See part one for disclosures and background on the legislative process in New Hampshire.
The week of the 8th through the 12th is a week of committee hearings.
HB 506 is an attempt to rewrite New Hampshire’s public accommodation law so that a business cannot refuse service to someone:
- who has not received a vaccine
- who has declined medical treatment
- who has declined a medical test
- who is refusing to use a medical device (like a mask)
I did not contact any legislators about it. I do not like public accommodation laws.
The Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee held a hearing on Mar. 8th, 2021 at 9 AM. I got a late start on my day and did not attend the meeting through Zoom. I watched part of the recording. I noted two representatives wearing masks on the Zoom call even though they appeared to be alone in the rooms they were in. I looked up both representatives, and both are Republicans.
The prime sponsor, Rep. Barbara Comtois, testified first. She claims this is an anti-discrimination bill. The committee’s questioning of her went on for about an hour. My impression is that most of the committee thinks this bill will cause problems. Two things stood out. The first is that the committee chair brought up Typhoid Mary and thinks the bill will allow Typhoid Marys, though the prime sponsor thinks the state will be able to quarantine contagious people. The other was one committee member thinks this bill would prevent “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service”, which the prime sponsor thinks it would not as shirts and shoes are not medical devices.
A representative from the state Human Rights Commission (HRC) testified next. She says this bill will create a new protected class. According to her, protected classes in New Hampshire are generally based on immutable characteristics. The HRC representative thinks the creation of a new protected class as defined in this legislation is too open ended. She thinks the ADA covers the situations this bill is intended to address. The HRC representative also thinks the law attempts to go around what the Governor and State AG are doing with the emergency orders.
There were a lot of people signed up to speak. The hearing at this point had gone on for more than the hour allocated. The committee chair decided to continue along with this hearing instead of recessing so that the next hearing would start close to its start time. The committee chair imposed a strict time limit of two minutes for people to give testimony. I stopped watching the hearing after a few people had spoken. The few people I listened to all basically spoke against public health fascism.
I think there are better ways to fight public health fascism than expanding public accommodation laws.
The House Legislative Administration Committee had an executive session on Mar. 9th. According to the committee’s calendar, their plan was to consider the resolution then. I joined the executive session via Zoom. The committee’s 9 AM hearing on a bill eliminating or modifying existing state committees was still in progress.
When the hearing ended, the committee chairman moved to recess the executive session and reschedule for March 29th. No committee member objected. No action on HCR 2.
My speculation is that the Governor wants to kneecap the effort to end the state of emergency. His mask mandate, remaining business regulations, remaining travel restrictions, and the state of emergency all expire on March 26th, 2021. The first three are the most widely objected to aspects of the state of emergency. If he allows those three to expire, then support for ending the state of emergency will dry up, which means less support for HCR 2. I think he will allow them to expire and not rescind them earlier for political reasons. News coverage of people receiving one of the vaccines is the biggest factor in the political calculation. He will then continue to rule like a autocrat as he renews the state of emergency every 21 days. We will see what happens on the 26th.
In case you are wondering, if HCR 2 dies and later in the year the Governor brings back COVID-19 restrictions, could the Legislature try again to end the state of emergency? In theory, the Legislature could, whether they are in session or call themselves back into session. In reality, the late introduction of legislation is easier said than done. Let’s assume the Legislature is in session. If the Legislature is out of session, it has to come back into session which makes the late introduction harder. The deadline for introducing new legislation has passed. The deadlines for this session were mid-December 2020 for the House and mid-January 2021 for the Senate. In order to introduce a piece of legislation after the deadline, 2/3rds of the House must vote to override the rules to allow a late introduction of legislation. Then the House will consider the legislation and vote on the legislation. I assume the Senate has similar rules. There have been two attempts, both in the House, to introduce a resolution to end the state of emergency outside of the normal legislative process. One was at the end of last year’s session and the other was at the opening of this year’s session. Both failed to receive a 2/3rds vote to override the rules to consider the legislation.
A few days after I wrote the above two paragraphs, I saw a news story about the Governor’s weekly news conference. I think my speculation isn’t quite right. I’m not going to change that section beyond fixing a few spelling mistakes, a few word-use mistakes, and some details on late introduction of legislation. You can judge my speculation. To summarize what the Governor said in his news conference, his mask mandate will stay in place. He will rescind some business restrictions and some travel restrictions. I suggest you read the linked article about the news conference. There are some doozies in there.
