CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A federal appeals court says it will rehear the case involving a challenge to holding in-person legislative sessions without a remote option in New Hampshire during the coronavirus pandemic, and it's invited U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to weigh in.
Earlier this year, seven Democratic lawmakers sued House Speaker Sherman Packard, a Republican, arguing that not allowing a remote option violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the state and federal constitutions, and forces them to either risk their lives or abandon their duties as elected officials.
A federal judge in Concord ruled in Packard’s favor. But the Boston-based 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in April to send the case back to the judge to hold further proceedings to determine if the plaintiffs are “persons with disabilities within the meaning” of the ADA or the federal Rehabilitation Act.
The appeals court changed its mind after the New Hampshire attorney general's office, which is representing Packard, asked for a rehearing. The office had argued that the 1st Circuit did away with legislative immunity in the case “on the broad swath of potential claims arising under the ADA or Rehabilitation Act."
The appeals court scheduled the rehearing for Sept. 10. It wrote to Garland, saying “given the complexity of this case," it asked for the federal government's views on legislative immunity, exceptions to it, and how it might apply to the plaintiffs' request. Garland's office has been asked to respond by June 28.
The House is scheduled to meet in person on Thursday and Friday.
In other coronavirus-related news:
Some cities in New Hampshire are facing a lifeguard shortage, forcing them to limit the numbers of pools and beaches they open.
WMUR-TV reports that only one of the three beaches in Laconia will be staffed this summer. Two of the seven pools in Concord will not open due to a lifeguard shortage and the town beach in Jaffrey will be open but without a lifeguard. Keene is only opening one of its two pools.
The shortage has been attributed to problems getting people certified amid the pandemic.
“There just weren’t enough classes to go around,” Sarah Hooper, of the Jaffrey Parks and Recreation Department, told the station. “With COVID and all of the classes being shut down, a lot of people needed to re-cert, and there just weren’t enough classes.”
Not everyone has been affected by the shortage. Hampton Beach expects to have a full staff 70 covering Hampton beach to Wallis Sands.
NO MASK MANDATES
The city of Manchester has joined Nashua and Concord in dropping mask mandates, and Portsmouth is working on it.
The aldermen voted in Manchester on Tuesday to end a mask requirement in city-owned buildings, effective immediately.
In Portsmouth, the City Council cast a preliminary vote to rescind its mask ordinance, which is in effect until June 30. A public hearing on a proposed repeal is scheduled for Monday.
The ordinance requires that “all persons wear face coverings whenever they are in indoor or outdoor places which are accessible to the public, in which a physical distancing of 6 feet between people who are not members of the same household is not maintained.”
There were some concerns at the meeting regarding the 12-to-15-year age group, which still isn't fully vaccinated.
“It’s quite clear that people who are vaccinated and not vaccinated can be outside and safe,” Portsmouth City Councilor John Tabor said. “But we still have people who are not vaccinated and can transmit the virus inside.”
More than 98,000 people have tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, including 33 cases announced Tuesday. No new deaths were announced; the total number remained at 1,353.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Hampshire decreased over the past two weeks, going from 139 new cases per day on May 17 to 48 new cases a day on Monday.
Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.