December 18, 2020 – Today, the House Republican Caucus voted to nominate Acting House Speaker Sherman Packard (R-Londonderry) as its nominee for Speaker of the House, which will be decided on January 6, 2021. Previously, they had held a caucus to elect their nominee for speaker in person. Following news of this vote, Democratic Leader Renny Cushing (D-Hampton) and Democratic Leader Pro Tempore Karen Ebel (D-New London) released the following statements:
“I congratulate Representative Packard on his nomination for Speaker during the Republican caucus that took place virtually today. I look forward to working with Representative Packard on our first big challenge, which will be assuring safe and accessible meetings when the legislature returns to session in January. With a body of 400 members, it is essential that we figure out how to meet remotely beginning on January 6th. No legislator should have to put their life at risk to fulfil their duties,” said Democratic Leader Renny Cushing (D-Hampton).
Representative Cushing continued, “Representative Packard and I both have seen the effectiveness and accessibility of meeting remotely, as recently as this week when we met together on Zoom with the House Rules Committee. As the New Hampshire Supreme Court has recently affirmed, meeting remotely is a legal and effective way to continue operating while the danger of the COVID-19 pandemic persists. As I have said many times in the past few weeks and will continue to reiterate, it is our job as leaders to protect all legislators and staff from harm and meeting remotely is without a question the safest and most accessible way to do this.”
“For a legislative body the size of the New Hampshire House, the pandemic has presented major hurdles,” added Democratic Leader Pro Tempore Karen Ebel (D-New London), who has been deeply involved with the legislature’s transition to virtual meetings since March. “The legislature is an essential branch of government and our constituents expect us to represent them. Additionally, there are other state legislatures that have adopted procedures and are using technology enabling them to effectively conduct legislative business on a remote basis, both in committee and in legislative session.”
“Given the Supreme Court’s finding combined with the need to protect legislators, the public, and our staff, it is imperative that the Speaker’s Office work to ensure the session is held remotely on January 6th.”
On Tuesday, December 15, House Democrats sent a memo to Acting Speaker Sherm Packard and the House Clerk Paul Smith. The memo laid out a few detailed paths towards how the House could meet in session virtually, as well as all of the work that has been done over the past 9 months by staff and legislators to shift legislative work virtually. Main points from the memo include:
During the 2020 session, the New Hampshire legislature developed and successful deployed an effective method of doing committee work remotely, while also following the Right To Know laws, using the Governor’s Emergency Order #12 as guidance.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court has ruled that a quorum of the House of Representatives may be established by electronic means.
It has been the practice and precedent of the House since March to proceed with remote committee meetings.
A review of the NCSL website alone indicates that many states have adopted procedures permitting them to conduct legislative business on a remote basis, both in committee and in legislative session.
On Wednesday December 16, the House Rules Committee met and conducted business virtually. There was no specific House Rule granting that authority, but rather practice and precedent was relied on in combination with guidance from the Governor’s Emergency Order #12.
On November 20th, House Republicans held their caucus to elect their nominee for Speaker in person, followed by an in person reception. It was later reported that several members who attended the reception had tested positive for COVID-19.