TALK ABOUT about a soft reopening.
After more than 450 days, the New Hampshire State House will reopen to the public on Monday.
The timing coincides with the 45 committees of conference that will meet in the coming days to resolve the remaining bills in dispute this session.
The low-key announcement came Friday morning in the House and Senate calendars.
Neither House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, nor Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, mentioned it during their separate sessions Thursday.
Opening these conference meetings to the public is one definitive result of Gov. Chris Sununu ending the COVID-19 state of emergency Friday night at midnight.
“As a result of the state of emergency being lifted, and the emergency orders going away, we are required to provide physical access to upcoming committee of conference meetings to the public,” Packard wrote.
Packard called it “a big step forward in our ongoing return to normal operations.”
House and Senate leaders said seating at these sessions will be limited. As a reminder, the public can attend them remotely.
Fewer big bill fights
While nearly four dozen bills are up for grabs, many of them are not high-profile issues.
Eight of them are “omnibus” bills that are largely technical in nature. Several combine changes in state laws sought by state agency heads.
Will the end of the pandemic also put a stop to the “omnibus” device?
This “innovation” emerged in 2020 because the Democratic legislative leadership wanted to reduce the number of bills needing to pass during that truncated session.
Nothing says transparency less than packing multiple bills — one bill in 2020 contained 40 different measures — under a general, nondescript heading.
House and Senate committees then held a single public hearing on each omnibus package, which often went on for hours.
Others to watch include a proposal to move the date of the state primary (HB 98), a plan to respond to future gun control measures coming out of the Biden administration (SB 154) and the ongoing battle over siting state landfills near state parks (SB 103).
Meanwhile, Packard chose to take a hands-on role in this process, naming himself as one of the five top negotiators on the all-important budget trailer bill.
Some speakers choose to delegate conference work and manage the process from their third-floor State House offices. Others want to be in the weeds.
Senate President Morse has always been at the bargaining table. He leads his HB 2 negotiating team, which includes Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, and Senate Deputy Democratic Leader Cindy Rosenwald of Nashua.
By House rules, only those who vote for a bill may serve on a conference committee.
Packard named former House Finance Chairman Mary Jane Wallner of Concord and Rep. Peter Leishman of Peterborough as Democratic alternates for the budget talks.
The budget group includes a relative newcomer, Rep. Leonard Turcotte, R-Barrington, who only came onto the House Finance panel when Rep. Dave Danielson, R-Bedford, became seriously ill before his death last month.
Turcotte is a seasoned negotiator, having served in that role for nearly a decade for the unionized Allied Pilots Association.
All these committees must finish their work by Thursday at 4 p.m.
Vaccine going bad
Despite the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to extend the expiration date on Johnson and Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, Sununu said it’s likely some vials won’t be used in New Hampshire and will be tossed out.
And the governor blames that on the Biden administration’s decision to pause use of the J&J vaccine for 11 days after reports of a small number of rare blood disorder cases.
“They were so rash in pulling it,” Sununu said, recalling he and other governors warned the White House this move would cause many Americans to refuse to take the one-shot J&J regimen.
“I took the J&J — it’s perfectly safe and worked great for me,” Sununu said.
The state has 10,000 vials of the vaccine in storage.
Although the feds granted a six-week extension on Thursday, Sununu believes the state will still have some left.
“The demand for it just isn’t there,” he said.
Dems win second ‘special’
Retired Bow Middle School teacher Muriel Hall won an impressive victory Tuesday over Republican insurance executive Christopher Lins for the special election in the House district that includes Bow and Dunbarton.
Lins won smaller Dunbarton, but Hall rolled elsewhere, capturing 58% of the vote to Lins’ 42%.
This was not a shocker. Last November, Biden won the district by 11% and Hall replaced a Democrat who moved out of the district soon after she won the seat.
Hall looked very formidable during the primary when, without an opponent, she received more Democratic votes than Lins and his Republican foe combined.
