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NHDem’s COVID Accommodations Case (Finally) Comes to an End

Despite years of trying to push remote legislating, Granite State Democratic lawmakers must show up to do their jobs.

United States District Court Judge Landya McCafferty this week dismissed the long-running lawsuit against Speaker Sherman Packard (R-Londonderry) over House rules requiring in-person attendance for representatives.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, New Hampshire Democrats have aggressively pursued policies to both mandate behavior in the cause of public health and to rewrite rules to accommodate those in fear of the virus. Mask mandates have proven to be largely ineffective in stopping the spread of COVID, and there is little evidence that restricting the behavior of healthy Americans had any benefit on health outcomes.

But that hasn’t stopped Granite State Democrats, who have past three years in court pushing to override House rules requiring in-person attendance to conduct the people’s business.

Packard has maintained the ultimate authority to set the rules lies with the House and not the courts. Judge McCafferty agreed.

“The order speaks for itself,” Packard said in response to the ruling. “It reaffirms our belief there is a democratic process by which the House adopts its rules, and that process is not subject to court intervention.

“Over the last two terms under my administration, we have worked tirelessly to keep legislative business moving forward. My hope is that we continue to work together and make some positive changes to benefit all New Hampshire citizens.”

McCafferty showed deference to Packard’s legal position, which was bolstered by a First Circuit Court of Appeals ruling issued last year. The authority to set attendance rules belongs to the House.

“The court is not unsympathetic to plaintiffs’ legitimate concerns. But it cannot base its decision on whether it agrees with the procedures voted upon by the New Hampshire House of Representatives,” McCafferty said.

Lawmakers have been meeting in person since the start of the 2022 House session, and all votes are done in person. There are remote options to participate in hearings, but that does not include the ability to cast votes remotely.

Democrats sued Packard, claiming he used the attendance rules in order to gain a partisan advantage during the pandemic. Several Democratic lawmakers, like Rep. David Cote (D-Nashua), simply refused to attend House sessions out of fear of the virus. But because Cote continued to run for reelection — and the voters of Nashua reelected him — he “served” without casting a single vote on behalf of his constituents for three years. In fact, he was never even sworn into office after his 2022 reelection. 

Cote eventually resigned in July.

COVID, Conspiracies, and Cannabis: RFK Jr. Does PorcFest

It was a hot Thursday morning and the air in the PorcFest Pavilion in Lancaster and, as hundreds waited in the sun to see Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the air was thick with excitement.

And pot. And the scents that come with the presence of a large number of dogs.

It also didn’t help that the central bathroom with showers, located near the Norse pagan spiritual village, was out of order. The adjacent port-a-potties were also shut. It was hoped that would all be fixed before Thursday night’s scheduled free couples shower event. 

This was the environment RFK Jr. stepped into when he showed up for Porcfest, the Free State Project’s annual gathering in the White Mountains. Once he took the stage, the air was full of something else familiar at FSP gatherings: Anti-government conspiracy theories.

Kennedy’s appearance at this libertarian event upset Democrats like New Hampshire state party chairman Ray Buckley, who sent the Democratic presidential candidate a plea not to participate.

“Free Staters are nearly universally Republican primary voters; they are highly unlikely to vote in the Democratic Primary,” Buckley wrote. “Free Staters view with hostility our candidates, elected officials, values, and our party as a whole.”

Given the hostility Kennedy’s candidacy has received from his fellow Democrats — including candidates and elected officials — that latter point may have been moot.

And if the state Democratic Party wasn’t thrilled by RFK Jr. showing up at PorcFest, not every Free Stater was happy about it, either. Kennedy’s security requirements involved a ban on firearms in the Pavilion, no small feat at an event that often appears to be a walking gun show.

Guns are everywhere at PorcFest. People brought their AR-15s to the dog meet-up (though there was a conspicuous lack of doggie clean-up bags). They wore rifles on slings when grilling burgers or buying tacos. And so, while Kennedy spoke, there was a small pro-gun protest about 100 yards away at the self-declared “grassy knoll.”

