By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — Several House committees will be busy next session as Representatives have requested Legislative Services to draft at least 64 requests bills dealing with COVID-19 vaccines or face masks.
Vaccination mandates and requiring face masks, particularly in public schools, have been controversial lately. President Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal employees and contractors, and for businesses with more than 100 employees, has drawn fire from Republicans.
In New Hampshire, Republicans on the Executive Council and Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee blocked $27 million in federal money for expanding the state’s COVID-19 vaccination program which has stalled the last few months with less than 55 percent of the state fully vaccinated.
School boards have been caught in the crossfire as some parents and activists object to requiring students to wear masks in school.
Sununu and Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut have said mask requirements are up to local districts to decide.
The controversy over vaccines and masks will also visit the Legislature this session when the House and Senate began work on proposed legislation.
The House window for requesting bills ended last week with 849 filled, while the Senate window does not open until next month.
The vast majority of the House bills on the topic would prohibit government and private business from requiring vaccines to access public places, for employment or to receive services.
Many bills would extend restrictions in the Medical Freedom Act passed earlier this year and signed by Gov. Chris Sununu which allows individuals to determine what to put in his or her body without government intervention.
The bill prohibits requiring vaccinations to access public facilities, benefits or services, but does not supersede the current law governing needed vaccines to attend public schools, but that would change under one proposed bill.
The law exempts state or other governmental medical facilities, but a number of bills would change that and bring them under the “medical freedom” provision.
Currently private colleges and universities are not governed by the provision but would be under several bills. Many private colleges and universities require students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated, but public universities and colleges cannot under the law.
A number of proposed bills would also expand the medical freedom provision to private businesses, making it unlawful to require vaccination for employment or to enter establishments, and to entertainment or performing arts venues, which would be prohibited from requiring vaccinations to attend an event, something many performers now require.
Medical facilities and providers would be prohibited from refusing to provide care or services based on a person’s vaccination status, in a bill requested by Rep. Leah Cushman, R-Weare.
Other proposed bills would prohibit employers from requiring employees be tested without paying for it, and prohibiting all state, local and county governments from mandating vaccines and prohibiting access due to vaccine status.
People offering public accommodations would be prohibited from discriminating against the unvaccinated, in one bill requested by Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry.
A request for a proposed constitutional amendment by Rep. Hershel Nunez, R-Pelham, would include the medical freedom provision in the state constitution.
A bill proposed by Rep. Timothy Horrigan, D-Durham, would repeal the medical freedom law, and another would exempt the state university and community college systems from its provisions.
Other bills take aim at the state’s vaccine registry, several by Rep. Andrew Prout, R-Hudson. One would establish a procedure to withdraw your information from the registry and another would require the Department of Health and Human Services to notify certain people included in the registry.
Other proposed bills would repeal the registry, audit it, and make it an opt-in instead of an opt-out requirement, while another proposal would abolish the New Hampshire Vaccine Association.
Other proposals take aim at DHHS such as forbidding the agency from requiring vaccine passports or from writing rules for vaccine requirements.
A bill introduced by House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, would prohibit state and local enforcement of federal vaccine mandates like the ones issued by Biden.
A proposed bill by Rep. Amanda Bouldin, D-Manchester, would allow minors from 16 to 18 years old to decide for themselves if they want to be vaccinated.
Rep. Erica Layon, R-Derry, wants a bill drafted that would limit liability for personal injury for exposure to COVID-19.
An all-encompassing bill proposed by Rep. Jeanine Notter, R-Merrimack, would prohibit public and private entities from imposing vaccine mandates, and future stay-at-home orders or curfews; keep the State House open, and protect businesses and houses of worship.
Other bills would require insurance companies to pay for vaccines and other drugs with emergency approval by the Federal Food and Drug Administration, and to protect employees from COVID-19 exposure in the workplace.
Rep. David Meuse, D-Portsmouth, proposes a bill that would make the first Monday of March COVID-19 Victims and Survivors Memorial Day.
A number of bills would prohibit school districts from imposing mask mandates for students.
Some would leave the decision up to parents and others would establish a parents’ bill of rights which would include allowing parents to decide if their child will wear a mask.
A bill proposed by Rep. Jeffrey Greeson, R-Wentworth, would require the Attorney General to establish a COVID-19 grand jury to investigate events related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another proposed bill by Cushman would allow the over-the-counter sale of ivermectin, while Layon proposes allowing off-label use of medicines, which means using a drug for other than its approved-for-use.
The 2022 session of the Legislature convenes Jan. 5.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.