House Minority Leader Dick Hinch complained to UNH’s president Friday about a letter Speaker Steve Shurtleff sent the day before apologizing for some House members drinking beer and not wearing masks outside of Wednesday’s session at the Whittemore Center.
Hinch, R-Merrimack, didn’t mention anything about the alleged beer drinking in the halls in his letter to UNH President James Dean, but did say that Shurtleff never told the 400 House lawmakers that Durham and UNH had protocols and ordinances requiring masks.
“The Speaker’s Office had several opportunities to inform members and staff about the mask ordinance, but failed to do so,” Hinch said.
“The Speaker owns this failure to properly communicate. The session day logistics information sent out by the Speaker’s office did not mention to legislators that the town or the University had a mask mandate. It said only that masks would be provided at the point of entrance to the arena, not to bring your own for your walk over.”
Shurtleff declined comment on Friday.
Shurtleff’s letter Thursday to Dean apologized for the “inappropriate behavior” of some of its members, noting that “the actions of a few do not represent the New Hampshire House of Representatives.”
Shurtleff said it had come to his attention that some members were drinking beer in the halls and that some members were outside of the Whittemore Center without masks, against both UNH and Durham protocols and ordinances. Shurtleff wrote this letter to Dean.
The pandemic caused the 400-member House of Representatives to look for another place to convene other than the State House so they could socially distance.
UNH officials let the House meet instead at the Whittemore Center, a large hockey arena on the campus, to complete their legislative agenda.
Wednesday was Veto Day in which both the House and Senate sought unsuccessfully to override Gov. Chris Sununu’s vetoes.
But the last day in the session ended up more indicative of the battle between Republicans and Democrats that have continued since it started.
Hinch said Shurtleff should have disclosed that his own policies may be in conflict with the university’s policies.
“It is possible that had more detailed communication occurred, more of our visitors would have complied, especially when outside the arena, and you would have had advanced knowledge that he planned to accommodate non-mask-wearers,” Hinch said.
State Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, said he didn’t know of anyone drinking beer in the halls at UNH and said that was based on empty beer cans in the trash.
Baldasaro was one of the men in the photo posted by a UNH lecturer that showed maskless members of the House in the parking lot before Wednesday’s session.
Baldasaro said the House members with him in the photo are drinking coffee and soda as they would have if they were in a restaurant and were not aware of the mask ordinance.
Baldasaro said he was smoking a cigarette which would have been impossible with a mask.
Baldasaro was one of 47 Republican House members who sat in a special section Wednesday for House members without masks in what was called the non-compliant section.
“It’s harassment from Democratic legislators,” Baldasaro said.
Rep. Tim Horrigan, D-Durham, said the Republicans heckled and booed Democrats, particularly when he and other Democrats took a knee during the National Anthem Wednesday.
The session has been frustrating, Horrigan said.