It was a joke that could be considered offensive to a Kennedy family member, except that RFK Jr. believes a government-backed conspiracy murdered his uncle.

And while Kennedy and the FSP crowd may have disagreed on guns, they found plenty of common ground on the overall premise that government is a major part of America’s problems.

In his speech, Kennedy rolled through a tale of CIA operations to create bioweapons, totalitarian attempts to subvert the Constitution, Microsoft founder Bill Gates working behind the scene with Dr. Anthony Fauci to create a fake vaccine — with a couple of side trips through the dangers of the Patriot Act.

And, because he is Kennedy, there was a long discourse on environmental law administrative proceedings.

Kennedy’s appearance was largely a hit with the crowd. Suffering from spasmodic dysphonia, a rare voice disorder,  he delivered his stump speech like a raspy internal monologue that appeared to start in the middle of a conversation he was already having. He soon got to the FSP applause lines: Vaccine conspiracies, promises to free Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, and support for cryptocurrency.

The crowd quieted quickly, however, when Kennedy was asked about his support for the Second Amendment.

“I support a less than expansive view of the Second Amendment,” Kennedy confessed. “But, I’m not going to take away anyone’s guns as president of the United States.”

Jim Babb, one of the libertarians attending, said Kennedy’s views on gun rights are somewhat disturbing.

“I thought that was very weak. He talks about wanting to respect the Constitution, but I’m more interested in the fundamental right of self-defense,” Babb said. “He doesn’t really seem committed to human rights.”

Free Stater Tom Schnaidt first became interested in Kennedy at the start of the COVID pandemic and said he is still interested in his fight against the pharmaceutical industry. Schnaidt applauded Kennedy for telling the truth about his gun views, even if it did not appeal to the crowd.

“He’s running for president of the United States. New Hampshire is one of 50 states and one of just 13 that allows open carry,” Schnaidt said. “This audience would have sniffed him out if he got up there and made promises that were undeliverable.”

Tim Storrs is less concerned about Kennedy’s position on guns as he is that Kennedy did not address issues like the truth of the 9/11 attacks, the real origins of the Patriot Act, and how viruses are not real.

“The idea that viruses don’t exist whatsoever is not something that he admits very readily, and I don’t expect him to necessarily, and he’s already talked about this as something that divides the medical freedom community,” Storrs said.

Kennedy ended his talk by hailing the courage of New Hampshire Revolutionary War hero Gen. John Stark, who gave the Granite State its iconic “Live Free or Die” motto.

His wife, Molly Stark, viewed by some as equally courageous, might also have been worth a mention.

Molly Stark nursed her husband’s troops suffering from a smallpox outbreak during the war, turning the Stark home into a hospital. She petitioned New Hampshire for permission to inoculate her family from the dreaded disease but was denied.

Inoculation was considered too experimental and dangerous at the time.

Thousands of Granite Staters Could Lose Health Insurance

The end of the federal COVID Public Health Emergency is coming, and that could result in tens of thousands of New Hampshire residents without health insurance. 

When the pandemic hit, some Americans were left without jobs and health insurance. The COVID Public Health Emergency allowed people who lost their insurance to sign up for their state Medicaid plan. But that help is coming to an end soon.

The Granite State is ready, though, with organizations preparing people to sign up for coverage in the Affordable Care Act Marketplace.

“I believe New Hampshire is way ahead of most other states,” said Keith Ballingall, president of Market Health Connect. “The state right now contains different partners to make sure we’re all working together.”

Market Health Connect is one of several companies working in the state to get people signed up for health insurance ahead of the ending of the Public Health Emergency.

President Joe Biden recently extended the so-called Public Health Emergency until the middle of January, creating a perfect storm for Ballingall and his team at MHC. The end of the emergency coincides with the open sign-up period for the marketplace, meaning thousands more people will be looking for coverage.

Keith Ballingall, president of Health Market Connect

New Hampshire residents who are on Medicaid through the Public Health Emergency are now getting pink letters informing them they will lose their coverage when the emergency officially ends. Ballingall and his team are reaching out to those people now to get them ready to sign up for a new plan.

