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New Hampshire House to hold hybrid public hearings on bills

January 11, 2021 GMT

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) —

The New Hampshire House plans to hold “hybrid” public hearings on bills while the Statehouse remains closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, Speaker Sherm Packard said Monday.

Packard, R-Londonderry, told business leaders that lawmakers will attend the hearings in-person while all public testimony will be done by phone or video. Lawmakers who do not wish to attend in person also can join remotely, he said during an online discussion with other legislative leaders organized by the Business and Industry Association.

“We just had the machines delivered today that are going into the committee rooms that will clean the air five times per hour,” he said. “We hope to at some point to get back to doing things in person again.”

The Senate held its first online public hearings Monday. Sen. Donna Soucy, the Senate minority leader, said nearly 60 people attended.

“We had more people participating, at least tuning in, than ever before,” said Soucy, D-Manchester. “Doing things virtually has opened up a lot of opportunity, particularly for business people who would find it difficult to drop things in the middle of day, drive to Concord have to wait sometimes for hours to testimony when the hearing before went too long.”

The 24-member Senate also met in an online session last week, but House Republican leaders have resisted that idea. Instead, the 400-member House convened from their cars Wednesday in a parking lot at the University of New Hampshire.

In other coronavirus-related developments:

HOME HEALTH CARE

New Hampshire’s failure to provide home health care services to qualifying elderly and disabled people puts them at risk of ending up in nursing homes that have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a lawsuit filed against state health officials Monday.

The lawsuit was filed by New Hampshire Legal Assistance, Disability Rights Center-New Hampshire, AARP Foundation and the Nixon Peabody law office on behalf of four people enrolled in a Medicaid waiver program, called “Choices for Independence,” meant to help participants stay in their homes.

“When CFI participants are deprived of the community-based long-term care that the state concedes they need and are entitled to, they face grave health risks,” AARP Foundation Senior Attorney M. Geron Gadd said in a statement. “Failure to properly administer the CFI Waiver not only deprives participants of their right to live as they choose, but also greatly increases their chances of exposure to COVID-19 in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.”

Pamela Phelan, litigation director for the disability rights group, said the plaintiffs are “one crisis away” from unnecessary institutionalization, and without the services they’ve been promised, they “linger for hours or days alone in bed or confined in their own homes.”

A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office said they haven’t received the complaint yet.

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RACE CANCELED

An annual sled dog race in New Hampshire that usually attracts hundreds of people has been canceled this year because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

The Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby had been scheduled for Feb. 12-14.

“Everywhere we turned we couldn’t make it work because of COVID,” Jim Lyman, president of the Lakes Region Sled Dog Club, told The Laconia Daily Sun on Friday.

Lyman said that social distancing restrictions would have prohibited the traditional spectator viewing areas.

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Another obstacle was the continued closure of the U.S.-Canada border to non-essential traffic, Lyman said. Between half and two-thirds of the mushers who compete in the open-class events at the derby come from Quebec.

The derby dates to 1929. Since the early 1980s it has been canceled 13 times because of poor snow conditions.

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THE NUMBERS

More than 51,000 people have tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, including 711 cases announced Monday that included totals from several days. A total of 869 people have died, with no new deaths announced Monday.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Hampshire has risen over the past two weeks from 610 new cases per day on Dec. 27 to 736 new cases per day on Sunday.

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Associated Press writer Kathy McCormack contributed to this report.