It’s amusing that each side claimed it had to overcome “Big Money” in this race.
Each candidate came to the starting gate with nearly $100,000 to run for a post that pays $100 a year.
As we first reported, Make Liberty Win, a national group backing libertarian-minded conservatives, went all in for Lins, raising $49,000 for the race.
The New Hampshire Leadership Committee, a subsidiary of the national Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee spent $37,000 on Hall’s behalf.
The two candidates were evenly matched financially.
Lins raised about $14,000 and Hall had a $15,000 campaign budget of her own.
Sununu fires back at critics
As the governor winds down his weekly briefings on COVID-19, he took offense at a reporter referring to them as a “TV event.”
“Let me tell you I take issue with that. We came out here early on, there were a lot of sacrifices made, the team did an extremely great job,” Sununu said.
“New Hampshire kept it together every day; that was the key.
“For anyone saying we used this for a political advantage, shame on them, shame on them.”
Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley was critical of Sununu using nearly $500,000 in federal money on radio and TV ads in which he urged residents to get the vaccine.
Other governors across the country have “starred” in similar ads.
“Taxpayer money should be spent on proven efforts to encourage people to get vaccinated, not on promoting Chris Sununu’s political ambitions,” Buckley said.
“This entire ad campaign is a craven, unethical and political waste of taxpayer money by the governor.”
Early interest in job bonus
The state’s offer to give unemployed workers a $1,000 bonus to get off the rolls and get a permanent job seems to be working.
The Department of Employment Security reported over the past two weeks, 5,700 people have stopped filing unemployment claims.
That’s a 17% drop, Sununu said.
To receive the bonus, workers must take a job that pays no more than $25 an hour and stay on it for at least eight weeks.
“Employers, to their credit, have been quite creative and flexible in what they are offering,” Sununu said.
Oh, Canada hurts tourism
Sununu said he is looking forward to June 22, when border restrictions between Canada and the United States for COVID-19 come up for renewal.
“I hope they don’t renew the existing agreement,” Sununu said.
Summer tourism leaders have reported there’s “at most a trickle” of Canadian tourists coming here.
Sununu said he is exploring whether the state should create “special access” at the border to make it easier for Canadians to come into New Hampshire to conduct business.
“Some states with bigger borders than ours are making plans to offer this,” Sununu said.
U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., led a Northern New England delegation letter last week, urging the Biden administration to push for reopening of the border.
On Friday, Canada Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau ended a two-week quarantine imposed on all Canadians who traveled to the U.S.
Not coincidentally, Trudeau dropped the restriction after he was roundly criticized for his plans to bring a 50-person delegation with him to the G7 Summit in England without sheltering in place upon their return.
State to look at two elections
The House and Senate on Thursday sent to Sununu legislation (SB 89) that would permit the state to conduct two elections if Congress passes the “We The People Act,” which would force changes in federal elections nationwide.
Sununu called the federal law “a mess,” which would cause the outcome of elections to be delayed by 10 days.
“It’s just a big mess.I am just praying it gets shot down in Washington,” Sununu said.
Before signing the bill, Sununu said, he will meet with Secretary of State Bill Gardner and city and town clerks to review changes that would have to be made.
The federal bill does appear dead on arrival now that Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has confirmed he would oppose its passage.
Gov hits Exeter on prom
Sununu condemned Exeter High School for requiring students to show proof of vaccination before attending their senior prom eight days ago.
All students who weren’t vaccinated had their hands marked and were “tracked” by school officials throughout the night.
“Those things absolutely should not be happening,” Sununu said. “Voters should go and vote those people out. That is the beauty of local control.”
Leading Dem passes on
Former House Majority Leader and five-term Rep. Douglas Ley, D-Jaffrey, passed away Thursday night.
Ley recently suffered a massive stroke and had been absent from House sessions over the past few weeks.
He served as a staff lobbyist for the American Federation of Teachers and will be remembered as a passionate advocate for education and organized labor rights.