State legislators are working together
In the last few weeks, life in the State House and our state has changed dramatically. To help stop the spread of the coronavirus and protect the health and wellbeing of our members, staff and the public, we made the unprecedented decision to suspend all legislative activities through May 4, in conjunction with Gov. Chri Sununu’s emergency stay-at-home order.
This was not an easy decision to make. The New Hampshire House and Senate play a pivotal role in our state government and help to ensure the balance of power. However, as the largest Legislature in the country – with a total of 424 members – it simply would have been irresponsible to continue to meet in session.
While lawmakers may not be at the State House right now, legislative leaders are working closely with the governor’s office and state agencies on the response to COVID-19. We are so grateful for our dedicated state employees who are working to ensure every Granite Stater has the support they need. By working collaboratively, in a matter of weeks, we have expanded access to unemployment benefits, expanded telemedicine coverage and put in place important economic safeguards, including a freeze on evictions and utility shutoffs. There is more to be done, certainly, but we are on a good trajectory.
Fortunately, the technology of the 21st century presents opportunities for remote legislating that we are actively exploring. On April 10, we will host our first remote legislative meeting so that the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee can accept the $1.25 billion in federal stimulus funds recently passed by the U.S. Congress to combat this public health crisis and hear from state agencies about additional resources they may need.
The Fiscal Committee plays an important role in our state government, as this bipartisan body is charged with giving prior approval for the acceptance and expenditure of any non-state funds in excess of $100,000, including federal aid. The Fiscal Committee working swiftly and diligently, in concert with the governor, gives an additional layer of oversight that Granite Staters should expect and demand. The New Hampshire House and Senate are committed to working to ensure that these vital funds can be promptly delivered to the agencies, organizations and individuals who need them.
While the role of the Fiscal Committee and legislative involvement is essential to the effective expenditure of these funds, we also believe New Hampshire would benefit from establishing a separate office to oversee the use and reporting of these funds. In 2009, then-Gov. John Lynch created the Office of Economic Stimulus to oversee the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding received by the state of New Hampshire. A similar layer of transparency and accountability for federal funds intended to address the coronavirus crisis in our state is critically important.
Each and every state senator and state representative is working diligently to address the needs of our constituents in this trying time. Many of you have reached out to us with your questions and concerns. From requests for personal protective equipment, to small business assistance and public safety concerns, we are grateful for the opportunity to help you navigate what can feel like an overwhelming situation.
We know Granite Staters are struggling and that there are a lot of unanswered questions. Democrats and Republicans in the New Hampshire Legislature, working together, stand ready to help you. We are stronger together.
If you have questions about COVID-19, please call 2-1-1 or visit nh.gov/covid19.
Donna Soucy is president of the New Hampshire Senate. Stephen Shurtleff is the Speaker of the House.