Ballingall said about 50,000 people are already anticipated to be looking for health care during the open sign-up period, and another 50,000 to 60,000 will be looking because they got pink letters from the state.

“When the Public Health Emergency ends we will have a 60-day window to help,” Ballingall said.

MHC has people, called navigators, positioned throughout the state serving specialized populations, he said. New Hampshire attracts people from all over the world, and there are dozens of languages spoken in the Granite State.

“I think we’re doing a very good job having a very diverse team ourselves,” he said.

The health care navigator program is community-driven, he said, with the navigators living in their regions, understanding the people there, and able to provide real on-the-ground help.

Donna Toomey, one of MHC’s healthcare navigators, is based in the Lakes Region and reaches out to people wherever she can find them.

“I have been doing this work for over 20 years,” Toomey said. “I am very rooted in my community.”

Toomey goes to public meetings and holds open hours at town halls and tax collector offices. She talks with local police and firefighters, goes to schools and attends wellness fairs and old home days, and even meets people at homeless shelters to connect with people who will need help in the coming weeks.

Navigators like Toomey can make sure people will still be able to go to the doctor and get care even if they get a pink letter.

“We’re starting applications for the Marketplace now if people are going to lose their coverage when the emergency ends. That way they won’t lose coverage,” Toomey said.

Ballingall said navigators at MHC can work with people now and do all the necessary paperwork so that they are prepared for the end of the Public Health Emergency, no matter how many people will need assistance.

“At some point, it’s going to go back to the traditional rolls, and we’ve got to find someplace for them to go,” Ballingall said.

Many people who got a pink letter will go to a new plan on the Marketplace, though some may remain signed up for state Medicaid, he said.

The challenge is to reach so many people before the end of the Public Health Emergency. Toomey said the state has made the process as easy as possible, and applications can be done in 15 minutes. The key is to be ready before the January rush.

“I think the name of the game is sooner rather than later,” Toomey said.

People who have received a pink letter can start the process by connecting with a navigator at MHC through the website, www.hmcnh.com.

SCOTUS Rejects Dems Last-Gasp Attempt to Force COVID Restrictions on State House

The U.S. Supreme Court is refusing to take the appeal made by Democratic lawmakers suing state House Speaker Sherman Packard over the legislature’s COVID-19 restrictions. 

The high court rejected the petition for appeal this week as the Democratic lawmakers sought to overturn the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that held Packard (R-Londonderry) is protected by legislative immunity when making House rules, including rules about what COVID precautions to institute.’

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Granite State Democratic legislators have aggressively pushed restrictions, including mask mandates and a demand to allow remote voting. And Democrats have continued that push even after a vaccine became widely available and the data showed mitigation efforts did little to stop the spread of the novel virus and its variants.

After the First Circuit Court ruled against the Democrats earlier this year, their legal team filed the appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court and prepared a new complaint in the lawsuit at the federal court in Concord.

Packard’s office said Wednesday he is reviewing his options after the development with the U.S. Supreme Court noting, “Speaker Packard is reviewing the latest details of this ongoing litigation case with his legal team.”

Democrats have been trying, and failing, to get a court to impose COVID rules on the State House that would allow for remote access for legislators who live with serious health conditions. The new complaint filed this summer claimed former Minority Leader Rep. Robert “Renny” Cushing died as a result of COVID-19.

House Minority Leader Rep. David Cote (D-Nashua) has taken over as lead plaintiff on the lawsuit. Cote, 61, lives with cerebral palsy and has missed at least two years of votes in the House.

Two of the original plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Cushing and Rep. Katherine Rogers (D-Concord), have died since it was first filed. Both Cushing and Rogers were diagnosed with cancer.

The First Circuit’s ruling found Packard enjoys “legislative immunity” and is exempt from following the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was the original basis for the lawsuit.

The lawsuit stated Cushing contracted COVID-19 and that became a complicating factor that resulted in his death. At the time, Cushing was getting experimental treatment for stage-4 prostate cancer.

