After reading Rep. Lucy McVitty Weber’s op-ed (see below) which was unsurprisingly a partisan attack piece, I’d like to set the record straight. She is accurate in saying that legislating in these times has been challenging. The challenge has mostly been how to deal with people who balk at the NH House doing anything other than meeting remotely.
Rep. Weber states that in-person meetings were problematic and that she was exposed to COVID during NH House Orientation and Organization Day. I have news for her… she’s been exposed to COVID going to the grocery store, restaurants, and any other public place she has visited in the past 9 months.
Meeting in the UNH parking lot was cleared as being ADA compliant by State medical professionals. We will be able to listen to the session over FM radio, vote using handheld remote devices, and be safe in the comfort of our vehicles.
The air quality will be monitored, and it is likely it won’t be any more detrimental to anyone’s health than riding to Boston on I-93 during rush hour. Despite what Rep. Weber cited, every safety concern has been addressed.
As far as her crowing about Democrats getting a ruling by the N.H. Supreme Court regarding the Constitutionality of the legislature meeting remotely: Notwithstanding their reply, just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. I for one think we owe our constituents much more than occasionally dialing into a meeting on a laptop.
There’s a vast difference between meeting remotely vs meeting face to face. In order to be effective legislators, we need to be physically together to present, discuss, debate, react, and vote. This allows our full focus to be engaged on what our task is in committee or in chambers, as well as engage in side debate and discussion with one another. We don’t need to be distracted by things going on at home, or some other remote place.
Legislating isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a voyeuristic activity. It is a physically participatory activity and we all know this when we run for office. We also need our constituents to be there with us and to be engaged in the process.
I remind Rep Weber of the plain interpretation of the last portion of Article 38 of our constitution: “…[the people] have a right to require of their lawgivers and magistrates, an exact and constant observance of them, in the formation and execution of the laws necessary for the good administration of government.”
Much communication is lost by not meeting in person, and there is a lack of commitment to the job as well when we can just casually log in and “attend”. The lack of desire by some legislators to fully engage in our legislative process is alarming. Maybe they would just like to log in from their basement wearing pajamas, or from some vacation spot. Or perhaps in the case of that college student from California who got himself elected in NH, he could just dial in from California when the dorms close. How does that properly represent our citizens?
Maybe Rep. Weber prefers the type of remote proceedings that she ran as chairman of her committee; one which I attended remotely. It was an exec session which determined committee recommendation of legislation. Interestingly enough, Rep. Weber allowed some people to speak on a bill and others she simply muted at her will. So perhaps this remote thing worked well for her since she could very easily mute anyone she did not want to hear from; even me, a co-sponsor of the bill who wished to share information prior to the vote.
See how remote meetings can be run? Not exactly participatory, is it? Is this what we expect of our legislature?
It must be noted that current House leadership is doing everything possible to keep us safe and still conduct the business of the State and its citizens. And yet, with all the squawking about “House unity” by the minority party they find fault with everything being done for our safety by the Republican Majority leadership. We cannot meet in the State House yet until air purification systems and UV technology are set up to cleanse meeting spaces. Eventually we can and should go back to the State House, but legislators like Rep. Weber seemingly will have none of it.
Rep. Weber stated that the 24 person N.H. Senate is meeting remotely. It is ludicrous to even think that a House session with 400 people, plus staff, can be done on a zoom call with all of our House procedures intact.
There are a multitude of concerns.
What about the issue of internet stability and availability across the state for these 400 participants? Ever been frozen or dropped on a zoom call? Can you imagine that with 400 people and our clerk trying to keep track of all that?
What about the public being able to view all of this? How do you know who is actually voting on bills unless their camera is on? Our sessions take all day – is it reasonable to be on a zoom call all day long? How would legislators be able to voice objection in time, especially if they don’t realize they are muted?
Rep. Weber talks about NH being a laughingstock, well this would certainly do it.
I am just amazed by people who think that making important laws affecting the lives of Granite Staters should be done completely remotely. It makes me think that legislators like Rep. Lucy McVitty Weber might rather represent Cheshire District 1 from a random place, doing the bare minimum for her constituents. As for me, I desire to be with my colleagues, face to face, to be fully there, fully engaged, and doing the work that I was elected to do.
Rep. Judy Aron of Acworth representing Sullivan County District 7 (Acworth, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster, and Washington)
Rep Weber’s Op-Ed
Legislating in the time of COVID has been a challenge, to say the least. One of the challenges has been how to have the 400-member N.H. House of Representatives meet safely. The safety issue has two aspects; the safety of the representatives themselves, and the need to prevent representatives from becoming disease vectors carrying COVID back to every corner of the state.
In-person meetings have proved problematic. We met indoors on the UNH ice rink last summer, and outdoors in 40-degree weather in November. On both occasions, the refusal of a significant number of Republicans — estimated at 80-90 in November — to wear masks or maintain social distancing has put the rest of the members and staff at risk. I have attended two in-person meetings since the election: Orientation and Organization Day. I was exposed to COVID at both of them.
Luckily, as one of our last legislative acts of the past Legislature, Democrats voted to ask the N.H. Supreme Court if the Constitution actually requires us to meet in person. The court ruled that it was constitutionally acceptable to determine a quorum remotely, rather than in person. House Republican leadership chose to ignore that ruling when they proceeded with the outdoor Organization Day.
One week later, Speaker Hinch was dead of COVID and several other House members were seriously ill. Where Speaker Hinch contracted the disease is immaterial; the ongoing concern is that all of us who attended that day were exposed to COVID, and could potentially bring it back with us to our home communities. Clearly a better solution was called for.
The current solution? The 400 members of the N.H. House will meet outdoors again. In our cars. In a parking lot. In January. Onward to the 1950s!
We have been told we will listen to the proceedings on our car radios. The details of how we will take vote after vote — some by secret ballot, some by roll call — have not been disclosed to us.
Biological convenience? Portable toilets. ADA compliance? Conveyance by golf cart or some such to the portable toilets. No guidance about how transport is to be summoned.
The cold? Some of my colleagues are prone to asthma, which is aggravated by cold temperatures. Running engines to keep warm emits exhaust fumes, which also elevates the risk of asthma attack.
Some of my colleagues do not drive, and some have severe mobility issues, making the parking lot extremely problematic. Some who do not drive also have compromised immune systems, making an extended stay in a closed vehicle with someone not of their household risky. Those requesting remote accommodation for ADA compliance have, to date, been refused.
Our choice? Accept this aberration as normal, or to refuse to attend, and leave our constituents unrepresented.
No legislator should have to make this choice.
All New Hampshire employers have a duty to provide a reasonably safe and accommodating workplace for their employees. How is it that the New Hampshire House of Representatives can provide less than that to its elected members? (Not to mention its actual employees.) A meeting in our cars in January is not a reasonable solution. I am outraged that the refusal of some members of the House to follow minimal required safety precautions has put the rest of us in this completely untenable situation.
Corporations and universities have been holding large meetings and voting via Zoom webinar and other platforms for months now. The House held committee meetings via Zoom last session, and as recently as the Rules Committee meeting last week. Both caucuses of the House have held meetings and voted successfully remotely.
The N.H. Senate will be meeting remotely. The failure of the House of Representatives to join them is solely a matter of choice made by the current House Republican leadership.
Bring on the popcorn and the poodle skirts. New Hampshire is going to be a laughingstock.