the victims, obviously, who not only find it hard to report, but in many cases even adults can repress what had happened. And it's only through therapy and medical treatment, as was emotional treatment that these victims come to grips with what happened to them. That's one of the reasons why they changed the statute many times to deal with children. It used to be in New Hampshire, a very. But you only had three years after you turned 18. To prosecute someone who had raped a child. Now it's up to the age 40. And that was why was because so many children who were assaulted didn't realize until years later that it had actually happened because they repressed it. So I think there is there's growing support for making this change.

Kevin Landrigan:
I think the debate really is about how long to make it. And and while this bill was sent to study by the House this week, the House chairman, the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, Renny Cushing, who's a big supporter of victims of crime, of course, works and has worked to repeal the death penalty. He's been the godfather of that legislation. He made it clear that to folks who support this, that we're not just shoving this aside. We're really trying to figure out what's what is the best timeframe. How long should it be, particularly for adults? If it's gonna be longer than what it is right now, six years, how long should it be?

Peter Biello:
Other stories the NHPR newsroom has been following this week. Seven New Hampshire towns passed resolutions Tuesday calling for lawmakers to pass a carbon fee and dividend program. The non-binding warrant article was on 38 town ballots total. It was spearheaded by a set of climate activist groups known as the Carbon Cashback Coalition. Organizers hope to get the resolution into 200 town meetings next year and get more towns to pass it. Also, lawmakers in the House passed a bill Wednesday that would further restrict vaping products in New Hampshire. The bill would ban all flavors except tobacco and menthol. It passed along mostly partisan lines. Supporters say it will help reduce the state's high levels of youth vaping. But critics said it's unfair to limit product options for adults, some of whom are trying to quit smoking traditional cigarettes. And voters in Lebanon approved a proposed welcoming ordinance on Tuesday. The ordinance would prohibit Lebanon police from communicating with federal immigration officials. It also prohibits them from detaining anyone, violating immigration law. For those officials, that goes into effect next January. Let's go to the phones and talk to Harriet in Hooksett. Harriet, thank you very much for calling. What's on your mind?

Caller:
I'm very concerned with what I see as the legislators who are passing bills very unfriendly to the citizens rights. They seem to forget took an oath to the Constitution. Secondly, that our students are not getting an education in civics and understanding their responsibility in the community, i.e. when I was supervisor of the checklist. Having a student or several students, 18 years old, two of which registered in Concord, although they lived in Deerfield and they couldn't fill out the form. And even having a student come to me and say, I don't know which ballot to take. And I said, I can't advise you. The only way thing I can say is, do you know who you support? And if they told me, Hillary, I said, you want a Democratic ballot. They told me. Trump I said, you want a Republican ballo. Right to know, which is my big issue. This legislature has stomped on Article 8 of the New Hampshire Constitution. Really tired of nitpicking that a person has a right to know when the town body is going into non-public session over them, they're supposed to notify the person and let them choose rather to have non-public or not.

Peter Biello:
Well, thank thank you very much. How are you? I appreciate your call. So. So, Harriet raising a concern about a right to know legislation. Kevin, you have probably you have some experience with right to know, given that you're a reporter and you file in the right to know requests all the time. Does what she says is what she's saying about right to know. Ringing any bells for you?

Kevin Landrigan:
Yeah, certainly. Yeah. Harriet Cady, who is on the phone, has been a real champion for Right to Know and had a lot to do with creating a statewide right to know organization that's been very active of local officials as well. There's legislation this year that's particularly important still pending, hasn't been finally acted on. Which essentially would create a right to know ombudsman because one of the problems and she referred to it with regard to citizens having a right to to be notified by local officials about a decision regarding a right to know, is that one of the biggest problems about right to know right now is in media outlets find this, of course, is if you have a dispute about trying to get access to records, it quickly becomes a very expensive proposition. You know. You end up going into superior court.

Peter Biello:
Lawyers aren't free. You have to pay a lawyer...

Kevin Landrigan:
Exactly. And so there's a right to know ombudsman office legislation would essentially create a lower tier tribunal that would rhat would mitigate a lot of the disputes that don't have to go to court about Right To know. And once that decision was made by the ombudsman, the party could still appeal that decision in court, but it probably would resolve a lot of these disputes and a lot less cost to citizens as well as to the media.

Kevin Landrigan:
We're going to have to wrap up soon. But I did want to check in with each of you. I know what big stories you will be following next week or within the next couple of weeks. So we'll start with you Kevin Landrigan.

Kevin Landrigan:
Well, we certainly will be following that legislation on Tuesday that deals with coronavirus and providing unemployment benefits to folks who are displaced by work. But much like the rest of society, frankly, Peter, the legislature's kind of on certainly not on a pause, but it's a really an open question as to how much of our legislative business will be moving forward in the next few weeks or whether, as we saw in the legislature, the House met until almost 4:00 this morning to complete, to reach one deadline. And I think leadership in both parties are really concerned about whether there should be large sessions for the next couple of weeks or be interesting to see if we actually have them.

Peter Biello:
Ok. And how about you, Dean Spiliotes?

Dean Spiliotes:
Yeah. There's no doubt that the coronavirus story is really dominating pretty much everything else. And we're still trying to figure out all the interactions between that story and things like, you know, how how much more the legislature will meet. You know, crossover day is coming up shortly when the bills go from one chamber to the other. But we're in uncharted territory here. The other thing I'm focusing on is we still have to some extent. we still have a Democratic presidential primary going on, it's down to just Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. It's a tough path forward for Bernie Sanders. But there is a debate Sunday night with no audience. It's been moved from Arizona to Washington, D.C. and we'll see how that plays out as well and how the whole election season will continue. Given all of these challenges raised by the virus.

Peter Biello:
Well, I want to thank our guests for being on the program today. Dean Spiliotes a civic scholar in the School of Arts and Sciences at SNHU. And Kevin Landrigan, statehouse bureau chief for the Union Leader, joining us by Skype. Thank you very much for being here. And remember, this conversation continues online on Facebook I'm Peter Biello. Thank you very much for listening and have a great weekend.