The lawsuit contended that since most of the legislators seeking remote access are Democrats, the Republican Speaker used the House rules to gain a partisan advantage.

“The refusal to provide any accommodations is for the purpose of gaining an unfair partisan advantage. Motions to explicitly allow remote attendance have repeatedly been decided on a partisan basis,” the lawsuit states. “In essence, the defendants have deliberately created an extraordinary dilemma for the disabled—they can either place themselves and their families at an extreme risk of death, or they can forego participation in democratic institutions, thus leaving their constituents unrepresented.

“This is really not fundamentally different from pointing a gun to the heads of the individual plaintiffs to block them from entering the House. Given the ready availability of measures to provide reasonable accommodations, the refusal to do so is not only of an extraordinary character but shocks the conscience,” Democrats wrote.

Packard has praised previous rulings that protected the prerogative of elected House leadership to govern the House and its rules.

“This opinion reaffirms the importance of the integrity of the legislature and the legislative process,” Packard said in March when the appeals court sided with the GOP. “Both the First Circuit and District Court evaluated the plaintiffs’ arguments and ruled against them. My next step is to continue working on legislation that will benefit the state of New Hampshire and keep pushing us forward.”

By last March, two years after the pandemic began, most Republican and independent voters had moved past the COVID dread Democrats still embraced, said Spencer Kimball, Emerson College’s Director of Polling.

“I have been looking at COVID restrictions and see a big difference nationally between Democratic voters where 38 percent see COVID as a major health threat, while that number is about 17 percent among independents and 14 percent among Republicans,” Kimball said at the time.

In October 2020, the response to the coronavirus was one of the top three issues on voters’ minds, according to polls. In September of 2022, as the House Democrats continued their appeal, it was tied for 14th on the list of voter concerns.

“Everyday Granite Staters are moving on with their lives, but New Hampshire House Democrats are still supporting mandates, still wearing masks, and apparently still trying to strong-arm the legislature in the court system,” said Rep. Ross Berry (R-Manchester). “Today is a big win for everyone living in 2022, and not trying to litigate 2019.”

NH Students Getting Help Closing COVID Learning Gap

To close the learning gaps caused by the COVID-19 pandemic school shutdowns, New Hampshire’s Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut announced a new program to offer a 24-hour tutoring service for up to 100,000 students. 

“New Hampshire is stepping up to help students not only recover but reach even higher academic goals,” Edelblut said.

So far, 25 schools have registered to take part in the new Tutor.com program, representing opportunities for more than 11,000 students to get the education help they need. Another 40 schools are also in the process of signing up for the program.

Edelblut said eventually the program will be universally available to all New Hampshire 6 through 12 grade students in public, private, charter, and homeschool programs. The Executive Council approved the $4.8 million three-year contract with Tutor.com last month.

Edelblut went to Jaffrey’s Conant High School this week to announce the start of the partnership. 

“This program will empower students by providing them with personalized, focused attention from tutors who can assist them with math, English, science, SAT prep, and more,” he said. “This 24/7 resource will provide support to students and their teachers.”

Tutor.com gives students no-cost access to one-to-one tutoring, test prep, and homework help with support in multiple languages. Students may engage with their tutors via two-way text-chat or voice, choosing the communication style that works best for them. Tutors undergo background checks and are rigorously vetted, and they provide support using a Socratic approach that is encouraging and empowering, asking guiding questions to help students understand difficult concepts on their own. School districts are being encouraged to register for Tutor.com’s free access for their students; students outside of those districts will be able to register individually. 

“We are proud to partner with NHED to support middle and high school students across the state. We are dedicated to helping students achieve their academic goals and to reducing the stress on learners, families, and teachers,” said Sandi White, Senior Vice President, Institutional Partnerships, Tutor.com.

