We learned that $200,000+ in COVID/CARES funding can easily be spent on moving the NH House to the UNH Whittemore Arena for a day. The space was donated by UNH for this historic event, as the NH House has not met outside of traditional House Chambers since the Civil War. House Reps were treated to golf cart shuttles from the parking lot with no social distancing for the ride, but were given PPE surgical face masks and face shields and hand sanitizer to use in the Arena to make sure they were “safe” while sitting 6 feet apart from each other. All Reps were met by staff who took temperatures and asked the usual COVID questions. They did not ask if you’d recently been to a protest rally. All Reps received hand held electronic voting stations (like TV clickers) to use for the day. They also received a UNH tote bag that contained a “free” UNH water bottle, extra surgical face masks, and a bottle of water along with papers needed for the session. All Reps received “free” boxed lunches and were paid round trip mileage from their house to the Arena in Durham. I think we all know that “free” means paid for by NH taxpayers.
We learned that, it was an expensive, and extensive, undertaking to relocate 335, or so, NH House members to a space where House leadership could make a show of proper social distancing and application of CDC guidelines during the tail end of a worldwide pandemic. Of course, those guidelines have been disputed, and at times contradicted, but one can suppose that as long as people “felt safe” perhaps that is all that was required. There were two exceptions to the face mask and face shield wearing mandates in the Arena: The “Medically Compromised Section” for folks who for medical reasons could not wear a face mask and the “Non Compliant Section”, later dubbed “The Freedom Section”, for those of us who believe in free choice and for various reasons felt that wearing a face covering was unnecessary.
We learned that it was pointed out how silly it was to require face masks and face shields be worn on the Arena floor after lunch. House Rep. Barbara Griffin came to the microphone, which had not been sanitized from use by the prior speaker, to say that it was completely backward logic of the Speaker of the House to require the wearing of face masks or face shields by all Reps after lunch. You see, during lunch the Reps were required to stay at their seats in the Arena and eat lunch without wearing their face masks for nearly an hour and thereby “compromising” the area. Reps were seen on the Arena floor congregating in groups and not social distancing during the break as well. The Speaker stuck to the rules just the same, whether it made sense or not.
We learned that co-operation is a two way street. “Co” means you work together for a common purpose or benefit and that it is a joint action. Back in March, House Republicans agreed to a process proposed by House Democrats that would have produced a bipartisan roadmap forward to complete legislative work despite the disruption from COVID. The problem is that House Republicans weren’t made part of that process to produce a viable plan for a new House legislative schedule. The schedule presented today by the House Democrat leadership would have established deadlines for House business that would be rushed and would have skipped important steps in the legislative process. The plan would not have allowed for public hearings nor Committees of Conference to deal with changes in bills that were altered by the Senate. As a result of those and other shortcomings, the Republican Caucus could not support the move to Suspend the Rules to adopt those schedule changes, even though they very much desire to complete the work that we were all sent to Concord to accomplish. There is still time to craft and present a viable schedule, and the Republican Caucus has one in hand that the Democrat Majority has refused to consider. Perhaps they can take another stab at that “Co-operation” thing.
We learned that the Constitutional Amendment, CACR21, did not have a public hearing and would have been presented to the voters on November’s ballot. It would have requested a change to the State Constitution which would have REMOVED a provision regarding adopting measures necessary for continuity of government during an enemy attack. The Republicans in the House did not support this measure as it was rushed through the Rules Committee and not given a thorough review. Motion to Suspend the Rules to accept this and print it on the November ballot failed to garner the required two thirds of House votes. Republicans in the House felt that Committee Process and Public Hearings are still important, even during a pandemic. Imagine that.
We learned that pretty much all Suspension of Rules today, in order to advance certain pieces of legislation, were defeated as bills were presented without language for us to review, or the bill never had a public hearing or proper vetting, or we already knew that language was going to be included in the upcoming Senate Omnibus Christmas Tree bills. Normal legislative processes have obviously been tossed to the wind by the Majority Democrats, but the Republican Caucus demanded that proper processes be followed to insure that we pass legislation that is fully vetted, isn’t rushed through, and does not create other problems. That is the proper way to do things. One such bill was one that would help bars and restaurants prevent spoilage of their beer inventory during future events like COVID, by allowing the sale of beer in cans or growlers. Even though this was a late drafted bill, it had been fully vetted and passed 243 to 92 in the end. Beer brings people together, apparently.
We learned that even though Rep. Almy presented and affirmed revenue estimates for fiscal year 2020 and 2021 which were overwhelmingly accepted and adopted by the House today (316-10), Rep. Ley led his Democrat Caucus to vote down legislation that would have prevented a 12.5% increase in Business taxes because he claimed we don’t have enough information yet on revenue estimates; information which he felt was “scrawled on a napkin”. In the meantime, as NH businesses suffer from drops in revenue from a shutdown in business due to COVID, apparently the Democrat Caucus feels that we should kick business owners while they are down and hit them up for more taxes. I hope business owners remember this in upcoming elections.
Finally, we learned that throughout this whole show of concern for safety, the UNH staff was gracious, helpful and accommodating. We thank them for their diligence and hard work. Our NH House staff also deserves much praise and thanks. We also said words of remembrance for Reps. Whittemore and Migliore, both of whom we will miss greatly in the NH House, may their souls Rest in Peace.
The next House session is scheduled for June 30. That should be another interesting House experience. Get out your ornaments – the Christmas Trees with poison pills are coming!