After the Governor’s news conference on Thursday the 11th, Reopen NH started asking its supporters to call or e-mail Speaker of the House Sherman Packard to ask him to bring HCR 2 up for a vote. Within about two hours, I saw reports from Reopen NH supporters that Speaker Packard’s voice mailbox was full.
Friday, the 12th, at about 9:30 AM the voice mailbox was no longer full, according to reports from Reopen NH supporters. It was full again by about 11 AM. I called at about 12:30 PM. It was not full. I left a message then sent out word to Reopen NH that Speaker Packard’s voice mailbox is no longer full.
The voice mail introduction message I received hinted that Speaker Packard has staffers. Generally, no state representatives in New Hampshire have staffers. They answer e-mails, regular mail, phone calls, and voice mails themselves. I checked with a legislator I know. The Speaker, unlike most representatives, has a staff. Unless his staff tell him about these voice mails, he knows nothing about them.
At the time I’m wrapping up this article on Friday in mid-afternoon, I see no new emergency orders posted on the COVID-19 emergency orders web page.
The House Finance Committee was supposed to work on HB 63 during their March 9th work session. I did not attend the session via Zoom and instead watched the recording on youtube. The recording does not start at the beginning of the meeting. The recording shows the committee in the middle of considering bills before them. I did not hear any discussion of HB 63 during the part of the recording where the committee considered bills, so if the committee considered the bill, the committee considered the bill before the clerk started the recording. I have no updates for this bill at the time I wrapped up this article.
SB 155 is a bill codifying some of the Governor’s emergency orders into law. I think this is a mixed bag. There are some provisions relaxing licensing requirements for medical providers which I like. There are provisions about remote meetings which I don’t like because I think they allow government officials to hide from their constituents. The Senate committee has given the bill an Ought to Pass with Amendment (OTP-A) recommendation. It looks like the amendment re-writes the bill. The bill is supposed to come up for a vote before the full Senate on March 18th.
HB 402 and 440
I missed HB 402 in earlier articles. I covered HB 440 in last week’s installment and the first installment in this series. The House Judiciary Committee had an executive session discussing both bills. I missed the live stream. Instead I watched a recording of the executive session.
HB 402 restricts property takings during a state of emergency. The bill changes the existing law, RSA 4:46, to require approval from the Legislature in order to take property during a state of emergency. The prime sponsor, Rep. Michael Sylvia, offered an interesting argument during the committee debate in that in a real emergency, that people will just ignore the law. Rep. Sylvia also pointed out that RSA 4:46 is twenty years old and has never been used. Some members of the committee were concerned about the logistics of convening enough members of the Legislature, if the legislature is not in session, to have a quorum. After the debate, the committee voted on its recommendation to the full House. The bill received an Ought To Pass (OTP) recommendation on a 11-10 vote. I think the vote was a straight party line vote. The minority thinks the bill should have an Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL) recommendation.
The committee had some debate on HB 440. One of the committee members thinks this bill will open up a can of worms and hamstring the governor. I did not catch his name. This committee member thinks the governor was guided by science and logic. This member also thinks the Governor did not trample on civil liberties. Other committee members think the Governor went too far during the COVID-19 state of emergency and this bill would stop future governors from doing the same thing. The committee accepted the amendment, mentioned in my earlier article, on a 16-5 vote. After the vote, one committee member said she thinks the amendment would not actually protect civil liberties. The committee voted on its recommendation to the full House. The bill received an Ought to Pass as Amended (OTP-A) recommendation on a 11-10 vote. I think that vote was a party line vote. The minority thinks the amended bill should have an ITL recommendation.
News Coverage for the Week
A Sununu lost an election. Unfortunately, it is not Gov. Chris Sununu. Instead it is one of his brothers.
Facebook shut down Reopen NH’s Facebook private group. Their Facebook public page is still alive. Reopen NH started moving to other platforms a few months ago. They are on MeWe and Telegram.
St. Patrick’s Day
St. Patrick’s Day is coming up. Some New Hampshire restaurant owners are getting ready.
On Friday, March 13th, 2020, Gov. Sununu declared the state of emergency, that New Hampshire is still under, for COVID-19. I didn’t think much of it at first.
