CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A bill aimed at curtailing the governor’s authority during future pandemics or other emergencies has cleared the state Senate.
Under current law, the governor can declare a state of emergency and renew it every 21 days as long as he or she finds it necessary to protect public safety and welfare, though the Legislature can vote to terminate it.
The bill passed Thursday would change the renewal date to 30 days and would allow the Legislature to terminate not just a state of emergency but any emergency order issued by the governor. It also would require the governor to seek legislative approval to spend any federal or private money exceeding $100,000 related to the emergency unless there is an immediate risk to the public.
“This bill is an important effort to ensure balance between oversight during states of emergency and public safety during times of crisis,” said Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry.
The Senate also passed legislation establishing “medial freedom in immunizations.” It specifies that no one may be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine to access any public facility, benefit or service.
Hospitals and nursing homes, however, would be allowed to require the vaccine for employees, and jails and prisons could require them for inmates. And nothing in the bill would prevent schools from requiring the vaccine if the state health commissioner adopts rules expanding the existing list of mandatory vaccines.
Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, said the bill sends the wrong message during a pandemic and opens the door to undoing years of bipartisan progress on public health policy.
“The only intervention that has stopped this disease in its tracks is vaccination,” he said.
A third bill passed Thursday would allow churches and other religious organizations to remain open during a state of emergency under the same restrictions imposed on businesses and service providers deemed essential.
Democrats argued the bill elevates decisions by religious organizations above the public’s health and safety interests, but Republicans argued that protecting religious freedom was one of the Legislature’s most important duties.
“It is a fundamental right to be able to go to an institution of worship. Closing it down causes more harm,” said Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua.
All three bills previously passed the House, which will now be asked to go along with with changes made by the Senate.
In other coronavirus-related developments:
All state of New Hampshire-managed COVID-19 vaccination sites will be closing at the end of June, state officials said Thursday.
The sites will be closed on Monday, Memorial Day. They will reopen on Tuesday, June 1, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and at that point, will only provide second-dose vaccinations, health officials said in a news release Thursday. Those sites will close on Wednesday, June 30.
“There are more than 350 locations across the state offering first-dose appointments and many locations offer walk-in service without the need for an appointment," the news release said.
The U.S. acting solicitor general has advised the U.S. Supreme Court not to hear New Hampshire’s request to block Massachusetts from collecting income tax from roughly 80,000 New Hampshire residents who are employed by Massachusetts companies, but have been working from home during the coronavirus pandemic.
In January, the Supreme Court asked the federal government for its opinion on whether a hearing was needed. Elizabeth Prelogar, acting U.S. solicitor general, told the court on Tuesday, “This is not one of the rare cases that warrants the exercise of this Court’s original jurisdiction,” in which the court can settle inter-state disputes.
Under a temporary rule enacted by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, residents of other states who were working in Massachusetts before the pandemic had remained subject to Massachusetts’ 5.05% income tax while they work from home. Massachusetts officials have said the regulation is similar to those adopted by other states and have declined to comment on pending litigation.
New Hampshire officials argued it represented a permanent shift in underlying policy and amounts to an “aggressive attempt to impose Massachusetts income tax” beyond its borders.
Gov. Chris Sununu and members of New Hampshire's congressional delegation disagreed with Prelogar’s opinion.
“Try as they might, overreach by Washington politicians and efforts by the Biden administration will not deter New Hampshire from fighting against Massachusetts’ unconstitutional attempt to tax our citizens,” Sununu said in a tweet.
Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen on Thursday introduced legislation that would prevent other states from taxing New Hampshire residents who telework for companies located in another state.
“Granite Staters living and working in New Hampshire shouldn’t have to pay another states’ taxes, it is as simple as that," Hassan said in a statement. “This bill makes it clear once and for all that other states cannot unconstitutionally tax New Hampshire residents.”
Nashua officials have approved ending the city's mask ordinance.
The Board of Aldermen opted to end the ordinance on Tuesday, and it awaited a signature from Mayor Jim Donchess, The Telegraph of Nashua reported.
Local businesses could still require workers and patrons to wear masks.
The city's Board of Health voted to recommend that the city lift its mask mandate. The city has had an ordinance in place since May 2020.
More than 98,000 people have tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, including 105 cases announced Thursday. Three additional deaths were announced, bringing the total to 1,349.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Hampshire decreased over the past two weeks, going from 173 new cases per day on May 11 to 70 new cases per day on Tuesday.