Sununu 'optimistic' Exec. Council will agree to take vaccine money

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Oct. 12—CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu said he was "optimistic" the Executive Council on Wednesday would approve two contracts totaling $27 million to deliver all vaccines in the state, including COVID-19.

House Democratic leaders accused GOP leadership in the Legislature of helping to spread "disinformation" about the safety of vaccines, which they said resulted in the council canceling its Sept. 29 meeting after vocal anti-vaccine mandate protesters disrupted the event.

In response, Sununu and the council moved their Wednesday meeting to the Police Standards and Training Council auditorium in Concord, where state officials promised a significant show of law enforcement to deter disruptions.

The GOP-led council and Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee both voted last month to table the two contracts, in part out of concern that taking the money could commit the state to enforcing the vaccine mandate announced by President Joe Biden that will affect 100 million Americans.

"I am optimistic. I haven't counted votes or anything like that," Sununu said.

Last week, Attorney General John Formella advised the council these grants don't in any way commit the state to carrying out any future federal mandates. The Biden administration has yet to make public its proposal to have the Occupational Safety and Health Administration carry out the latest restrictions.

Sununu has vowed New Hampshire would join a multistate lawsuit challenging Biden's authority.

"We always retain — and have retained — our ability to manage the COVID pandemic as we see fit," Sununu told Chris Ryan on WGIR-AM radio Tuesday morning.

"We haven't capitulated to the federal government. We are going to sue back on his OSHA loopholes that (Biden) is in the process of creating."

Still more questions

Executive councilors and Republicans on the fiscal panel have said they have other concerns about these grants.

House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, said Tuesday he "still had questions," including whether adding 13 temporary full-time state workers at the Department of Health and Human Services will significantly increase the vaccination rate.

"I would want some answers on that...what is the other money going to be used for? With that, I agree with the council and the fiscal committee as to holding up on it," Packard said.

"Many questions have been sent to (HHS) Commissioner (Lori) Shibinette as to more detail. Once that is provided, you can make an honest assessment."

House Democratic Leader Renny Cushing of Hampton and other Democratic leaders accused Packard of tolerating "misinformation" on the vaccine, including conspiracy shared by Fiscal Committee Chairman Ken Weyler, R-Kingston, with committee members earlier this month.

"The NH GOP has shown that they are a part of the disinformation problem themselves," said Rep. Lucy Weber, D-Walpole.

"We know that conspiracy theories have always existed about issues of public interest or concern, but it is exceedingly disturbing when a fringe group actively disrupts the reality of keeping people healthy and safe. "

A week ago, Weyler agreed to resign his chairmanship of that panel, as well as the House Finance Committee, to "end the circus" associated with his communications.

He apologized for forwarding without reading the entire document, which among other things blamed the Catholic Church for spreading lies about the vaccine's safety.

"I have never spread any misinformation that I am aware of in any way, shape or form that was against vaccines, and I don't subscribe to some of this crazy stuff that is out there," Packard said.

"That said, I am absolutely opposed to a federal mandate."

Packard confirmed Weyler will remain on the House finance panel. "He has a wealth of institutional knowledge," Packard said.

House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, D-Auburn, said it's Democrats who want to invade personal privacy and invite more government intrusion.

"It is ironic that these representatives have claimed to not want to invade people's privacy but openly advocate for policies to force employees to be vaccinated or lose their job," Osborne said.

klandrigan@unionleader.com

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