Lawmakers vote to require masks in State House; next meeting location unclear

  • Members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives stand for the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of their session in Durham, N.H. on Thursday, June 11, 2020, at the Whittemore Center at the University of New Hampshire. The Legislature, which suspended its work in March because of the COVID-19 virus outbreak, gathered at the arena for the first House session held outside the Statehouse since the Civil War. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

Monitor staff
Published: 7/21/2020 4:48:19 PM

State lawmakers have officially required masks to be worn in the New Hampshire State House.

In a bipartisan, unanimous vote Tuesday by the Joint Committee on Legislative Facilities, the committee moved to add a mandate for “face coverings which cover the mouth and nose.”

That mandate applies to all persons who enter the building, the policy states, and the regulations are expected to extend into the new year. But it carries some limitations.

It carves out an exception for children under the age of 6 and adults who can’t wear a mask if it would impede “their health or safety.”

And it only applies to areas of the State House under the control of the legislative branch; it does not cover the Executive Council Chambers, the governor’s office or the Secretary of State’s office, all of which are on the second floor. It does cover the entrances into the building and most hallways.

The rule will be strictly enforced, House Speaker Steve Shurtleff said Tuesday.

Those who arrive without a mask will be provided one at the entrance, the policy states. But those who refuse to put on a mask without an excuse will not be allowed in, Shurtleff said.

“We have professional staff on board with our State House security team,” said Shurtleff. “If they refuse to wear one because they feel they shouldn’t have to, then they would deny entry to the building.”

Enforcement will be carried out by the State House’s security detail, which includes State Police.

The use of masks, which is strongly recommended by epidemiologists to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in public places, has become a cultural flashpoint across the country in recent months, and the New Hampshire Legislature is no exception.

In June, when the nearly 400-member House convened at the Whittemore Center hockey arena at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, a contingent of around 50 Republican representatives declined to wear masks. About half said they had health conditions that prevented them from wearing masks; the rest chose not to do so because they didn’t want to.

The Senate, by contrast, has so far fully embraced mask usage. Meeting in June in the House chambers to allow social distancing, all 24 senators wore masks or plastic face shields for the duration of their time, taking them off only to eat in their seats.

It is unclear where the Legislature will meet for its next meeting. While the session ended June 30, the body will likely reconvene sometime in the fall to take up Gov. Chris Sununu’s vetoes of bills and vote on whether to overturn those vetoes.

No plans have been made for a location, but State House personnel said it is unlikely that the 400-member House will return to its close-knit chambers – which resemble a high school auditorium – any time this year.

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