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COVID-19: NH Senate passes 3 controversial virus bills; some vaccination sites to close

Published: 5/27/2021 10:21:03 PM
Modified: 5/27/2021 10:21:10 PM

CONCORD — 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 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 “medical 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 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.

New Hampshire to shutter state-run vaccination sites by July

All of New Hampshire’s state-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 provide only 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.

Feds discourage Supreme Court from stepping in on NH-Mass. tax dispute

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.

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.”

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