By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
The New Hampshire House Twitter feed posted a “public announcement” late Monday afternoon that Tuesday’s Special Committee on Redistricting public input session will be live-streamed on the House of Representatives YouTube channel, although the video option is not mentioned in the House calendar.
The House calendar says only that the public is welcome to attend in person at 6 p.m. at the Old County Courthouse, 5 Court St., Concord, in the community room for the first of 10 public input sessions around the state on redistricting.
House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, said the redistricting committee was working Monday morning on having Tuesday’s public input session live-streamed, but wasn’t sure if it was going to be possible, although it was confirmed on the House Twitter feed by late afternoon Monday.
“I believe they were working on it, the staff and committee,” Packard said, adding there will be one public meeting in each county and the committee needs to find facilities that can handle live-streaming.
“We can only do what we can do. We’re not trying to not do it,” Packard said of live-streaming on YouTube.
The House Twitter feed posted Monday: “Barring any unforeseen technical difficulties, the Special Committee on Redistricting public input session scheduled Tuesday, September 14th at 6 PM will be live streamed on the House of Representatives YouTube channel. https://youtube.com/channel/UCxqjz56akoWRL_5vyaQDtvQ…“
Packard said the plan is to have all committee meetings in the Legislative Office Building able to be live-streamed by January.
Packard said he never said they wouldn’t be live-streamed, just that they wouldn’t be on Zoom.
The difference is legislators can sign in remotely on Zoom, but for live-streaming video to the public lawmakers have to be in the committee room. “Were not doing Zoom,” Packard said. “The committees need to be meeting in person.”
Packard was sued by seven disabled Democrats in the House, including House Minority Leader Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, who argue they should be able to participate remotely under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was heard Friday by the First Circuit Court of Appeals. The panel took the case under advisement.
Packard’s attorney has argued that legislative immunity bars the suit. But much of the questioning by the appeals panel focused on whether having to face the possibility of death from COVID-19 by being forced to meet in person where there is no mask requirement could be considered a virtual ouster from the House.
Cushing said after the hearing: “The continued insistence of the Speaker and his legal counsel on absolute legislative immunity illustrates once again the cavalier attitude demonstrated by him and members of his caucus to the threat posed by COVID-19.”
Democrats have complained that many Republican House members do not were masks and do not engage in social distancing at the State House and Legislative Office Building.
Packard said he prefers live-streaming video because he believes the House members should work together in person and that doesn’t happen on Zoom.
“It’s best for the House to get back to meeting in person,” said Packard, who believes the in-person meetings build relationships.
He said the committee meetings are held in double rooms at the Legislative Office Building and equipped with new air filtration systems so they are safe.
“We’re working on different plans and have a number of proposals on live-streaming the committee meetings,” Packard said. “This isn’t cheap,” Packard added, but provided no details of the proposals or costs.
New Hampshire House spokesman Jennifer Tramp said if live-streaming information for the offsite meetings is not available at the time the House Calendar is published, it will be posted on the General Court website in addition to social media channels.
“Details of the Concord venue were not available at the time the calendar was published. We have subsequently posted the link on the website and social channels,” Tramp said.
Over the coming months, House and Senate redistricting committees will redraw the political boundaries for House, Senate, Executive Council and the state’s two Congressional seats. This is done every 10 years using the updated U.S. Census data to adjust boundary lines due to population changes in the state’s cities and towns.