Maskless lawmaker runs hearings after out-of-state trip
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A Republican legislator in the New Hampshire House failed to cover his face as required for more than three hours of testimony in a hearing room Friday, a day after he returned from Florida.
Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Republican from Londonderry, said he had maintained social distance throughout his trip and later donned a face shield, saying he was doing so to satisfy anyone who was “whining and complaining.”
“The people elected me to do a job and I will not be showing a sign of weakness by hiding in a basement or my computer because of COVID,” he said in an email to The Associated Press. “I will not stop living my life, as virus’s never stopped me as a US Marine from training in 3rd world countries, with Malaria and other virus’s.”
While the 24-member Senate has been conducting its hearings and sessions entirely remotely, leadership in the 400-member House — one of the world’s largest legislative bodies — has resisted that approach, even after the death of Speaker Dick Hinch from COVID-19 in December.
The state’s travel rules require those traveling outside of New England to quarantine for 14 days upon returning to New Hampshire, and the Statehouse COVID-19 screening rules call for denying entry to those who have made such trips within the past two weeks.
But Baldasaro, who is chair of the House State-Federal Relations and Veterans Affairs Committee, was permitted to lead public hearings because he met criteria for breaking quarantine, the House speaker’s office said. Several committee members attended the hearings in preson, with the public participating via phone.
The speaker’s office said he was allowed to attend because the state Department of Health and Human Services considers state lawmakers “critical infrastructure staff” who can attend work-related events during quarantine as long as they meet certain criteria. That includes agreeing to wear a mask, but Baldasaro did not.
When that was brought to the speaker’s attention, a staff member said, “We will go address that now.” About 15 minutes later, Baldasaro disappeared from the video stream and returned with a plastic face shield.
“I don’t want any Democrats on the screen to get COVID,” he said. “So let me make them happy and play the game here.”
Hinch died of COVID-19 a week after being sworn in at an outdoor session. Since then, his replacement, Rep. Sherm Packard, R-Londonderry, has held a drive-in-style meeting with lawmakers parked in their cars.
Hearings have been held with a hybrid model, with lawmakers gathering in person in rooms at the Statehouse complex and the public calling in.
In other coronavirus developments:
New Hampshire residents who have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine are getting a second shot at scheduling their second shots.
The state sent emails Friday to individuals who have received one dose and have yet to schedule the second, or who have scheduled appointments several weeks away. The messages will instruct recipients to return to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s online system on Tuesday to schedule or reschedule their second doses.
Under the current phase of the vaccination plan, anyone age 65 or older is eligible, along with people with multiple medical conditions, corrections workers and those living or working in residential facilities for people with developmental disabilities. More than 300,000 of the roughly 325,000 people in that category registered in the last week, and some who received their first dose this week have expressed concern about second doses being scheduled far beyond what the vaccine manufacturers recommend.
“We are leaving no stone unturned when it comes to speeding up the process, including opening up additional appointments for individual to receive their second dose,” Gov. Chris Sununu said Friday.
A reminder email will be sent Monday.