By Christian Wade | The Center Square
Republican lawmakers want to absolve New Hampshire businesses that have been cited for violating the state’s COVID-19 restrictions, which has drawn the ire of Gov. Chris Sununu.
The state House of Representatives on Wednesday voted 188-169 to approve a Republican-backed bill, HB 63, which would reverse citations and fines imposed on businesses under Sununu’s executive orders on mask use, social distancing and other restrictions during the pandemic.
The legislation also allows for an annulment of arrests or criminal convictions for violating the orders.
“The people and the businesses of New Hampshire have suffered enough,” Rep. Chris True, R-Sandown, said in remarks ahead of Wednesday’s vote. “And we must stop adding to their pain and adding to their financial losses.”
Sununu blasted the move by members of his own party, suggesting he would veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
“We can’t claim to support law and order, then incentivize law-breaking and reward those who do not follow the rules,” Sununu said in a statement. “Rewarding the small handful who recklessly thwarted public health and safety after outreach and educational attempts is a complete disservice to the thousands of small businesses who worked tirelessly to keep their employees and customers safe while enabling our economy to stay open for business.”
Democrats, who voted against the measure, echoed those sentiments, calling the move an affront to businesses and individuals who abided by the rules.
Rep. David Meuse, D-Portsmouth, said the measure would encourage others to violate the state’s mask and social distancing orders which could result in a further spread of the virus.
“It would send a clear and unmistakable message to those who disagree with orders designed to protect public health that they are not free to flout those orders without any worry of long-term consequences,” Meuse said in remarks ahead of the vote. “Your state has chosen to reward the people who chose not to follow the rules during the worst health crisis of the past 100 years.”
Republicans argued that the changes were necessary to protect business owners who fear being targeted for COVID-19 violations.
“This bill is not just about the businesses that have been fined, but also about the businesses that fear they may be next,” Rep. Andrew Prout, R-Hudson said.
To date, the state has fined eight businesses more than $10,000 in total for violating COVID-19 Sununu’s executive orders, according to the Attorney General’s office.
The proposal was the first of more than 130 pieces of legislation the House was expected to deal with during its two-day session at the 50,000 square foot NH Sportsplex in Bedford.
The bill now moves to the House Finance Committee, which will weigh the costs. It must pass a second House vote before heading to the Senate for consideration.