Unity Rep. Gets Seat Reassignment

  • State Rep. Ernie Bridge, R-Unity, has developed a lung problem which requires him to use an oxygen concentrator. He was at his home on April 8, 2016, in Unity, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/19/2016 11:34:46 PM
Modified: 4/20/2016 4:01:13 PM

Unity — A New Hampshire legislator who was told he couldn’t bring a portable breathing device to his assigned seat in the chamber of the New Hampshire House has since been given a new one.

Rep. Ernie Bridge, 80, said on Tuesday that he intends to drive to Concord for future House sessions after working out an arrangement that allows him to sit in the rear of the chamber. Instead of voting via an electronic button, he will instead signal his votes to House Clerk Paul Smith.

“He will indicate to me what his vote will be and I will record it electronically,” Smith said Tuesday.

Smith said the accommodation has been made for past House members with special medical needs.

“We frequently have members that for some reason or another basically are unable to get to their seat at the beginning of the session,” he said.

Bridge, a Republican who represents Unity and Newport, was told by the House sergeant-at-arms about four weeks ago that his roughly 10-pound, briefcase-sized oxygen concentrator couldn’t accompany him to an assigned seat. Jim Rivers, a spokesman for House Speaker Shawn Jasper, later said the device was too large and blocked the exit of others in the event of an emergency.

Rivers also said the speaker often offers disabled legislators seats in the back of the chamber, but Bridge never asked for one.

“That day I was, and continue to be, physically uncomfortable when I’m away from the breathing apparatus,” Bridge said. He requires the use of a concentrator 24 hours a day after developing a “leak” in his lung earlier this year. He uses a larger device while at home and takes the portable one out with him.

Feeling exhausted, he decided not to push the matter with the Speaker’s Office and went home. Looking back on the incident, Bridge is now confident that the speaker would have provided an alternative.

A story on the incident was published in the April 11 edition of the Valley News. Since then, Bridge said, he’s received calls from Jasper, Smith and other legislators offering to help.

“I was embarrassed that (the story) was published the way it was because it completely implied a lack of cooperation,” he said. “What happened was just poor communication.”

With the promise of a new seat, Bridge said he intends to attend the remaining House sessions, as long as he’s feeling well enough.

“There’s a session (Wednesday) and I will probably go,” he said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

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