Test scores are down nationally as a result of the COVID shutdowns, according to data from the National Assessment of Education Progress report. Test scores for students aged 9 declined 5 points in reading and 7 points in math compared to 2020. According to NAEP, that is the largest average score decline in reading since 1990 and the first ever score decline in mathematics

Conant Principal David Dustin said students at his school have been struggling since the pandemic shutdowns and teachers have worked hard to get them up to speed. The COVID learning gaps have put many students in education holes that are hard for even dedicated teachers to handle alone, he said.

“They do whatever they can to help their students and still they can’t meet the needs of all their students.

Tutor.com will help support teachers, as well as parents who are working to get their children back on the right track.

“We know our parents in our community really want their children to succeed,” Dustin said. “This tool will help them.”

The tutoring program is being funded with federal COVID relief money, and Edelblut said the expectation is to close the learning gaps that exist by the time the contract is done in 2025.

“The goal for all of us as educators is to really try and close those learning gaps,” Edelblut said. “We don’t expect that our students 10 years from now are going to be suffering from those learning gaps. We’re trying to close those gaps now.”

 

COVID Classroom Lockdowns Blamed for Record Low Test Scores

Decades of educational gains were lost during the COVID-19 classroom lockdowns, leaving vulnerable students with learning gaps that will last a lifetime, according to new data out this week. 

The National Assessment of Education Progress report, released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education, shows test scores for nine-year-old students declined five points in reading and seven points in math compared to 2020. According to NAEP, that is the largest average score decline in reading since 1990 and the first-ever score decline in mathematics.

In an odd twist, Democrats who pushed to keep classrooms closed are now blaming Republicans for school shutdowns.

Dr. Aaron Pallas, a professor of Sociology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, told The Wall Street Journal it could take decades for these students to close the learning gaps, if ever. “I don’t think we can expect these 9-year-olds to catch up by the time they leave high school. This is not something that is going to disappear quickly.”

New Hampshire’s Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said the results are not surprising given the long school shutdowns and remote learning challenges from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic response.

“COVID negatively affected student performance across the board and exacerbated systemic problems in achievement that preceded COVID, notably high performing students–top quartile–holding steady or making modest gains/losses while bottom quartile students–those already the most vulnerable–are falling farther behind,” Edelblut said. “In math, the top 10 percent of students nationwide declined 3 points while the bottom 10 percent declined 12 points. English Language Arts tells a similar story for national trends. Among these declines, black students fared the worst.”

The NAEP scores for New Hampshire students will be released in October.

 Jason Bedrick, the Heritage Foundation research fellow at the Center for Education Policy, says the scores show the depths of the shutdown’s calamity.

“The dismal NAEP scores confirm what we already knew: the unnecessary school closures that the unions demanded were disastrous for children, especially the most disadvantaged. Black and Hispanic students saw two-to-three times the decline of White students. For Black nine-year-olds, for example, nearly three decades of progress in math was wiped out. Proficiency rates were already low. This is a calamity,” Bedrick said.

A calamity the Biden White House is trying to pin on the GOP.

On Thursday, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said it was the Biden administration who re-opened classrooms, and she said it “was the work of Democrats in spite of Republicans.”

In fact, Democrats overwhelmingly supported teachers unions’ efforts to keep classrooms closed long after most European countries had students back in school. In July 2020, the Democratic National Committee even ran TV ads accusing President Trump of trying to re-open classrooms too quickly.

“Desperate to reopen schools because he thinks it will save his reelection, threatening their funding, ignoring how the virus spreads, risking teachers’ and parents’ lives, going against the advice of experts,” the DNC ad says.

Edelblut said he is looking forward and is focused on solutions. He said all options need to be on the table to guarantee that students going forward can get the education they need.

“Recovery back to where we were before COVID should not be our goal. No one was satisfied with that performance. We now have an opportunity to lead and transform the disrupted education system to serve all students, top performers and those who are not finding success in the current system,” Edelblut said.

AG Formella Joins Effort to Hold Airlines Accountable

New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella is joining 37 other state attorneys general in calling on Congress to give states the ability to hold airlines accountable when traveler complaints skyrocket. 

“From oversold flights to operational disruptions, too often we see airlines shifting their problems onto their passengers,” Formella said Wednesday.

