Forget Partisanship. This Week’s House Session Is All About Attendance
New Hampshire Republicans tell New Hampshire Journal they believe this week’s House session will hinge on which party’s members best heed the advice of Woody Allen: “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.”
Vital issues like vaccine mandates, bail reform, and abortion are all on the docket as the legislature gets to work on Wednesday.
The question is, will Democrats show up to vote?
Despite moving this week’s House session to the exposition center in the DoubleTree by Hilton in Manchester, many Democrats have expressed concerns about having an in-person session during the Omicron COVID-19 wave.
Democratic leaders like Hampton’s Rep. Renny Cushing and Nashua’s Rep. David Cote did not respond to requests for comment, but many in the rank and file have expressed concerns about the session.
Rep. Jeffrey Salloway, D-Lee, an epidemiologist, told InDepth NH the House session has the potential to be a “super-spreader event.” Rep. Bill Marsh, D-Wolfeboro, a physician, said he will only go to the session while wearing an N95 medical-grade mask.
“I don’t believe we are taking sufficient precautions to keep everybody safe,” Marsh told InDepth.
Cushing, who is dealing with a terminal cancer diagnosis, tried to force the Republican-controlled House to meet remotely, even filing a federal lawsuit. But GOP House Speaker Sherman Packard is going with the in-person session. Meeting in the 30,000 square-foot convention center will allow for people to safely socially distance themselves. Facemasks will be optional, Packard said.
“With hospitalizations at record levels and community transmission still high, the responsible thing to do is to maintain health and safety protocols for our legislators and hold off on returning to the House chamber, at least for now,” he said in a statement about the move.
House Majority Leader Rep. Jason Osborne, R-Auburn, expects his party to be in the building.
“I cannot speak for the other caucus, but I do know with only a couple exceptions Republicans will be present and ready to do the people’s business,” he said.
The House has met at various times during the pandemic at the University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore Center ice arena, outside on an athletic field, and inside a Bedford athletic complex.
During one of last year’s sessions, Democrats staged a walk-out in an attempt to deny Republicans a quorum. Instead of shutting down the session, Packard had the doors locked during the ensuing chaos to keep the quorum and keep out the Democrats who walked out first. The Republican House then easily passed two controversial abortion bans.
Osborne said Democrats are unlikely to make the same mistake twice.
“I am pretty sure House members now realize that a frenzied stampede is neither an appropriate nor effective parliamentary tactic. These are the kind of lessons that need to be relearned from time to time given the high turnover of membership biennially,” Osborne said.
If Democrats fail to show up it could backfire again. For example, Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro is sponsoring a bill to roll back part of the recently-passed bail reforms. SB 92 would require people charged with serious crimes like murder, kidnapping, and domestic violence to be required to spend up to 72 hours in jail awaiting arraignment.
Bradley’s bill is opposed by Black Lives Matter and the New Hampshire ACLU, as well as the libertarian Americans for Prosperity.
The House is also expected to vote on a measure that would push back the ultrasound provision of the state’s 24-week abortion ban. The ultrasound provision is opposed by Gov. Chris Sununu and Democrats. Sources tell NHJournal to expect a GOP-engineered compromise to clarify the mandate only applies in cases when there’s a legitimate question as to whether the pregnancy has extended beyond the six-month time period.
If Democrats stay home, they would also be helping anti-vaccine extremists who want to ban private businesses from setting their own vaccine policies. A proposed amendment to HB 255 would make it illegal for New Hampshire employers to require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Republicans are split on this, with the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance opposing the measure along with Democrats.
If any of the votes end up being close, MIA Democrats could come to regret not being in the building.