CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire lawmakers accepted $22.5 million in federal COVID-19 vaccine funding Friday that has sparked intense debate and angry protests for the last two months.
The Joint Fiscal Committee had tabled a request from the Department of Health and Human Service in September to spend the money to hire new workers to promote the vaccine and help providers comply with the state’s new vaccine registry system. Meanwhile, the Executive Council, which approves state contracts, initially rejected the money before reversing course last week.
On Friday, three Republicans joined the committee’s three Democrats in voting to accept the money. Four Republicans voted no, with some citing concerns that language in the grant would require the state to follow future federal directives and mandates related to COVID-19.
“The action we take today will be historic,” said Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren. “It will be historic because we will either reject the notion of subservience to government coercion, or it will be historic because we accede to that notion and violate the most fundamental premises of freedom upon which our state and nation were founded and which are imperiled as never before in our nation’s history.”
Giuda predicted the vote would become a campaign issue next year. At least one audience member agreed, shouting at Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, “Treason! You will never get elected again, Morse! You’re done!”
In September, unruly protesters forced the postponement of the Executive Council’s vote on the grants, and a month later, nine were arrested for interrupting the rescheduled meeting. Friday’s fiscal committee meeting featured limited seating, with a separate video feed in another room.
The language the Republicans opposed has appeared in other contracts they approved, and both Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and Attorney General John Formella said it does not in any way impede the state’s sovereignty. The Executive Council approved the funding last week along with a non-binding resolution that condemns vaccine mandates.
Senate Democrats on the fiscal committee issued a statement after Friday’s vote saying they were appalled that it took so long to approve the money.
“People are dying. Our hospitals are once again reaching capacity,” they said. “Today’s vote didn’t happen because it was the right thing to do. It finally happened because Republicans needed to wait until they decided they’d developed enough political cover to finally do the right thing.”