400-member House prepares for 1st session since pandemic
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — There will be chicken and roast beef on the floor of the University of New Hampshire ice arena Thursday, but no fish.
It’s a decades-old tradition for UNH hockey fans to throw a fish on the ice at the Whittemore Center Arena after the team scores its first goal of each game. But in a break from a much longer tradition, lawmakers will gather there for the first House session held outside the Statehouse since the Civil War.
The Legislature suspended its work in March because of the coronavirus but has gradually resumed committee work and public hearings via video conferencing. The 24-member Senate will again meet in person next week, spread out in Representatives’ Hall.
But the House had to get more creative in finding a venue large enough to bring together its 400 members while keeping them 6 feet apart to help contain the virus.
Chairs have been set up on the floor of the Durham arena, roughly corresponding to the Statehouse seating arrangement. Lawmakers will arrive at staggered times and have their temperatures taken before parking.
They’ll be given face masks and plastic face shields, though anyone who cannot wear a mask for health reasons will be seated in a separate section. A different separate section is planned for those who refuse to cover their faces.
“The goal is for the House to be able to complete its work while ensuring the safety of its members,” House spokesperson Mike O’Brien said Tuesday.
Microphones used during debate will be cleaned between speakers. Lawmakers will vote via handheld electronic devices, with results posted on the arena scoreboard. Lunch — chicken salad, roast beef or veggie wraps — will be delivered to their seats.
While there are about three dozen bills on the calendar, it’s unclear how many, if any, will be voted upon.
Changing the rules to allow action after deadlines that have already passed requires support of two-thirds of those voting, and the Republican minority has signaled an unwillingness to go along with the Democrats’ proposed timeline.
Minority leader Rep. Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, said Republicans have proposed a more realistic set of deadlines. They also want to introduce a bill that would prevent increases in business tax rates.
Separate from the Republican leadership, another group of Republicans plans to propose a resolution that would terminate portions of the state of emergency declaration Republican Gov. Chris Sununu ordered during the pandemic and would limit his authority to issue new emergency orders.
O’Brien said he wasn’t aware of any House members who have tested positive for the virus, which has infected more than 5,000 people statewide, though Rep. Aboul Khan, R-Seabrook, told the Portsmouth Herald he tested positive in April. State Sen. Martha Fuller-Clark was diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, but has recovered.