NH legislators reconvene in hockey arena, wearing masks

DURHAM, N.H. (WCAX) It was a historic day in Durham, New Hampshire, on Thursday. For the first time since the Civil War, New Hampshire's House of Representatives met for a session outside the Statehouse.

The session started the same, but the setting was vastly different-- the Whittemore Center Arena, home of the UNH Wildcats. It was the first meeting of the 400-member Democrat-controlled House since the pandemic brought work to a grinding halt back in March.

"We have important work to do on living wage, family leave, renewable energy. We have a climate crisis as well as a pandemic," said Rep. Lee Oxenham, D-Plainfield.

Outside, lawmakers had their temperatures taken and were asked health questions. Everyone on the floor was seated six feet apart and required to wear a mask or face shield. A section in the corner was dedicated to those who refused.

The first order of business-- suspending the rules so the session could be extended. It ends at the end of the month.

"If we have such an emergency that we have to have the governor ruling entirely on his own, why isn't it a sufficient emergency that the House can slip its deadline by 10 days," Oxenham said.

"Most of these bills that are being introduced have already been vetoed in the last session, they are just replayed bills. So, I just don't see the point of it right now," said Rep. Troy Merner, R-Lancaster.

A two-thirds vote was need to make the extended session happened. Ultimately, the votes weren't there, which means most of the legislation from the majority will likely not happen this year. A racial profiling bill and relief for renters impacted by COVID-19 are on that list.

"What's that famous Bill Belichick phrase 'just do your job.' I say that to all the members of the GOP. Just do your job," said Rep. Timothy Egan, D-Sugar Hill.

Republican bills were also shot down, including one aimed at ending the state of emergency.

The only bill that moved forward dealt with takeout beer sold in growlers.

"We were elected to do the people's work and if we are in this state wanting to reopen the economy, probably the first message we should send to society is we are ready to reopen and engage the House of Representatives," Egan said.

"There is nothing essential that would pass by the suspension of the rules. So, I think it is time to let this session and it's legislation die and we will be back in January to start again," said Rep. Kevin Craig, R-Lancaster.

Now that the session will end as scheduled, the bills that the House takes up will need to be prioritized. But ultimately, Gov. Chris Sununu, R- New Hampshire, will decide which one of those bills, if any, become law.