Sununu cites need to protect local control in veto of bill banning school mask mandates

By: - May 23, 2022 3:20 pm
A protective face mask hanging on a locker

The National Education Association-New Hampshire applauded Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto of House Bill 1131. (Getty Images)

Gov. Chris Sununu’s Friday veto of a bill prohibiting schools from mandating masks defeated one of the few remaining pieces of legislation seeking to limit public health powers. Many others have died or been weakened, and a few still need approval Thursday from both chambers. 

In vetoing House Bill 1131, Sununu cited respect for local control.

“Just because we may not like a local decision, does not mean we should remove their authority,” he wrote in his veto message. “One of the state’s foremost responsibilities is to know the limits of its power.” He continued: “Big government is never the solution, and neither is a one-size-fits-all approach. The state must remain steadfast in protecting local control as decisions like this are best left to authorities closest to parents and families, where they can work with their neighbors to decide what is right for their children.”

In a statement following the veto, Rep. Melissa Blasek, a Merrimack Republican and the bill’s co-sponsor, accused Sununu of ruling by “executive fiat.” 

“It would be nice if Governor Sununu shared his power with the Legislature per the constitution,” she wrote. “But instead he has decided to go to war with parents in this state.” 

The bill was one of several that Young Americans for Liberty, a national youth liberty organization, was watching in New Hampshire.

“The science is clear: Politicians forcing children to wear masks is wrong on so many levels,” Sean Themea, the group’s chief of staff, said in an email. “Governor Sununu’s veto of HB 1131 is a step backwards in the fight for medical and parental freedom, and the state Legislature should swiftly move for a veto override.”

The National Education Association-New Hampshire applauded the veto.

“We opposed HB 1131 because it would indefinitely prohibit the use of a masking policy even if recommended by our state public health agencies should a new variant from COVID or some other highly infectious airborne pathogen arise,” said Megan Tuttle, president of NEA-New Hampshire, in a statement. “None of us want to return to a remote instruction setting again, and if a masking policy is recommended by science and our public health officials to ensure we can keep our kids and education employees safe and in the classroom, we should be able to do so without breaking the law.”

Opponents of mask and vaccine mandates and state-ordered shutdowns during the pandemic mounted a strong lobbying campaign this year, backing nearly 60 pandemic-related bills. Most failed.

Others were scaled back by amendments. 

A bill that would have required state and county medical facilities with vaccine mandates to honor a “conscience” objection, now only requires they grant the existing medical and religious exemptions, after lawmakers were told the objection could cost the state millions in Medicaid and Medicare funding. 

Another bill sought to add the same exemption to all mandated school vaccines. The version of the bill passed by both chambers removed the conscience objection and would instead eliminate the requirement that a notary sign a form seeking a religious exemption.

A few bills are headed to the governor’s desk. 

House Bill 1022 would allow pharmacists to dispense ivermectin to someone without a prescription from their physician. The version that passed the House and Senate would limit the measure to two years unless a study committee made it permanent. And House Bill 1606 would essentially require people to give their physician permission to include their immunization records in the state’s new vaccine registry. Currently, their records are automatically included unless they ask them to be excluded. 

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications. Email: [email protected]