Formella is part of a bipartisan group of attorneys general who signed a letter asking for the ability to enforce state and federal consular protection laws against airlines. The letter went to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). 

Currently, the United States Department of Transportation is responsible for handling airline complaints, but according to the letter from the attorneys general, the DOT is failing to protect the average airline customer.

Airlines should take notice that we expect the U.S. air travel system to provide safe, accessible, affordable, and reliable service to all travelers and the federal government should give attorneys general the authority to vigorously investigate and prosecute violations of the law that impact consumers. Customers should not have to deal with issues like delayed airline refunds, baggage fee charges for luggage that is not delivered at the end of a flight, or extra charges for parents to sit with their young children on a plane,” Formella said.

The letter states problems with airlines have been getting worse since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Formella as well as his colleagues have been flooded with complaints.

While he is not mentioned, Biden’s secretary of transportation has been under fire for months over what critics say is his poor management of the airline travel crisis. Buttigieg, who ran for president in 2020 and is considered a likely future candidate, oversees the Department of Transportation (DOT). Over the summer, a group of Democrats including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)  called Buttigieg out for allowing airlines to engage in behavior that was “simply unacceptable.”

According to DOT data, complaints about airlines were up 35 percent in June over May. But the complaints recorded in June of this year are about 270 percent higher than the number of complaints in the June before the pandemic started.

“In June 2022, DOT received 5,862 complaints about airline service from consumers, up 34.9 percent from the 4,344 complaints received in May 2022 and up 269.6 percent from the 1,586 complaints received in pre-pandemic June 2019,” the report states. “For the first six months of 2022, the Department received 28,550 complaints, up 27.8 percent from the 22,336 filed during the first six months of 2021 and more than the entire year of 2019.”

In the first six months of 2022, 24 percent of domestic flights were delayed, and about 3.2 percent were canceled altogether. 

At the same time, airline ticket prices soared 34 percent year over year as inflation took its toll, though they have declined in recent weeks.

Formella was joined by the attorneys general of Arizona, Colorado, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. 

New Hampshire One of America’s Best on Child Well-Being

New Hampshire is one of the best states in the country for children, according to the most recent Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count report.

It is second only to Massachusetts when it comes to how well children thrive. The Kids Count data book looks at economic health, education, health, and family and community data. The data show the Northeast is one of the best regions in the country overall for kids.

“A child’s chances of thriving depend not only on individual, family and community characteristics but also on the state in which they are born and raised,” the report states. “States vary considerably in their wealth and other resources. Policy choices and investments by state officials and lawmakers also strongly influence children’s chances for success.”

Gov. Chris Sununu said the report shows New Hampshire is on the right track when it comes to making sure children thrive. The state has made key investments to help support communities and families, he said.

“Here in New Hampshire, our investments in mental health and public education have delivered results for children and families across the 603 – earning the Granite State the #2 spot for family and community and #2 for overall child well-being,” Sununu said. “With top rankings in economic well-being, best education, and best health too, these rankings all make one thing clear: New Hampshire is the best state for in the country for families.”

The Kids Count report shows New Hampshire is second for overall child well-being; second for family and community; second for health, up from third in 2021; fourth for economic well-being, up from sixth in 2021; and fourth for education, up from fifth in 2021.

Sununu said New Hampshire continues to earn recognition for the high quality of life in the Granite State. Recent studies have placed New Hampshire first for Overall Freedom; first for Public Safety and Corrections; first for Economic Freedom; the fastest growing economy in the nation; the fastest growing state in the Northeast; the lowest poverty rate in the country; and a top emerging housing market.

There are still serious problems facing New Hampshire’s children, however. The COVID-19 pandemic is leading to a mental health crisis, especially for kids, as the families and communities try to emerge from the disruptive pandemic measures.

“Schools went virtual. So did many jobs, while others vanished, and the economy convulsed. We isolated ourselves and our families. The health care system buckled even as doctors, nurses, researchers, and others strove tirelessly to save lives. By July 2022, over 1 million people in America had died from the novel coronavirus, including more than 1,600 children. Over 200,000 kids in the United States lost a parent or primary caregiver during that same period. In short, the coronavirus upended everyday life to an extent not seen since World War II,” the report states.

