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Sununu Hails SCOTUS Ruling Blocking OSHA’s Vax Mandate

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu today praised the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling shutting the Biden administration’s attempts to use a workplace regulatory agency to enforce a COVID vaccine mandate on private businesses.

However, the court permitted the vaccine rule to be imposed on healthcare workers at institutions that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding, unless those employees have medical or religious exemptions.

“I would like to thank the Supreme Court for listening to the countless businesses across our state that would have faced catastrophic workforce shortages had this mandate gone through,” said Sununu. “I am as pro-vaccine as they come, but today’s decision to halt the president’s overreaching vaccine mandate is good news for employees and the businesses that keep our supply chains running and economy open.”

New Hampshire was one of 27 states that sued the Biden administration in various venues over its attempts to use the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA) to impose mandates on employers with 100 or more workers. The mandates, which required employees to either be vaccinated or undergo regular testing, would have affected 84 million workers.

OSHA issued its mandate in November, parts of which– including a mask mandate for unvaccinated workers — were scheduled to take effect this week.

Biden’s Chief of Staff Ron Klain re-tweeted a statement calling the OSHA rule “the ultimate workaround for the federal government to require vaccination,” a point noted by the court during its oral arguments last week. Klain’s attitude fed suspicions among some legal observers that the White House’s decision to issue the OSHA order is just the latest example of the Biden administration issuing a policy they know is unlikely to survive legal scrutiny for the sake of political messaging.

For example, when Biden issued a federal moratorium on evictions last August, he admitted, “The bulk of the constitutional scholars say it’s not likely to pass constitutional muster.” The Supreme Court swiftly struck it down.

It only took a week for the Supreme Court to do the same with the OSHA mandate, once it reached the high court. “Under the law as it stands today, that power [to regulate the pandemic] rests with the states and Congress, not OSHA,” Justice Neil Gorsuch said Thursday.

“By blocking the OSHA mandate, the Supreme Court showed that it’s possible to take statutory limits on federal power seriously, not just constitutional ones,” said Ilya Shapiro, director of the Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute. “After all, even if we accept federal regulation of workplace safety as constitutional, there’s a difference between occupational risk and the general risk of living in a pandemic.”

New Hampshire Republicans have largely fallen in line with Sununu’s “Yes to vax, no to mandates” policy. State GOP legislators hailed the ruling as well.

“The Supreme Court confirmed what we already knew: the Biden vaccine mandate was a vast government overreach that reeked of despotism,” said House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R-Auburn). “House Republicans have stood firmly against this assault on personal freedoms.”

It’s not just Republicans. While both Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen cast votes in support of the federal mandates, their fellow Democrat Rep. Chris Pappas, who likely faces an uphill reelection fight in a newly-drawn First Congressional District, broke with his party on the issue.

After Thursday’s ruling, Pappas released a statement reiterating his opposition to the mandates.

“I repeatedly expressed my concerns for small businesses as the Biden administration developed this standard, and I led a bipartisan call in the House opposing the requirement in its current form given the confusion and economic hardship it would have caused employers and workers,” Pappas said. “I continue to urge the administration to revise its approach so that we do not place unworkable or unnecessarily burdensome requirements on businesses who are still struggling to recover from the ongoing pandemic.”

Granite State business owners breathed a sigh of relief.

“The vaccine mandate was a giant overreach by the administration and the exact reason our Founders created the judicial branch to keep the executive branch in check,” said Tom Boucher, CEO of Great NH Restaurants.

In a new Scott Rasmussen poll, 55 percent of voters said they know a business that can’t find all the workers it needs.

“I’m proud that New Hampshire has one of the nation’s highest vaccination rates,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro). “But firing people in the middle of a workforce crisis who don’t adhere to an unconstitutional federal mandate is not the answer.”

Few NH Workers Filing for Unemployment From Losing Job Over Vax Mandate

Supporters of legislation banning private businesses in New Hampshire from requiring vaccines for their employees often predict massive job losses from those mandates. But according to state officials, just over 1oo workers in the state have applied for unemployment benefits over a vaccination mandate job loss.

That is out of more than 725,000 employed residents, according to New Hampshire Employment Security.

New Hampshire workers who lose or quit their jobs over a COVID-19 vaccine mandate are generally not eligible for unemployment benefits, according to Commissioner of New Hampshire Employment Security George Copadis. And the total number of Granite Staters who have lost their jobs because they refused a vaccine is not known, in part because the state does not keep those records, Copadis said.

“While employers are required to report employment levels to the department on a quarterly basis, they are not required to provide the department with the reason for separation for each employee. The department only finds out the reason why someone separates from employment in those instances when they file a claim for unemployment benefits.”

If the employee who quit or was fired over the vaccine found a new job right away, they might not have filed for unemployment. Since last September, 110 New Hampshire workers have filed for unemployment citing the vaccine mandate, he said. About 40 have been able to get unemployment benefits.

“While each claim is analyzed on its own individual merits according to state law and rule, about 70 percent of the claims filed by people after having been fired or quit employment as a result of a vaccine mandate have been denied unemployment benefits,” Copadis said. 

