Commentary: Remote access to Legislature needed to protect state’s physical, civic health

NH state house

Without remote access, many people will not be able to participate in the legislative process. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)

On behalf of 25 statewide health providers and advocacy organizations, we write today to urge New Hampshire House and Senate leaders to take all necessary steps and precautions to ensure safe public access to the 2022 legislative session, starting with a virtual option to allow individuals to testify before the Legislature from outside the State House. With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, we believe this is essential to the physical and civic health of our state.

In New Hampshire, the State House is the people’s house, and public input and the right to know are critical components of the legislative process.

As we saw during the 2020 and 2021 legislative sessions, remote access through videoconferencing allows all Granite Staters to engage in the legislative process safely and securely without putting their health at risk. Last year, thousands of residents from around the state observed and participated in committee hearings from outside the State House. They testified on bills related to health care, education, and many other issues without risking their health and wellness or the health and wellness of their families, friends, neighbors, and communities.

This remote access supported the health of our legislators and the public at-large, expanded the pool of perspectives and experiences represented at committee hearings, and more fully informed our legislative process.

Still, to this point, our House and Senate leaders have not announced any plans to allow for testimony in the coming legislative session, which will start in January. Without remote access, many individuals, including those with pre-existing medical conditions, those with unvaccinated children or family members, and others at risk, will be unable to engage in the legislative process or make their voices heard on the many legislative proposals critical to their own health and welfare. This not only jeopardizes the health and welfare of Granite State residents and legislators, many of whom face underlying health issues, but it also threatens to deprive the Legislature of critical constituent and stakeholder voices needed to craft responsive and responsible public policy.

For the health and wellness of our state and its residents, we ask New Hampshire’s House and Senate leadership to adopt a system of virtual access, including remote testimony for the 2022 legislative session.

This opinion piece is submitted on behalf of ABLE-NHAmerican Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (N.H. Chapter), Community Support Network, Inc., Disability Rights Center – N.H., Granite State Home Health & Hospice AssociationGranite State Independent Living, LeadingAge Maine & New HampshireNAMI-New Hampshire, N.H. Alcohol & Drug Abuse Counselors AssociationN.H. Alcohol and Other Drug Service Providers Association, N.H Alliance for Healthy AgingN.H. Association of Residential Care Homes, N.H. Brain Injury Association, N.H. Coalition of Recovery ResidencesN.H. Community Behavioral Health Association, N.H. Health Care Association, N.H. Legal AssistanceN.H. Medical Society, N.H. Nurse Practitioner Association, N.H. Nutrition NetworkN.H. Public Health Association, N.H. Recovery Community Center Network, and Waypoint.

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Jake Berry
Jake Berry

Jake Berry is vice president of policy at New Futures in Concord.

Kristine E. Stoddard
Kristine E. Stoddard

Kristine E. Stoddard is senior director of New Hampshire public policy for Bi-State Primary Care Association in Bow.