Reports of anxiety and depression are up 27.8 percent among Granite State children, above the national increase of 25.5 percent, according to the report. Much of the increase is seen as a reaction to two years of pandemic life.

“COVID-19 took hold in the United States in March 2020. It shuttered schools and childcare facilities; canceled youth sports and activities; and shut down libraries and recreational centers. It also cut off access to the places where children hang out informally: malls, movie theaters, and even outdoor playgrounds. Suddenly, most kids’ only connection with their peers was through the screens on their mobile devices, if they had them,” the report states.

“From lost playtime for younger children to canceled proms, graduations, and summer jobs for teens, the world simply stopped being what it had been for millions of young people. Teens reported spikes in symptoms of anxiety or depression as they weathered uncertainty, fear, and concerns for the health and safety of themselves, their families, and their friends.”

Cassandra Sanchez, New Hampshire’s Child Advocate, said the state is in a mental health crisis. Families across the state are struggling to get the help they need. Because of a shortage of counselors and therapists in New Hampshire, families are waiting months to be able to get help, she said.

“We are just in a very tough time where the openings in the workforce for those services are not completely filled,” Sanchez said. “We have high needs, and not enough people to deliver the services for those needs.”

Sanchez said efforts are being made to attract and hire more workers, including raising wages to bring people from out of state.

“We need competitive pay to attract people,” she said.

Nashua Named One of America’s Best-Run Cities

Nashua is one of the best-run cities in the country according to a new WalletHub analysis. It finds the Gate City offers high-quality services within an affordable municipal budget. 

Nashua ranks fourth overall in the study based on metrics like financial stability, infrastructure, safety, health, the economy, and education. Nampa, Idaho tops the list followed by Boise, Idaho, and Fort Wayne, Ind.

There is no secret to Nashua’s success, city leaders said.

“It’s not that it’s magic, it’s just good old hard work,” said Nashua Alderman Mike O’Brien.

Mayor Jim Donchess said city hall staff and department leaders work at bringing the best services to residents at the most efficient cost.

“I know here in Nashua we are very careful with money,” Donchess said. “We look at every expenditure while also making sure we’re investing appropriately in our city services.”

According to the analysis, Nashua is tied for second place in quality of roads and fourth in lowest violent crime rate. The city made the top 10 in both the quality of the services and the lowest cost per capita. That is a rare combination.

Wendy Hunt, with the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, said if Nashua has a secret it is the leadership and the dedicated municipal employees.

“I think the secret to Nashua is the departments work well together, elected officials work well together, and they’re very responsive,” Hunt said,

Aldermen throughout the city are willing to deal with constituent problems and work for solutions, she said. “They are always very on top of the needs of the community.”

O’Brien said Nashua’s leadership takes a long view when it comes to managing the city.

“I’m not doing this to make changes, but to be a custodian for the city,” O’Brien said. “My grandchildren will grow up in this city and I want to make it the best city we can afford to make it.”

Robert Wright, Senior Faculty Fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research, said many American cities saw the quality of life decline during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wright said poorly run cities suffered rising crime, school dropouts, increased unemployment, and increased municipal debt.

“All (the declines) were self-inflicted as shown by well-run cities that quickly dropped unnecessary COVID restrictions, nipped unrest in the bud, and maintained criminal deterrence policies.

Nashua continues to have low unemployment (2.3 percent) as the pandemic’s effects fade.  O’Brien said Nashua’s Police and Fire Departments have done an excellent job keeping people safe, and the city is even using a COVID-19 protocol–outdoor dining downtown–to its advantage. O’Brien said outdoor dining has become so popular the city plans to continue making it possible.

Nashua is not without its problems. O’Brien cited a lack of affordable housing in the city as a concern that needs to be addressed. He is confident the city will continue to work on improvements.

“We in Nashua understand the needs of the community, and we actively work hard to make the city a desirable city to live in,” he said.

