CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The 400-member New Hampshire is heading back inside.
In the calendar published Friday, House Speaker Sherm Packard, R-Londonderry, said the House will meet Feb. 24 and 25 at a sports complex in Bedford. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers have met several times at the University of New Hampshire ice arena, outside on a UNH athletic field, and last month from their cars in a parking lot.
Packard said the NH Sportsplex facility includes more than 50,000 square feet of floor space, more than double the usable area at the UNH arena. His office is working with health and safety officials “to ensure a risk-mitigated and secure environment for all members and staff in attendance,” he said.
Former House Speaker Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, died of COVID-19 a week after being sworn in at the outdoor session in December. Democrats have pushed for remote sessions, but Republican House leaders have said is not possible because no rules exist to allow it, while blocking attempts to create such rules.
“We continue to research if a reasonable remote solution exists that will not compromise the operation of the 400 member House of Representatives,” Packard said. “A solution that would meet our unique needs has not been identified.”
In other coronavirus developments:
Classes have moved online and students face tighter restrictions after a “dramatic and sustained” rise in the number of COVID-19 cases at the University of New Hampshire.
Spring semester classes began Feb. 1. As of Thursday night, there were 265 active cases among students and four among faculty and staff.
The university halted a pilot program to begin allowing fans to return to athletic events, and no spectators were to be allowed at a men’s hockey game Friday night. Social gatherings are limited to no more than six people, and students can not visit other residence halls or apartment buildings.
HIRING FREEZE LIFTED
Gov. Chris Sununu has rescinded the state hiring freeze he enacted early on during the pandemic.
The order issued in April required any vacant positions remain vacant, with some exceptions. The intent was to save money at a time when state officials expected a revenue shortfall of up to $350 million because of the pandemic, but that estimate has since shrunk to less than $50 million.
“The lifting of this hiring freeze is yet another sign that our management paid off and our economy is on its way to returning to the historic highs of before this pandemic,” Sununu said.
(Copyright (c) 2022 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)