On Sunday, March 15th, 2020, I went out to my local Irish pub for lunch. I liked their brunch menu. They had Smithwick’s on tap. I liked the staff working Sundays. Usually I sat at the bar on Sundays to get my lunch. That day, the bar was packed and most tables were packed. I got a table. I had my lunch and some Smithwick’s. I didn’t stay long.
Monday, March 16th, 2020, following Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Gov. Sununu announced that all bars and restaurants in New Hampshire would be closed except for take-out. The reason Gov. Sununu gave is that he was concerned about people coming up from Massachusetts for St. Patrick’s Day since Massachusetts bars were closed. Since he is concerned about one day, bars and restaurants have to be closed for three weeks. It makes perfect sense.
I thought about going out the evening of the 16th for one last meal at a bar. I found out about the news late in the evening and I was trying to meet a deadline at work. I did not go out. In hindsight, I should have.
Tuesday, March 17th, 2020 was St. Patrick’s Day. Several places I patronized switched to take-out only. My local Irish pub had planned to offer take-out as long as it made economic sense to. A local brewpub I like planned to offer take-out on St. Patrick’s Day and then shut down for the duration of the business shutdown.
I’ve been in my local Irish pub in past years for St. Patrick’s Day. There is almost always a line the entire day to get in there on St. Patrick’s Day. The inside is almost always wall-to-wall people all day. On St. Patrick’s Day 2020, I called to place my take-out order for lunch and drove over. I arrived. No line. The area the pub is in was empty. I walked into the bar. It was eerily quiet. I’ve never seen the place that quiet. The only sounds were from the TVs which were turned to the news. I saw no one. I walked around the corner of the bar area, and saw in the far corner one of the staff packaging up take-out orders. I picked up my order. I tipped like I was sitting at the bar. I wished the staff well.
Later that day, I got take-out from the before-mentioned brewpub. There was a little more life in the brewpub than in the Irish pub. Some regulars were sitting at the bar. They were talking with the staff as they waited for their take-out orders. The staff were worried about how the shutdowns would work out. I picked up my order, tipped like I was sitting at the bar, and wished the staff well.
Wednesday, March 18th, 2020 my local Irish pub was again open for take-out. I decided against getting take-out that day and instead get some the next day. That was another mistake.
Thursday, March 19th, 2020 my local Irish pub announced they would not offer take-out for this day and would also shut down for the duration of the business shutdown.
I kept going to the gym and my physical therapy appointments for my disc herniation. Eventually, Gov. Sununu shut down gyms and other “non-essential” businesses.
I was at my gym on the last day the gym was allowed to be open. I remember the woman who works the front desk, who is a single mother, being worried about what the future would bring.
The physical therapy center I went to stayed open as they were not affected by the order. Unfortunately, due to a large number of cancellations the owners could not justify staying open. They closed with plans to reopen when the situation changed. We moved to on-line sessions.
Eventually, the owner of that above-mentioned brewpub decided to re-open for dinner take-out on the weekends. I was there every weekend, sometimes twice a weekend, for take-out during the shutdown.
On May 1st, Gov. Sununu announced that on May 18th, 2020, he would allow bars and restaurants to reopen for outdoor dining only. That began the slow reopening of the state. Eventually, all businesses opened but with restrictions.
Here we are a year after the initial state of emergency declaration with life still not back to normal.
I am planning to head out for St. Patrick’s Day this year. My plan is to head to an Irish bar in Manchester, NH which is owned by a supporter of Reopen NH. This bar will open at 6 AM on St. Patrick’s Day, 6 AM being the earliest you can legally sell alcohol for on-premises consumption in New Hampshire. I will not go to my local Irish pub as they are very strict about enforcing COVID-19 restrictions and will have a maximum table occupancy time on St. Patrick’s Day. I will stop in at the brewpub after I get done work. I expect the day will be a good day.
Preview for the Week of March 15th through 19th
The Senate will have one session day during this week. The only vote I’m interested in is the one for SB 155. I expect it will pass the Senate.
The House has no session days scheduled for this week at this time.
Both the House and the Senate have committee hearings next week.
A Senate committee will have a hearing on SB 138, which is about price controls during a state of emergency.
I looked through the committee hearing calendar for the House for bills Reopen NH is watching. There will be another committee hearing for HB 187, which restricts the powers of New Hampshire’s Department of Health and Human Services (NH DHHS). I covered this bill in earlier installments in this series. The first committee gave the bill a recommendation of OTP-A for the bill.
I will write more next week.