Gov. Chris Sununu’s administration is fighting President Joe Biden’s federal vaccine mandate in court, though some large employers like Dartmouth-Hitchcock-Health have enacted their own vaccine requirements for employees. 

A bill to ban New Hampshire businesses from requiring workers to get vaccinated was tabled by the House of Representatives on Thursday.

Under the rules guiding the state, if people quit or are fired for refusing the vaccine, and the employer’s mandate seems reasonable, then the employees would not qualify for unemployment benefits. For example, the state considered vaccine requirements for health care facilities to be reasonable. For other employers, steps need to be taken to allow an unvaccinated employee to continue working, such as a mask requirement and regular COVID-19 testing in place of the vaccine. 

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, the state’s largest medical service provider, instituted a vaccine mandate last fall and reported 99 percent compliance. Asked Thursday, Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Media Relations Manager Audra Burns did get into specifics.

“We are not publicly disclosing specific numbers of vaccinations, exemptions, or those that chose to leave,” Burns said.

Though New Hampshire does lag other states in terms of people being fully vaccinated, according to the CDC, as of Nov. 10, 89.8 percent of New Hampshire’s population age 12 and older has received at least one shot.

With one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, 2.7 percent, New Hampshire does not seem to be suffering from mandate-driven unemployment. In fact, many employers say the real crisis is the inability to find workers.

Sununu Rejects Calls to Close Schools Amid Latest COVID Surge

As COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise amid the cold-weather surge, Gov. Chris Sununu said Tuesday there are no plans to close schools due to the worsening pandemic.

“Kids really need to be in school. They want to be in school, and that’s the best place for their education,” Sununu said during his weekly COVID-19 press conference.

Many schools in the Granite State went to remote learning models around Thanksgiving because of the pandemic last year. The state announced Tuesday an average of 900 to 1,000 new cases of COVID-19, a 43 percent increase, and 21 deaths reported in the last week, stretching back to the Thanksgiving holiday. Sununu noted cases are also up in Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts as well.

“Like the rest of New England, we’re seeing the winter surge that we had always predicted, and it’s very severe,” Sununu said.

New Hampshire schools will also have the funds available for masks and cleaning supplies to keep students safe, Sununu said. In extreme cases, schools might need to opt for remote learning, but that will not be the rule as New Hampshire heads into the holidays and beyond, he said. 

Remote learning hurts kids when it comes to mental health and educational outcomes, data show. According to the CDC, nearly 25 percent of parents whose children received virtual instruction or combined instruction reported worsened mental or emotional health in their children, compared to 16 percent of parents whose children received in-person instruction. 

“Going remote can be so detrimental,” Sununu said. “We really want kids to be in schools.”

So far, no Granite Stater under the age of 19 has died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Sununu touted the recent court-ordered halt to President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers in facilities that receive Medicaid and Medicare funds. New Hampshire was already experiencing a healthcare employee shortage before the pandemic, and he said many facilities in the Granite State faced forced closures if the mandate went into effect.

New Hampshire is involved in multiple lawsuits opposing Biden-backed mandates, and the current order is temporary pending more court action. Sununu has pledged to fight the mandates, though he continues promoting vaccination as a choice.

“We want everyone to get vaccinated. But if the vaccine mandate risks closing our nursing homes, it is a bad idea,” he said.

When asked about nursing home residents being cared for by unvaccinated nurses and staff, Sununu said he’d rather have an unvaccinated nurse than no nurse at all. Opponents of the mandate note medical professionals cared for COVID-19 patients for a year before the vaccines were available.

And a recent survey of 1,200 senior care providers by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) reported 99 percent of nursing homes and 96 percent of assisted living facilities said they didn’t have enough workers.

Sununu stressed the need for people to get vaccinated if they are able and for people eligible for a booster to get one. He plans to get his booster shot at the state’s Dec. 11 Booster Blitz, where vaccination sites will be operating at locations throughout the state.


Anti-Vax Protestors Target NH House Majority Leader’s Private Home

A small band of anti-vaccine mandate protestors brought their message to Republican House Majority Leader Jason Osborne’s home on a quiet Auburn cul-de-sac Sunday afternoon, just days after nine people were arrested for repeatedly interrupting an Executive Council meeting in Concord.

Dozens of cars and trucks draped with American and Gadsden flags drove around outside Osborne’s residence, blaring horns and playing loud siren-style sounds.

Some protesters mistakenly believed they were protesting the home of the Speaker of the House. That post is held by Rep. Sherman Packard of Londonderry.

“Outside of Speaker of the House (sic) Osborne’s residence in Auburn,” one protestor said in a video posted online. “Lot goin’ on right now, lot goin’ on.”

At issue is a $27 million grant from the federal government designed to help boost vaccination rates and the nine people arrested last week protesting against that funding. On Wednesday, New Hampshire became the only state in the union to refuse the federal funds.

While Gov. Chris Sununu publicly admonished the Republican-led Executive Council for declining the federal giveaway, Osborne has consistently been an outspoken opponent of vaccine mandates. When New Hampshire Democrats publicly decried the council’s 4-1 vote to refuse the funds, Osborne released a statement mocking them.

