NH House Reconvenes at Hockey Arena to Facilitate Social Distancing

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For the first time in more than 150 years, and only the second time in history, the New Hampshire House of Representatives met outside of the state house Thursday.

After a three-month hiatus because of the pandemic, members reconvened inside the Whittemore Center at the University of New Hampshire to allow space for social distancing.

As people approached the ice arena, there was a tent set up where a team was doing temperature checks and asking some health questions before anyone was allowed inside.

The largest state legislative body in the country, made up of 400 members, needed a bigger space than the state house chamber to get back to work with social distancing.

"I would say there've been hundreds of hours put in by House staff and UNH staff, and actually, it seems to have come off pretty well," said Rep. Douglas Ley, a Democrat from Jaffrey.

The only real trouble was the dispute over mask requirements while on the house floor.

"I offered to wear one for this interview, but at the same time, freedom of choice is important to a lot of people," said Rep. Daryl Abbas, a Republican from Salem.

Abbas sat with other members refusing to wear masks in what they're calling the "liberty seats."

"The way the rules are being applied, they're very arbitrary," Abbas said.

He's frustrated that they had to isolate themselves in the stands while members on the floor were allowed to remove their PPE to have lunch.

"When you have a room full of people, over 200 people, not wearing them, I mean, the cat's out of the bag at this point," Abbas said.

Ley admits the rules weren't perfect.

"I mean, you can't eat through a mask," he said. "This was difficult situation."

But it seems no matter what side of aisle — or the ice — members were more than ready to reconvene.

"I'm actually proud we were able to get back together," Abbas said.

"We lost about three months there, and we are trying to get caught up as best we can," Ley said.

Lawmakers say they're so behind on bills, some of them have expired.

There will be at least one more House session at the Whittemore Center at a later date.

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