Asked by a reporter if he thought New Hampshire would be back to normal by the fall, Gov. Chris Sununu said, “I think we’re going to be back to normal on Saturday, frankly.”
When it comes to the Statehouse, Sununu was a day late.
On Friday, the Republican-controlled Joint Facilities Committee voted to revoke its mask mandate at the capitol and legislative office building. It was an 8-4 vote down party lines,
“The policy that’s in place in the state of New Hampshire is not requiring face masks right now. Your individual choice, my individual choice, I think that’s where we’re headed back to,” Senate President Chuck Morse (R-Salem) told the Associated Press.
“With fatalities reduced by over 95 percent since vaccinations began, over 70 percent of our population over 65 having been vaccinated, and vaccines available to all legislators and staff who want one, our state is getting back to normal, and there should be no exception for state government,” House Majority Leader Jason Osborne said. “House Speaker Packard and Senate President Morse have worked hard on creating a safe environment at the State House, including air filtration machines to improve ventilation and provide an extra level of protection. It is our responsibility to set the example for the rest of New Hampshire. Follow the science, and return to normal life.”
Although the announcement doesn’t mean the New Hampshire House of Representatives is heading back to Concord right away. On Thursday, Packard announced the lower chamber was again heading to the New Hampshire Sportsplex in Bedford for a two-day legislative session.
The 55,000 square foot venue where the House met twice previously for five days of work allows for proper social distancing among the 400-member body. There have been no cases of COVID-19 spread traced to the previous in-person House session.
Last month, Sununu allowed the statewide mask mandate to expire, although individual towns can set their own guidelines. Concord still has its mandate in place.
Although the Statehouse is remaining closed to everyone except legislators and staff, and masks can still be worn inside if desired, Democrats in the legislature quickly denounced the decision.
“Today’s vote by the Republican members of the Joint Committee on Legislative Facilities to remove the statehouse mask mandate was a dangerous decision that unnecessarily puts the health of both elected officials and the General Court staff at risk,” said Senate Minority Leader Donna Soucy (D-Manchester) and Deputy Senate Minority Leader Cindy Rosenwald (D-Nashua) in a statement. “This premature decision shows a blatant disregard for public health, and the CDC’s recommendations regarding wearing masks indoors was nothing more than political grandstanding.”
“Members and staff already retain the flexibility to remove their masks while seated at their desks or voting stations if they desire,” said House Minority Leader Renny Cushing (D-Hampton). “Statehouse staff should not have to fear potentially deadly illness when they come into work each day, and today’s vote by Republican leadership unnecessarily endangers those who work in the State House and Legislative Office Building.”