CONCORD — The House on Thursday voted down a proposal to essentially ban public and private entities from requiring vaccinations from employees and others, or to enter facilities or a condition for housing.
Supporters said the provision would allow individuals to determine what enters his or her body, and not employers, government officials or business owners.
“My body, my choice,” said Rep. Terry Roy, R-Deerfield, “does not only apply to abortion.”
But opponents said someone’s private choice could affect other people’s health, and the ban would be expensive, medically unconscionable, and unnecessary.
“If someone refuses reasonable precautions,” said Rep. William Marsh, R-Wolfeboro, “do they have the right to go wherever they want and infect whoever they encounter?”
He also argued there is a more reasonable proposal in an upcoming bill that better addresses the issue without a near blanket ban on any requirement for a COVID vaccination and its unintended consequences.
The bill would not only apply to COVID-19 but to other vaccinations and would remove the authority of the commissioner of Health and Human Services from determining which vaccines school children need in order to attend public schools.
Marsh said measles are dangerous to pregnant women.
“If this becomes law,” he said, “it would be illegal for a pregnant mother to deny services to someone who might (bring) measles to her unborn child.”
The bill would also prohibit schools, colleges and universities from requiring vaccinations for students to return to campus this fall, as many have done.
Roy said he initially believed the idea of a vaccine passport was dead with both Gov. Chris Sununu and President Joe Biden saying they did not support the concepts.
But he said he heard of regular working people with regular jobs being terminated for not being vaccinated against COVID.
“Follow the money,” he said, and he learned embedded in American Rescue Act is a tax credit for employers who give employees time off to get the shot or who miss work from the side effects of the COVID shots.
Other employer benefits flow though OSHA and workmen’s comp for the vaccine, he said.
“What they failed to discuss is what do the people want,” Roy said. “Do we want to force our citizens to take an experimental vaccine every time a new virus rears its head?”
The vaccine section of the bill failed on a 193-182 vote, while the remainder of the bill was approved on a voice vote.
The bill goes back to the Senate because of the House changes.
The House approved a provision that seeks to bypass the voting requirements in the federal For the People Act now before Congress.
The amendment to a Senate omnibus, bipartisan bill on election procedures, would require state, county and local elections to follow the state’s constitutional requirements, statutes and rules if the federal law passes.
The bill would require two parallel election procedures for state and federal elections, as voter eligibility, registration and procedures would be different.
Opponents said a two-tier system would require separate voting lists, separate ballots, and different laws to govern state and federal races, and would be costly to taxpayers and confusing to voters leading to disenfranchisement and voter suppression.
While supporters of the provision said it would protect New Hampshire elections from unconstitutional federal interference and avoid a one size fits all national program without regard for individual state needs.
Former Nashua City Clerk, Rep. Paul Bergeron, D-Manchester, objected to the provision calling it blatantly unconstitutional, and quoted former New Hampshire Supreme Court justice Chuck Douglas who called it a non-starter if challenged under the federal supremacy clause.
Noting the Secretary of State’s office’s support for the amendment, Bergeron said they would not discuss specific requirements or the cost of parallel election systems.
“This will cost the state thousands of dollars unnecessarily, likely violate the federal supremacy clause,” Bergeron said, “double the work for election officials and confuse voters throughout the state.”
But Rep. Ross Berry, R-Manchester, called the bill “a massive power grab by DC.”
He listed some of the requirements of the federal act that is now before the U.S. Senate and given little hope of passage and noted the effects would be far reaching for the state’s cities and towns.
But he said, “the biggest cost is to the people’s faith in our elections,” noting a recent St. Anselm College poll showing a third of state residents are not extremely confident of the outcome of state elections.
“What is the cost and price in having faith in our elections,” he asked. “We should tell D.C. New Hampshire will run New Hampshire elections, not D.C.”
House Election Law Committee chair Rep. Barbara Griffin, R-Goffstown, and the sponsor of the provision, said the supremacy clause is not applicable because the federal constitution says the time and manner of Congressional elections is to be determined by the state.
She cited an op-ed in the Washington Post calling the federal act “constitutional vandalism and an unconstitutional attempt to make state elections a part of the federal government.”
The amendment was approved on a 202-175 vote. The bill goes back to the Senate because of House changes.
The House also changed Senate Bill 31, which deals with modifications to voter checklists and absentee ballot affidavits.
The House removed communicable diseases as an eligibility for voting absentee.
Rep. Russell Muirhead, D-Hanover, said removing the provision would make voting more difficult.
“Citizens suffering communicable diseases should be able to use an absentee ballot,” he said. “This amendment makes voting rights more difficult to exercise by making absentee ballots more difficult to access.”
But Rep. Peter Hayward, R-Milton, said removing the provision from the bill does not change anything, noting it reflects current law not the emergency order that allowed an unverifiable diagnosis to be a disability in the 2020 election.
The House passed the bill on a 214-162 vote.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.