By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — Face masks will be required to enter or pass through the State House complex after the Joint Facilities Committee voted 11-0 to approve the new policy Tuesday.
Currently the State House complex is closed to the public and only open to legislators and legislative staff.
The legislature does not control areas for the governor’s office and staff, the Executive Council Chambers and its offices nor the Secretary of State’s Office.
Under the policy, which takes effect immediately, everyone must wear a mask, but if a person does not have a face mask, one will be provided.
An exception to this policy is for persons who have health issues wearing a mask, or for children under six years old.
Legislators and legislative staff are not required to wear masks when they can consistently maintain at least six feet of social distancing.
General Court Protective Services have the authority to enforce this policy.
The new policy may be controversial with some lawmakers who refused to wear face coverings during the last two sessions of the 2020 term when the House met at Whittemore Center on the University of New Hampshire’s Durham campus.
About 35 to 40 members sat in the “freedom section” for those who refused to wear a mask or a face shield.
After the committee vote Tuesday, House Speaker Stephen Shurtleff and Senate President Donna Soucy called the new policy a “common sense approach.”
“Experts at the local and national level have made it abundantly clear — wearing a mask saves lives. The measure adopted by the Joint Facilities Committee today is a commonsense approach to protect the health and safety of members and employees,” they said in a joint statement. “We hope the Executive Branch adopts a similar measure for the protection of every individual entering the State House because as Gov. Sununu has said, we should all ‘Wear a mask to protect yourself. Wear a mask to protect others. Wear a mask to protect your community because we all have that responsibility.’”
While Sununu has urged people to wear masks in public, he refuses to make it mandatory as Shurtleff and others have called for him to do.
He and Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, in releasing the state’s guidance for reopening schools this fall, declined to make masks mandatory for students and staff, but did for visitors to schools.
Instead, they left it up to local school districts to decide whether to make masks mandatory.
The commissioner was grilled on that decision Tuesday at a joint meeting of the House and Senate education committees.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.