Maura Willing, Liz-Anne Platt, and Melissa Hinebauch of Concord urge lawmakers to approve $22.5 million for the state’s vaccine program on Friday. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)
New Hampshire is no longer the only state in the country to reject millions in federal money for its vaccine program.
The Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee on Friday voted, 6-4, to give the state Department of Health and Human Services the last approval it needed to spend $22.5 million to enhance its vaccine registry, manage the state’s vaccine supply and distribution, and support health care providers administering the program.
The debate over the funding has been largely along party lines, but the vote wasn’t. Three Republicans – Sen. Chuck Morse of Salem and Reps. Karen Umberger of Kearsarge and Tracy Emerick of Hampton – joined the committee’s three Democrats to pass the funding.
Immediately after the vote, some in the audience yelled, “treason” and “civil war.” One woman singled out Morse specifically, saying: “You will never get elected again Morse. You’re done.”
Opponents argue that taking the federal money will compel the state to comply with all federal pandemic orders, an interpretation Attorney General John Formella disagrees with.
The department’s vaccine investments have been in jeopardy since September, when vaccine and mandate protesters shut down an Executive Council meeting before that body could vote. At the council’s following meeting, members rejected the department’s request, 4-1, to the cheers of protesters in attendance, and then reversed itself at its last meeting, approving the funding quietly, without putting it on the agenda ahead of the meeting.
The department has faced similar hurdles with the fiscal committee. Members voted along party lines in September to table the request. Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette withdrew the request before the next meeting. With the council’s approval secured, Shibinette brought it back before the committee Friday.
Sens. Gary Daniels of Milford and Bob Giuda of Warren have been steadfast in their opposition to the spending. Daniels said Friday that nearly 85 percent of the 500 to 600 emails he’s received have urged him to vote against taking the grant money over fears the state is collecting personal information from vaccine recipients. He said he also remains concerned the language of the grant’s conditions will require the state to cede authority to the federal government.
“The vote we take today will be historic,” he said. “It will be historic because we will either reject the notion of subservience to government coercion or it will be historic because we accede to that notion and violate the most fundamental premises of freedom upon which our state and nation were founded, which are in peril as never before.”
Gov. Chris Sununu, who has championed the department’s request, issued a statement following the vote.
“I would like to thank members of the fiscal committee for voting to accept these critical funds in a bipartisan manner,” it said. “The vaccine is our way out of this pandemic, and these funds will provide valuable tools and help improve outcomes for our citizens.”
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