The Bulletin Board

AG says acceptance of grants does not mean state must comply with all federal COVID mandates

By: - October 8, 2021 5:29 pm
State House dome with American flag in the foreground

The attorney general’s legal analysis concluded that the wording “does not bind the state to any broad and sweeping federal mandates because the language applies only to a narrow set of guidance and directives.” (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

The state is not required to comply with all current and future federal COVID-19 mandates if it accepts $27 million in federal grants for vaccine outreach, the state attorney general said Friday. The analysis did not satisfy the group that has successfully stalled acceptance of the grants on the grounds their terms threaten the state’s sovereignty. 

RebuildNH said Friday it also objects to the purpose of the grants and does not believe the state should be using taxpayer money to push the COVID-19 vaccine.

The group’s dispute over the grants, which would add 13 temporary positions aimed at boosting the state’s vaccination rate, led both the Executive Council and the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee to table them in September. And last week, opponents’ protest at the Executive Council meeting led the state to cancel it, citing state employees’ safety. The contracts remain on the agenda of next week’s Executive Council meeting, but they will be considered only if councilors vote to untable them.

Partly at issue is a paragraph within the contracts that says recipients of federal pandemic aid must do three things:

  • “Comply with existing and/or future directives and guidance from the secretary (of Health and Human Services) regarding control of the spread of COVID-19”;
  • “In consultation and coordination with HHS provide, commensurate with the condition of the individual, COVID-19 patient care regardless of the individual’s home jurisdiction and/or appropriate public health measures (e.g., social distancing, home isolation)”; and
  • “Assist the United States Government in the implementation and enforcement of federal orders related to quarantine and isolation.”

The attorney general’s legal analysis concluded that the wording “does not bind the state to any broad and sweeping federal mandates because the language applies only to a narrow set of guidance and directives.” It does not compel the state to comply with federal vaccine mandates, the analysis said.

The office also concluded the state’s sovereignty is further protected by constitutional limits on the federal government’s ability to bind the state to any broader set of guidance and directives beyond the grants. 

RebuildNH remained unconvinced Friday.

“The fact of the matter is that these funds are paying for 13 new government agents whose sole purpose will be to convince people to change their minds who don’t want the COVID-19 vaccine and who don’t want their private information in a government database accessible to the federal government,” said Andrew J. Manuse, chairman of RebuildNH. “New Hampshire should not be in the propaganda business, plain and simple. We also should not be expanding the Immunization Information System without first making sure that it is compliant with state law and Part 1, Article 2B of the Constitution. 

He added, “I think it goes without saying that everyone who wants the COVID-19 vaccine has already taken it or they know where to go to get one, but those of us who have not accepted the vaccine are not going to be swayed by wasteful government propaganda.”

Gov. Chris Sununu, who has spoken in support of the grants, asked the attorney general to conduct the legal review. 

Sununu issued a statement Friday: “I appreciate that the attorney general has been very clear in his determination that these contracts do not bind the New Hampshire state government to any sweeping federal mandates, ensuring our state’s sovereignty in how we manage the COVID pandemic.”

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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.