By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
Four state Representatives, two of whom are physicians with one a recent convert to the Democratic party, urged the Joint Fiscal Committee and Executive Council on Tuesday to accept $27 million in federal funds to help increase COVID-19 vaccinations in New Hampshire.
The Executive Council meets Wednesday at 10 a.m. at Police Standards and Training in Concord, and the Health and Human Services contracts that had been tabled are again on the agenda. The last Council meeting never got started because state police had to escort state employees to their cars when unruly people opposed to vaccine mandates made them feel unsafe.
“We cannot let lies and conspiracies interfere with public health,” said retired surgeon Rep. Jerry Knirk, D-Freedom, who said he was joining the Zoom press conference with House Democrats from the road because he just received his booster shot Tuesday.
“I’m doing my part to keep New Hampshire schools and businesses open,” Knirk said, adding the state has fallen behind in its COVID-19 vaccination rate and now ranks lowest in New England.
“By succumbing to the antics of those spreading misinformation, Republicans in both the Executive Council and the Fiscal Committee have stalled the acceptance of $27 million in federal funding to help vaccination efforts. This is critical funding…,” Knirk said.
The press conference came after last week’s legislative chaos in which Rep. Ken Weyler, R-Kingston, the chairman of the Joint Fiscal Committee stepped down under pressure. He had sent a “report” to committee members claiming “that live creatures with tentacles are entering people’s bodies through the COVID vaccine,” and calling the Pope and the Catholic Church satanists and luciferians for supporting public health measures.
The Democrats’ news conference was followed by an afternoon email from House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, R-Auburn, criticizing the Democrats for praising policies “that force employers to mandate vaccinations as a condition to keep their jobs.”
“The Democrats’ fustian can only be reconciled within the context of blind authoritarian indoctrination. It is ironic that these Representatives have claimed to not want to invade people’s privacy, but openly advocate for policies to force employees to be vaccinated or lose their job. Whether it is using blatant coercion or threatening to monitor your bank accounts for transactions over $600, the Democrat Party has made it evident that there is no limit to how many of your liberties that they intend to trample on when given the opportunity,” Osborne said.
Gov. Chris Sununu sent a letter Tuesday to members of New Hampshire’s Congressional Delegation “to oppose the Biden Administration and U.S. Treasury’s attempt to require financial institutions to report financial information on all personal accounts with $600 or more of inflows or outflows to the Internal Revenue Services.”
Knirk said the $27 million in federal funds will help increase New Hampshire’s vaccination rates and help end the pandemic.
The money is needed to reach rural areas, the state’s homeless population and homebound individuals as well as to educate people about the safety and the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine and combat the disinformation campaigns.
Knirk said it is particularly egregious for politicians to spread disinformation.
Rep. Bill Marsh, D-Wolfeboro, who changed parties on Sept. 14, the day Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, led a rally at the State House against vaccine mandates, said the Republican party’s embrace of disinformation has cost some Granite Staters their lives.
“People need interaction with medical experts that they trust instead of propaganda that they read on Facebook or distribute via email to make informed decisions,” Marsh said.
The majority of the money – $18 million – is to be used to directly counter disinformation by employing trusted community healthcare workers to conduct outreach and provide educational materials for vaccine clinics, he said.
“These monies will help return us to normal by decreasing cases and increasing the percent of the population that is fully vaccinated,” Marsh said.
Rep. Lucy Weber, D-Walpole, said while no one wants to violate anyone’s medical privacy, House members and members of the public should know how many are infected with COVID-19 to decide if it is worth the risk to attend legislative committee meetings in the Legislative Office Building where masks are not required.
She suggested creating a daily dashboard with the number of representatives who test positive, but not the names of the people infected.
Weber said she is disappointed that after Rep. Weyler stepped down from chairing the Joint Fiscal Committee, she heard he may become vice chairman.
“If that’s the case, not a lot has changed,” Weber said.
House Minority Leader Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, said House members have no idea how many representatives have been infected since Dick Hinch died from COVID-19 shortly after becoming Speaker in December.
Cushing said he has pressed Speaker Packard to have a voluntarily sign-in sheet so they are able to do contact tracing in case of COVID-19 exposures, but that hasn’t happened.
Cushing mentioned the recent exposure during a Criminal Justice meeting.
Last week, Rep. Nicole Klein Knight, D-Manchester, went public with her belief, that despite being vaccinated she contracted COVID-19 in a sub-committee meeting from Rep. Kevin Verville, R-Deerfield, who confirmed his illness on social media.
The Democrats at the press conference said they had heard from constituents that many are afraid to attend the legislative committee meetings and said they have noticed few members of the public attend.
Speaker Packard has insisted that the meetings be held in person.
Rep. Knirk said he attended a number of subcommittee meetings recently and saw very few if any members of the public. He did see lobbyists who were interested in specific issues.
“It has diminished the ability of the citizenry to be involved,” he said.
On this week’s House calendar, Speaker Packard asked House members to stay home if they are experiencing any symptoms of illness. “This is our first line of defense.”
“While face coverings are not mandated within the State House and Legislative Office Building, you should strongly consider wearing one,” Packard said. “I’d also ask all who enter our buildings to act with courtesy and respect the personal decisions individuals have made regarding mask use.”