Gov. Chris Sununu announced an end to New Hampshire’s state of emergency Thursday, 16 months after invoking executive powers at the onset of a deadly pandemic.
During a weekly press conference addressing the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sununu said that the state of emergency would sunset Friday evening.
“The state of emergency is no longer necessary to manage the remaining pieces of the pandemic,” Sununu said. Instead, the administration plans to treat the pandemic as a “public health incident,” the governor said.
Announcing the change, Sununu said that a decrease in daily infections and deaths due to the coronavirus had spurred him to end the special arrangement, which has allowed his office to direct billions of federal aid money without legislative sign off and issue sweeping executive orders without lawmaker approval.
The number of Granite Staters who have been vaccinated also played a role in the governor’s decision, he said. More than 800,000 state residents have received at least one shot, and Sununu projected that the state would see 70 percent of residents fully vaccinated by midsummer.
“It’s not just seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but we really are there,” he said. “We’re kind of at the precipice, if you will, of the end of the tunnel.”
Invoking the state of emergency gave the state government broad latitude to staff vaccination sites, distribute federal aid money quickly, and set up programs and services such as the Main Street Relief Fund for businesses and the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The move allowed Sununu to impose an eviction moratorium for nonpayment of rent, issue a mask mandate, and shut down restaurants and non-essential businesses to in-person traffic in the initial months of the pandemic.
But it also drew sharp criticism from both the left and the right. Democrats took issue with Sununu’s decision not to run major spending decisions by the Executive Council and legislative Fiscal Committee, filing an unsuccessful lawsuit in a New Hampshire district court.
Libertarian-leaning Republicans, meanwhile, loudly condemned the governor’s use of his powers to shut down restaurants and businesses early on in the pandemic, and later to issue fines from the Department of Justice to businesses and restaurants that had reopened but were in violation of the mask ordinance.
Opponents of Sununu on the far right organized protests at the State House, and in some cases outside of his home.
A bill working its way through the Legislature would curb the ability of Sununu and future governors to issue states of emergency indefinitely. Under the bill, House Bill 417, any state of emergency would require legislative approval to continue after the first 30 days, unless the emergency in question incapacitated at least 50 percent of the House and Senate.
That bill is headed to a committee of conference next week to hash out disagreements between the House and Senate over how much time the order should have before it expires; House representatives have pushed for 21 days.
For his part, Sununu said Thursday the executive decisions had not been lightly made.
“It was a really tough time, and I sincerely, sincerely mean it,” Sununu said. “I hope no governor ever has to go through this.”