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Court rules for Democrats in debate over remote legislative session

  • Legislators stand for a moment of silence in honor of former House Speaker Richard Hinch during a New Hampshire House of Representatives session held at NH Sportsplex, due to the coronavirus,, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, in Bedford, N.H. Speaker Hinch, a Republican from Merrimack, died of COVID-19 a week after being sworn in December 2020. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

By Associated Press
Published: 4/9/2021 10:33:51 AM

A federal appeals court has vacated a judge’s ruling that upheld the New Hampshire House Speaker’s refusal to provide remote access to legislative sessions to lawmakers who are at a higher risk of serious complications from COVID-19.

Seven Democratic lawmakers sued Sherman Packard, a Republican, arguing that holding in-person sessions without a remote option violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the state and federal constitutions, and forces them to either risk their lives or abandon their duties as elected officials.

A federal judge ruled against them, saying the House could proceed with in-person sessions. But the Boston-based 1st Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday sent the case back to the judge in Concord with instructions to hold further proceedings to determine if the plaintiffs are “persons with disabilities within the meaning” of the ADA or the federal Rehabilitation Act.

With vaccinations becoming more available, the court ruled that the judge should “also determine whether – and to what extent – changing circumstances may moot the plaintiffs’ claims.”

The House was scheduled for a third consecutive day Friday of an in-person session at a Bedford sports complex. It wasn’t immediately clear if the ruling would change proceedings.

House Democratic Leader Renny Cushing said the decision was “a great victory for democracy,” WMUR-TV reported. “It sends a clear message the Legislature is not above the constitution and ADA. I look forward to working out a system in which everyone can participate.”

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