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House moving forward on drive-in voting despite Democrats’ objections

Monitor staff
Published: 1/4/2021 4:54:00 PM

The New Hampshire House will meet Wednesday in a parking lot to carry out its first session of 2021, an official in the House speaker’s office confirmed Monday – despite objections from Democrats raised last week.

The 400-member House will hold its Convening Day in Lot A of the University of New Hampshire campus in Durham, with the proceedings broadcast into members’ cars via a loudspeaker outside and an FM radio feed.

The 24-member state Senate will be meeting and voting remotely.

Last week, several Democratic lawmakers said that the car meeting plan would be a problem for people with disabilities. Three representatives released letters they had written to acting-House Speaker Sherman Packard requesting accommodations to allow them to participate remotely due to disabilities. Some said that sitting that long in cars would be painful; others said that they had been avoiding gatherings of lawmakers to avoid COVID-19.

But on Monday, the speaker’s office repeated its position that without a change in the chamber’s rules to allow convening remotely, the meetings must go ahead in person.

“Without a rule change the New Hampshire House cannot meet remotely, either wholly or in part,” House Chief of Staff Aaron Goulette said in a statement. “Because of this, an accommodation for members to vote remotely on January 6th is unfortunately not possible.”

Instead, Goulette, added, “We are working to identify reasonable onsite accommodation needs with members.”

The Legislature’s director of the General Court Administrative Office, who oversees the compliance of the Legislature with the Americans with Disabilities Act, is working with members individually to find arrangements, Goulette said.

One Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Katherine Rogers of Concord, said that she had been contacted by House Clerk Paul Smith after requesting accommodations; she uses a walker and a wheelchair and can’t sit still for long periods of time without pain.

Smith said there would be indoor bathrooms at the university’s athletic facilities that would be accessible with assistance, Rogers said. And Rogers says she is getting a ride from Rep. Kris Schultz, a fellow Concord Democrat, solving her driving issues.

Still, Rogers said she would prefer a remote meeting, pointing to the embarrassment of needing assistance in and out of her car to use the restrooms. “While I appreciate the clerk trying to make accommodations, the question is whether there are enough accommodations,” she said.

On Wednesday, the House will vote for the next House speaker, choose whether to adopt a series of new rules that allow for remote meetings of committees this year, and take up a fast-tracked bill to allow towns to postpone town meeting business to as late as July during the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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