“The Democrats’ fustian can only be reconciled within the context of blind authoritarian indoctrination. It is ironic that these representatives have claimed to not want to invade people’s privacy, but openly advocate for policies to force employees to be vaccinated or lose their job,” Osborne wrote.

“Whether it is using blatant coercion or threatening to monitor your bank accounts for transactions over $600, the Democrat Party has made it evident that there is no limit to how many of your liberties that they intend to trample on when given the opportunity.”

So, why were vaccination and mandate opponents protesting his house?

“Jason is compromised and is now the target,” wrote a participant on the RebuildNH Telegram chat group. “He is not for the freedom people of New Hampshire unless he calls for the resignation or impeachment of Sununu immediately.”

“And, Jason’s address is public record!”

The claim, according to this user, is that Osborne said the nine people arrested at the Executive Council meeting “probably deserved it,” and “should have been locked up a long time ago.” Others complained the Majority Leader had allegedly called the more aggressive protesters “a-holes.”

“The safety commissioner told me the arrestees disrupted the meeting,” Osborne wrote in a Facebook thread. “I have no reason to not believe him. Luckily for us all, I am not a judge and this is not a court. The truth will come out.”

The RebuildNH organization is viewed as a fringe group of extremists outside the political mainstream, opposing a vaccine taken by nearly 80 percent of voting-age Granite Staters. In addition to helping organize the Executive Council protest at which state employees were threatened and had to be walked to their cars by law enforcement, they’re repeatedly — and falsely — claimed the vaccine has killed more than 15,000 people in the U.S. Their source is the same as the bizarre “Vaccine Death Report” document distributed by Rep. Ken Weyler (R-Kingston), a conspiracy-theory manifesto that posited a secret papal plot for world control and the existence of “creatures with tentacles” in the vaccine.

Protesting private homes has become more common on both political extremes. Progressives have protested outside the private homes of Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Democrat Sens. Krysten Sinema (Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (W.V.). Sununu’s home and neighborhood have repeatedly been targeted by RebuildNH activists and their allies.

Osborne tells NHJournal he’s unimpressed.

“I am just glad my neighbors were so busy watching the Pats game that they couldn’t be bothered by the distraction,” the Majority Leader said. “Perhaps if these folk do not wish to be called ‘a-holes,’ they should stop acting like ‘a-holes,’ showing up to homes blaring sirens and screaming profanities through a bullhorn.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The reference to a RebuildNH Telegram conversation has been clarified from the original version of the article. The person making claims about Osborne may or may not have been an actual member of RebuildNH.


Sununu Unloads on Executive Councilors After Vaccine Vote

Gov. Chris Sununu took direct aim at his fellow Republicans on the Executive Committee the day after they voted down federal COVID-19 funding, calling their actions uninformed and irrational.

During a Thursday morning interview on WGIR radio, Sununu singled out Executive Councilors Joseph Kenney and David Wheeler by name, saying they live in a “bizarro world” of conspiracy and misinformation.

“You don’t even know how to argue it at some point because logic has left the building,” Sununu said. “They are listening to social media nonsense and misinformation, and there is zero rational argument.”

Sununu also mocked their claims to be “quote-unquote conservatives” after their proposal the state order private businesses to stop requiring vaccines for their employees.

“That’s what Communist Russia does,” Sununu said.

Sununu also called out Wheeler for claiming the U.S. Constitution guarantees every person a job and for suggesting the state track down every person who has had COVID-19.

“When people start waving the flag and Constitution but clearly have never read the Constitution, it can be a little frustrating,” Sununu said. “These are not conservative values, these are not Constitutional values, it’s emotional nonsense.”

Wheeler did not respond to requests for comment, but Kenney told NHJournal he disputed Sununu’s take on the vote, saying he is concerned about people losing their jobs because of President Joe Biden’s federal vaccine mandate.

“I totally disagree with the governor and I think he is out of touch with working men and women of this state, many who have lost their jobs because of employment vaccine mandates,” Kenney said.

The federal vaccine mandate on private companies, which Sununu has vowed to challenge in court, has not gone into effect. Biden announced on September 9 he was instructing the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to use its emergency powers to force every employer with 100 or more workers to require the vaccine or impose weekly testing. OSHA’s rules still have not been finalized, and many legal experts believe the courts will almost certainly shoot them down.

Still, many private businesses are requiring vaccines on their own, like the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health system where 99 percent of employees are currently in compliance.

Kenney did not have hard figures on how many people have lost their jobs in New Hampshire because of mandates, but he said 16 hospital staffers in the North Country recently walked off the job because of them.

Sununu blames much of the turmoil on anti-government Free Staters who tried to impeach him for using executive orders during the pandemic. The same group now wants him to use executive orders to interfere with private companies over vaccine mandates, he said.

State Police arrested nine people Wednesday during the Executive Council meeting for allegedly disrupting the meeting.

When asked, Sununu would not commit to campaigning for Wheeler and Kenney next year.