Two New Hampshire cities made the top 20 despite being one of the smallest states. Manchester checked in at number 19.

NHDems Still Suing for COVID Accommodations, Blame GOP for Cushing’s Death

Most Granite Staters may have moved past the “masks and lockdowns” phase of COVID-19, but state Democrats are still pursuing their months-old lawsuit targeting state House Republican leadership over pandemic policies. And in their latest filing, Democrats have raised the rhetorical stakes, insinuating that Republicans are responsible for former House Minority Leader Renny Cushing’s death.

Long-standing House rules require members to attend sessions in person in order to participate. Since February 2021, Democrats have been in court attempting to force Speaker Sherman Packard (R-Londonderry) and GOP leadership to allow members to conduct business — including casting votes — remotely due to fears of COVID-19. “They still want to do everything by Zoom,” Packard to NHJournal. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

The lawsuit, originally filed by Cushing and six other Democratic legislators, has repeatedly been shot down in court in the face of expansive accommodations by House leadership. For example, during the height of the pandemic, House sessions were held at the New Hampshire Sportsplex in Bedford, a 50,000-square-foot facility. Before that, members met at UNH’s Whittemore Center.

In March, the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston denied New Hampshire Democrats an injunction against Packard. House Minority Leader Rep. David Cote (D-Nashua) responded by saying he would continue the lawsuit.

Cote, 61, lives with cerebral palsy among other health issues and, despite holding the title of Assistant Minority Leader and now Minority Leader, he has not been to Concord for a vote in more than two years.

Packard successfully argued that, as speaker. he enjoys “legislative immunity” and is exempt from following the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was the original basis for the lawsuit’s appeal for accommodation

The new complaint, filed in the United States District Court in Concord, notes that two of the original plaintiffs, Cushing and Rep. Katherine Rogers (D-Concord) have since died. Both Cushing and Rogers were diagnosed with cancer.

While the lawsuit does not say where or how Cushing contracted COVID-19, it claims the virus was the complicating factor that resulted in his death. Cushing, suffering from stage four prostate cancer, had been responding well to innovative cancer treatments. There was hope that, with further treatments, he would be able to recover and return to his duties full-time until he got COVID this year, Democrats claimed in the filing.

“Despite being fully vaccinated, his health took an almost immediate turn for the worse, and he was never able to recover well enough to resume the immunology treatments at Mass General [Hospital] due to the serious impact of COVID-19. The untreated cancer complicated by COVID-19 caused his death shortly thereafter,” the lawsuit states.

Even as Cushing battled cancer, and fought to get remote access, he continued to show up in Concord for votes and other legislative business, according to the lawsuit. Rogers, who suffered from degenerative joint disease, also came to the House to conduct business. The lawsuit also blames her death on the GOP policy.

The lawsuit also contends that since the majority of the legislators seeking remote access were Democrats, the Republican Speaker was engaged in partisan politics, not protecting the rules of the House.

“Motions to explicitly allow remote attendance have repeatedly been decided on a partisan basis,” the lawsuit states. “In essence the Defendants have deliberately created an extraordinary dilemma for the disabled—they can either place themselves and their families at an extreme risk of death, or they can forgo participation in democratic institutions, thus leaving their constituents unrepresented.

“This is really not fundamentally different from pointing a gun to the heads of the Individual Plaintiffs to block them from entering the House. Given the ready availability of measures to provide reasonable accommodations, the refusal to do so is not only of an extraordinary character but shocks the conscience.”

Packard says what is really shocking is that Democrats would use such inflammatory rhetoric, particularly on an issue that has been largely resolved. “It’s disappointing they would make an insinuation like this about Renny Cushing and Kathy Rogers. It is unbelievable to me they are choosing to go down this path.”

Packard said the latest filing “has a lot of inaccuracies and statements that just aren’t true,” but he is waiting to hear from the lawyers before elaborating further.

“We’ll be meeting with the lawers later this week to go over the filing in full and decide what our next step should be,” Packard said.