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House Holds In-Person Organizational Meeting Knowing that Republican Members Had Tested Positive for COVID

On Wednesday, December 2, 2020, the NH House held its Organizational Day at the University of NH.   Less than 48 hours earlier, Republican leadership informed Democratic members that multiple members of the Republican caucus had tested positive for COVID-19 after attending an in-person reception less than two weeks ago. With the number of cases rising rapidly in New Hampshire, hiding information is negligent and dangerous to communities across the state. Members of the House Democratic Caucus weighed their risk in attending, knowing that there would be members of the House GOP who were likely exposed and would be there unmasked.

On November 19th, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu issued an executive order declaring “that all persons over the age of 5 within the state of NH shall wear a mask or cloth face-covering over their noses and mouths any time they are in public spaces…” Nevertheless, prior to that meeting, approximately 50 Republicans informed the House Clerk that they would not wear a mask at Wednesday’s meeting.  As such, I chose not to attend this ceremonial event.  As government officials, we need to lead by example, not preach “do as we say, not as we do.”  At the age of 70 and with a history of asthma, I am considered “high risk.”  The Republicans’ actions and behavior were unconscionable and indefensible.  

Over 100 members chose to forgo attending the in-person session citing health concerns due to COVID-19 exposure by the House Republican caucus, and opted to be sworn in virtually by the Governor and Executive Council on Thursday, December 3. House Democratic Leader, Representative Renny Cushing (D- Hampton) released the following statement:

“Today, House Republicans put their colleagues, legislative and UNH staff, and all of our communities at risk for COVID-19. An estimated 50 or more House Republicans refused to wear masks today, even after DHHS confirmed that multiple members were exposed to COVID-19 during a caucus event just 12 days ago at McIntyre Ski Area. By DHHS guidelines, their entire caucus should be quarantined and tested before interacting with the public, let alone interacting in a legislative body of 400. The blatant disregard for public health is unconscionable, especially as daily case numbers in New Hampshire are the highest they have ever been.”

“Granite Staters are sick, dying, and struggling to pay bills and provide for their families this holiday season. While Granite State businesses are working around the clock to adhere to ever-changing safety protocols and stay afloat, House Republicans are unabashedly clinging to their senseless and dangerous anti-science narrative. When asked what he would do to enforce masks in the specific mask- compliant seating sections today, Speaker Hinch refused to provide an answer. It is my fervent hope that House Republicans will come together with Democrats to find safe solutions for legislating during a pandemic this year. For the good of the state, this deadly display of partisanship cannot happen again.”

Media Coverage of Organization Day (all hyperlinks)

Photo credit: Rep. Keith Ammon (R, New Boston) argues with the House sergeant-at-arms about not wearing a mask.  Ammon later moved to a section assigned to members without masks (David Lane, Union Leader).

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