Bill would refund money to New Hampshire businesses fined during pandemic

  • A sign on the door of the Loudon Village Country Store tells customers that masks are optional.

Associated Press
Published: 1/27/2021 9:51:49 PM
Modified: 1/27/2021 9:51:47 PM

CONCORD — New Hampshire businesses that have been fined for violating emergency orders during the coronavirus pandemic would get their money back under a GOP-sponsored bill before a House committee on Wednesday.

Rep. Andrew Prout, R-Hudson, told the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee that eight businesses have been fined a total of $10,000 so far. His proposed legislation would require the state to reverse any findings that businesses violated the rules, refund any fines paid and restore any suspended or revoked permits or licenses once the state of emergency has ended.

“I think a lot of people feel like this all came at them fast, they don’t fully understand it, and even with the best intentions, they may get caught up in this, and that’s a terrible way to operate,” he said. “That’s why so many businesses, even the ones that have not been impacted, are reaching out and liking this bill, because it’s more of a safety net. If they do get targeted by enforcement action, at least it’s temporary and they know they can move on once this pandemic has passed.”

Some lawmakers on the committee questioned whether businesses were given adequate warnings before being fined. Prout said he didn’t know the details of the individual cases, but according to news releases posted online by the Attorney General’s Office, all had been repeatedly reminded of the rules before facing enforcement action.

For example, a general store in Loudon was warned more than 10 times that workers must wear masks, but the store refused to comply and posted a sign that read “Please refer to the Constitution of the United States! We know how to wash our hands, clean surfaces and NOT cough or sneeze on people.”

Julie Tucker, of Rye, called the restrictions imposed on businesses “completely confusing and arbitrary,” and said they have accomplished nothing to prevent the spread of the virus.

“We’ve been allowed no input into these rules at all, which are greatly impacting our daily lives,” she said. “They were written without the input of us or you, who are our representatives.”

In fact, the rules for businesses were drafted by a task force that included both lawmakers and business leaders. The task force has held weekly sessions to gather public input before sending proposed guidance to health officials and the governor for approval.

Rep. Melissa Blasek, a co-sponsor of the bill, said she had spoken to many businesses that support the legislation but were “too afraid of their government to speak out.” Blasek, R-Merrimack, also incorrectly said that none of the businesses that were fined have been the site of outbreaks.

In October, Fat Katz Food and Drink in Hudson was fined $2,000 for holding an indoor karaoke event after being told it wasn’t allowed. Nearly 20 people later tested positive for the virus.




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