By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Gov. Chris Sununu signed a comprehensive police reform bill and one that will allow New Hampshire residents to soon have the lowest drug price for insulin by importing the drugs from Canada, he announced at his regular COVID-19 new conference on Thursday.
He also announced a new “gap” program for businesses that may not have been able to qualify for other CARES Act funding and may have fallen through the cracks because they were new. And he added free tuition money for those who want to return or newly attend community colleges and more for masks, cleaning supplies, and efforts to open the state’s public colleges and universities.
The two bills were among a pile of measures he said he is going through on his desk to either sign or veto but these two allow for the state to move forward to solve problems people are facing with respect to bail reform, change in police procedures and high prices of drugs.
The law enforcement bill prohibits chokeholds from the use by police in all cases except in cases where the officer’s life is in jeopardy.
He said the guidance document was “done the right way. It is a viable document and exactly something that was asked for.”
Bike Week is on in August but it won’t have the vendors on Lakeside Avenue. Sununu said the state is working with organizers to ensure that it is not a COVID-19 super spread, noting that nobody wants that.
He said the events and businesses will need to abide by all guidances already on the books including limits on the capacity for indoor retailers and restaurants. And he said he was not opposed to considering future curfews on late night activities at restaurants and bars.
If the late-night scene is going to happen, he said, “do it outside.”
No New Trump Date
Sununu said he has not heard from the Trump Administration about rescheduling a campaign rally which was canceled last week due to expected bad weather in Portsmouth, which never materialized.
The news of the bill signings came with a mix of news related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Beth Daly of the state Department of Public Health gave an update on the worldwide crisis, noting there are now 13.5 million cases globally, 3.5 million in the United States with more than 137,000 deaths.
The nation is seeing staggering growth of the highly transmissible virus with an average now of 65,000 cases a day. Most states outside of New England are seeing surges, Daly said.
New Hampshire, however, is bucking that trend averaging 25 new cases a day. Daly announced 27 additional infections, totaling 6,139 cases overall with no new hospitalizations.
Sadly, she said, one individual living in a long-term care center was reported to have died from the virus on Thursday.
There are no new outbreaks in long-term care centers, she said. The state was able to close two cases at Bedford Hills and Holy Cross in Manchester, leaving just three facilities on the list of having three or more cases of the virus.
Daly urged all to do their part with social distancing, wearing face masks and staying at home if they are sick or think they are getting sick.
An extension of the Main Street relief fund for self-employed called SELF has seen 7,000 applications so far and the application process will close at the end of the day Friday. Those who are interested can apply at the website revenue.nh.gov.
A third fund will open next week.
This one will be administered through the state’s Business Finance Authority and it will be known as the GAP Fund program, Sununu said.
By using the agency’s business experts, $30 million in federal CARES Act funds will be freed up to allow them to use discretion for businesses that have “fallen through the cracks” of the other programs out there.
Additional details will be made available in the coming days and the fund will be launched next Tuesday, Sununu said. The application period will run through Aug. 4.
The process, he warned, might be a little more in-depth than the other processes as the BFA will try to understand why these businesses were excluded.
This could help franchises and new businesses, for example.
“So again, this is a catch-all for those who did not meet the initial availability funds.”
The University system will get another $19 million from the CARES Act to support remote learning and funding to allow students to return to Keene, Plymouth, and Durham. This will be available, Sununu said, for testing, PPE, cleaning, and supplies related to the virus. Also, the community college system will receive additional funding.
Another $6 million will be available for tuition support at the community college level, Sununu said. The funds can be used for existing students and new ones. It is a fund to help those who may have lost a family income, are having trouble paying those costs, and want to learn a new skill.
“We really want to open up that opportunity,” he said. “We have one of the best community colleges,” Sununu stressed. “If you look at our metrics, we really knock it out of the park.”
He said it is a perfect time to pivot to a new career and not let cost be a barrier, with the help of these funds.
Sununu announced a new stipend of $500 for each foster child in the state through the CARES Act to allow these kids to attend camp, get into recreational programs, and have more access to interactive activities that they may not have been able to access due to funding.
He said the state’s foster care system was struggling for a while but has made a great comeback. “More kids are leaving it than entering it,” he said calling that a measure of success. The funds will be administered by the New Hampshire Foster and Adoptive Care Program. Details will be available at nhfapa.org.
He noted that website is the same place to go for those who want to become a foster family.
COVID-19 Equity Task Force
Statistics show that people of color are more impacted by the virus than those who are not and the governor created a task force to look at those inequities with an eye toward change. This week the task force issued a “well-written report,” Sununu said, that was very thoughtful.
He said he will release the report with action items next week.
He said he is looking at the quick implementation of “low-hanging fruit,” which is easy to do.
Some may require further thought and possibly legislation next year. Health-care inequities were examined through the task force and the virus has exacerbated that, Sununu said.
A wide-ranging bill to deal with police practices and bail reform has been signed.
He also said a commission on law enforcement accountability, which has 45 days to produce a report and is expected to produce a product by July 31, is asking for more time.
“When it comes to getting important things done I can be really pushy,” Sununu said. The short deadline was intended to avoid issues that languish.
Sununu said he would ask them to give him an initial report by that deadline and to continue working past that on a full plan.
But like the equity task force, there is likely some “low hanging fruit” that can be handled immediately, he said. The commission was established in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and the Black Lives Matter rallies across the state.
Sununu said the education guidance document is “fantastic,” because it is not rigid or doomed to failure.
He pushed off criticism that it was too vague and broad.
“We are a state of local control,” Sununu said. “We have faith in our teachers and parents and administrators to find the best path to returning kids to classes in the fall or providing remote learning or a hybrid version.”
He said the mandates are few but meant to not impact schools and how they function, like requiring all visitors to wear masks.
He rejected an assertion by Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, who is a candidate for governor, that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s consultant made up the plan, saying that a third party vendor from the federal government, AIR, which has been around for decades, helped in the process but the guidance document was written by the New Hampshire Department of Education staff.
State of Emergency
Sununu said the state of emergency will expire Friday but will be extended for another three weeks as he has done since March.