New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) vetoed a bill on Friday that would have prevented mask mandates from being implemented in schools.
Republicans began advancing the bill through the state legislature earlier this year after the state revised its guidance in February to no longer advise requiring masks in schools, and the state’s Department of Education directed schools to end their mandates.
Despite these changes in guidance from the state, several school districts claimed at the time that the state had no legal authority to prevent them from implementing mask mandates if they chose to do so.
Responding to the issues with these school districts at the time, state Rep. Melissa Blasek (R) said: “As you can see, there are some legal arguments going on with this. So that’s why this bill is still very necessary.”
The legislature ultimately ended up passing the bill, but Sununu vetoed it on Friday, claiming that the legislation infringed on local control of schools.
“Just because we may not like a local decision does not mean we should remove their authority,” the governor said. “One of the state’s foremost responsibilities is to know the limits of its power.”
This is a major issue that has split the Republican Party throughout the COVID pandemic. While a significant majority of Republicans would say that they are for small or limited government, many also argue that there is still a time and place for the government to act, and barring these authoritarian mask mandates from stunting our children’s development is one of those situations. Others still argue that limited government means that these left-wing districts should have the right to do this, even if it is ultimately detrimental to the health of the children.
Regardless, Sununu appears to have been on both sides of this debate throughout the pandemic, supporting some rules from the state restricting local governance, but not others. In February of this year, the governor supported the State Department of Education’s new rule prohibiting schools from moving to full or part-time distance learning as a response to COVID outbreaks.
At that time, Sununu stated: “In-person learning is where our students receive the best education. Today’s decision returns us to pre-COVID practices and ensures New Hampshire delivers the student experience our kids need and deserve.”
During his message regarding Friday’s veto, Sununu did not provide an explanation as to why he supported statewide control over whether local school districts can implement remote learning, but chose not to support statewide control over whether local school districts can implement mask mandates.
It is not yet clear whether the Republicans in the state legislature will be able to override the governor’s veto.