NH Democrats react to House session with no remote access

Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 4:58 PM EST
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WEST LEBANON, NH (WCAX) - New Hampshire lawmakers will be meeting Wednesday for their third House session of the year and there will not be a remote access option for those who can’t be there in-person.

The 400-member House has met in person several times since the pandemic first began. That will be the case again this week after a federal judge ruled that sessions can move forward without providing remote access to vulnerable lawmakers.

“The denial really denies their constituents from being represented,” said Rep. Sharon Nordgren, D-Hanover.

The New Hampshire Statehouse has been off-limits to lawmakers since early in the pandemic, but other venues like the University of New Hampshire arena have filled the void. But lawmakers have still had to show up in-person to cast their votes. Seven Democrats recently sued the Republican house speaker arguing that holding in-person sessions without a remote option violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Rep. Nordgren is currently dealing with a health issue that will prevent her from attending this week’s session. “Not ADA, but it would not be good for me to go and be in a large group of people,” Nordgren said.

Monday, a federal judge sided with Republicans, saying the speaker can’t be sued for enforcing a House rule. That means providing remote access is not required despite the fact that committee hearings have been taking place online.

“We will continue to work with all House members to ensure that if they choose to attend any legislative meeting in person, that they can be confident that we are taking a high degree of precaution, and have extensive health and safety measures in place,” House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, said in a statement.

“I’m very disappointed in the ruling,” said Rep. Timothy Egan, D-Sugar Hill. He says COVID-19 has altered pretty much all aspects of day-to-day business and that includes state government. “If we can create commerce and create education and we can create all these things that drive our economy, via Zoom or Microsoft Teams or whatever tool you want to use, why can’t we do that here in the New Hampshire House,” Egan said.

Nordgren says her GOP colleagues are simply in denial about the pandemic. “I mean there is a no mask section provided tomorrow and Thursday for over 90 people,” she said.

This week’s session is being held at a sports complex in Bedford to provide even more space than UNH.

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