By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Opponents of the state accepting $22 million in federal funds to boost vaccines appeared angry Friday after the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee voted 6 to 4 to take the controversial grant. One man was arrested.
There appeared to be about 250 protesters in the Legislative Office Building where the committee met, many of the opponents seated in overflow committee rooms.
State Police said Frank Staples was arrested and charged with Disorderly Conduct and Breach of Bail Conditions.
With an unusually large law enforcement presence for a committee meeting, police cleared the building of some protesters before the meeting concluded. Some lingered outside swearing and shouting: “Treason,” and yelling: “We know where you live,” to elected legislators.
State Sen. Bob Giuda R-Warren, who cut short a family trip to the West Coast to vote no read a long statement opposed to accepting the federal funds warning liberty and freedom were at stake, receiving applause from the opponents.
After the vote, fiscal committee member Rep. Peter Leishman, D-Peterborough, said the additional resources are critical to ongoing efforts to inform the public about the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Covid is not going away, as case counts are growing to record numbers in the Granite State,” Leishman said. “Increasing vaccination rates will help stabilize and reduce infections, and acceptance of federal funds today will bolster that effort.”
Attorney General John Formella had previously said there were no such threats to state sovereignty as Giuda suggested in accepting the funds, a position shared by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.
After the vote, Sununu said: “I would like to thank members of the Fiscal Committee for voting to accept these critical funds in a bipartisan manner.
“The vaccine is our way out of this pandemic, and these funds will provide valuable tools and help improve outcomes for our citizens,” Sununu said.
The 6 to 4 vote in favor included Leishman, Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, Rep. Karen Umberger, R-Kearsarge, Rep. Tracy Emerick, R-Hampton, Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua.
The four no votes were Giuda, Sen. Gary Daniels, R-Milford, Rep. Jess Edwards, R-Auburn, and Rep. Keith Erf, R-Weare.
Earlier this fall opponents won the first round when the Executive Council voted 4-1 to reject the federal funds with the sole Democrat Cinde Warmington of Concord voting in favor.
But the Council reversed itself at its last meeting and the fiscal committee agreed to accept the funds Friday, the last step in the process. The vote will allow the state Health and Human Services Department to accept and expend $22,495,752 in federal funds.
The bipartisan vote Friday followed the Executive Council turnaround on the subject two weeks ago which caught opponents off-guard as it was a late agenda item and had no previous notice.
Andrew Manuse, one of the organizers of RebuildNH and a former state legislator, previously said he would call for a protest at the Friday meeting. He didn’t return calls seeking comment.
The Executive Council vote also included a nonbinding resolution that supports the state’s lawsuit against the Biden Administration on federal vaccine mandates for employers with more than 100 employees; that the council encouraged the state to move to an opt-in rather than an opt-out system for its vaccine registry; and that the state allows for medical and religious exemptions for any federal vaccination mandates.
The funding will be used to hire five data quality specialists, five onboarding specialists to load data between health-care providers, pharmacies, and the state, a health communications specialist, and an immunization strategic response manager among other things.