The Bulletin Board

Committee passes amended bill on safety policies at performing arts venues

By: - February 23, 2022 1:09 pm
Exterior of the Bank of New Hampshire Stage in downtown Concord

House Bill 1369 would affirm in statute the right of performing arts venues to set safety protocols during any disease outbreak, not just COVID-19. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Performing arts venues seeking state backup to require masks or proof of vaccination got it – with a catch – Tuesday in a bipartisan 11-9 House committee vote. But the bill’s future is uncertain with at least two other House bills aimed at prohibiting those types of safety policies.

House Bill 1369, as amended by the House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee, would affirm in statute the right of performing arts venues to set safety protocols during any disease outbreak, not just COVID-19. 

But, if a venue changed its policy after a ticket purchase, it would be required to refund the patron unless that person had acknowledged at the time of purchase that safety policies may change. During the bill’s public hearing, venue directors told committee members it’s performers, not always the venue, that require masks or proof of vaccination.

The amendment’s sponsor, said Rep. Jerry Knirk, a Freedom Democrat, sought a compromise.

“It tries to respect the rights of the venue to set their own rules (and) respect the right of patrons to demand a refund if the rules change,” he said. “It tries to thread that needle for all those various things.”

Rep. Erica Layon, a Derry Republican, objected, saying existing law allows private businesses to set policies, and patrons already have options for recourse. When a Derry venue changed its policies after tickets had been purchased, she said the Attorney General’s Office stepped in and made sure ticket holders were refunded. 

Layon also raised concerns about “dueling legislation” that’s working its way through the Legislature.

House Bill 1490, which passed 11-10 in committee, would prevent all private businesses from denying access based on vaccination status or for refusal to use a “medical device,” such as a mask. House Bill 1224, which sought similar restrictions by disallowing vaccine and mask mandates, was sent to interim study by the full House. 

House Bill 1351 would prohibit businesses that receive public money, which includes performing arts venues, from requiring employees to be vaccinated. That could pose a challenge for those working an event where the act requires proof of vaccination.  The House Labor, Industrial, and Rehabilitative Services Committee is scheduled to vote on that bill Thursday.

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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.