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10 resign from state's diversity panel over 'divisive concepts' law
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CONCORD — More than half of Gov. Chris Sununu’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion, including both local members, resigned Tuesday to protest Sununu’s recent decision to sign into law a controversial measure banning the teaching of certain so-called “divisive concepts” in school.

Dottie Morris, associate vice president for diversity and inclusion at Keene State College, and Cheshire County Sheriff Eli Rivera were among the 10 council members who signed a joint resignation letter to the governor outlining their concerns.

In their letter, they said the new law “aims to censor conversations essential to advancing equity and inclusion in our state, specifically for those within our public education systems, and all state employees.”

Initially known as House Bill 544, that legislation was incorporated into the state budget proposal that Sununu signed last Friday. The measure, which House Republicans introduced earlier this year, bans schools and government agencies from spreading ideas that either New Hampshire or the U.S. are fundamentally racist or sexist, and that anyone should feel guilt or any type of psychological distress due to their race or sex.

Local students and educators have said the measure would keep important conversations from happening in the classroom and have argued that it infringes on their First Amendment rights.

The advisory council members who resigned Tuesday said the legislation is in “direct conflict” with the council’s stated purpose. The council, which Sununu established in 2017, is meant to “further combat discrimination and advance the ends of diversity and inclusion” in the state, according to the governor’s executive order creating it.

The 17-member group meets monthly to review New Hampshire laws and policies for potential changes and also to recommend ways for the state to support local efforts against discrimination.

In their resignation letter, the council members told Sununu that they believe systemic racism exists in New Hampshire and that the “divisive concepts” bill would weaken the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

“Given your willingness to sign this damaging provision and make it law, we are no longer able to serve as your advisors,” they wrote. “... It should not be taken lightly that nearly every member of the Council that is not part of your administration is resigning today, as we collectively see no path forward with this legislation in place.”

Morris, the advisory council’s vice chairwoman, said in a written statement Tuesday that residents who have faced discrimination must be able to voice their experiences.

“The ‘divisive concepts’ language signed by Governor Sununu sets us back in this mission, and so we must continue that work using other avenues,” she said in announcing her resignation from the panel.

Rivera did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a statement Tuesday, Sununu called it “unfortunate” that the American Civil Liberties Union — whose executive director for New Hampshire, Devon Chaffee, was among the members who resigned — “has tried to insert politics into an otherwise fruitful mission in addressing many issues of race and discrimination in our state.”

“These politically charged actions will not deter the Council from advancing the good work they’ve accomplished and help move forward New Hampshire’s efforts around messaging, training programs and diversity in the workplace,” he said.

Sununu had spoken out against an initial draft of the “divisive concepts” bill but expressed support this month for an amended version — which broadened the scope of what counts as discrimination while also protecting workforce diversity training — included in the state’s $13.5 billion budget.

“I think they’ve done a very good job just to strengthen something that is workable for everybody,” he said at a June 10 news conference.

The full Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion told Sununu in a June 2 letter, however, that it was opposed to even the amended version of the legislation, saying that it would likely “chill honest, frank, and robust discussions that are central to ongoing efforts to make New Hampshire a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive place.”


Local
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Keene's fixed site to have fewer hours as vaccine push pivots to pop-ups
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On Wednesday, the N.H. National Guard is ending its affiliation with mass COVID-19 vaccination sites. But locally, the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network will continue its efforts to get shots in arms, with a few changes.

The indoor vaccination site at 62 Maple Ave. in Keene will no longer be open for regular hours as it has been, though the public health network — which oversees the site and vaccine outreach in the Monadnock Region — will schedule vaccination clinics there periodically. The network will also continue holding pop-up clinics in other locations, such as at the Cheshire Fairgrounds in North Swanzey and SwampBats games.

“The manpower is shifting, so it’s not that we are taking a step back, we are just moving in a different direction,” said Tricia Zahn, director of the network. “We are now using resources in smaller, but more frequent and geographically disbursed, ways.”

Under guidance from the state, the N.H. National Guard — which has helped with the vaccine rollout since December — stopped giving first doses of vaccine across New Hampshire on June 1, though stayed on through the remainder of the month to help administer second doses.

Zahn said appointments are encouraged for the scheduled clinics at the Maple Avenue site, but walk-ins will also be accepted if enough vaccines are available. Appointments can be made at vaccines.nh.gov or by calling 2-1-1.

Otherwise, the public health network will host additional pop-up clinics throughout the summer, which are only for walk-ins.

A pop-up for public health

More than 20 have been held so far at locations such as The Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, Keene State College, The Community Kitchen in Keene, the Keene Public Library, SwampBats games and Railroad Square in Keene.

Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will both be available at these clinics, but Pfizer will be prioritized for children ages 12 to 17 because it is the only vaccine authorized for that age group.

Other pop-up clinic dates scheduled so far:

July 10 from 8 to 10 a.m. at Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough

July 17 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 62 Maple Ave.

July 24 from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at the Cheshire Fairgrounds in North Swanzey

Aug. 7 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 62 Maple Ave.

People can also get vaccinated at area pharmacies and through their primary-care provider. To check if your local store carries the COVID-19 shot or to schedule an appointment there, visit its website. Appointments can also be made through vaccines.nh.gov.


Wapo
On narrow vote, Supreme Court leaves CDC ban on evictions in place

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 on Tuesday night to leave in place the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s ban on evictions, imposed to combat the coronavirus pandemic and prevent homelessness.

The ban has just been extended another month, until the end of July, and the Biden administration said it will end then.

A group of landlords, real estate companies and real estate trade associations in Alabama and Georgia convinced U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich in the spring that the CDC lacked authority to impose the moratorium.

But Friedrich stayed her order to allow appeals to continue. A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit kept it in place, saying it believed the government was likely to prevail.

At the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. joined fellow conservative Brett Kavanaugh and liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to keep the stay in place.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito Jr. Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett said they would have lifted the stay, which would have struck down the moratorium.

Neither side explained its reasoning in the short emergency order. But Kavanaugh wrote separately to say that while he agreed the CDC had exceeded its authority, this was not the time to scuttle the ban on evictions.

“Because the CDC plans to end the moratorium in only a few weeks, on July 31, and because those few weeks will allow for additional and more orderly distribution of the congressionally appropriated rental assistance funds,” the stay should remain in place, Kavanaugh said.

He added that in his view, any further extension of the moratorium would require “clear and specific congressional authorization” via new legislation.

On June 24, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky extended the evictions moratorium from June 30 until July 31. The CDC said “this is intended to be the final extension of the moratorium.”

The White House is ramping up efforts aimed at preventing evictions, in particular by accelerating the disbursal of federal aid to millions of renters across the country. These efforts are being led in part by Gene Sperling, who was brought into the administration to oversee implementation of the administration’s $1.9 trillion relief package, which included tens of billions in rental aid.

After a congressional moratorium on evictions expired last summer, President Donald Trump ordered the CDC to step in. It issued an order in September, citing its power to take emergency actions to stop the infection’s spread. It said it applied to tenants who, if evicted, would likely become homeless or be forced to live in close quarters in a congregate or shared-living setting.

The moratorium deadline has been extended several times.

The realtors told the Supreme Court that the CDC had gone too far and that the moratorium was no longer needed.

“If Americans can safely gather together indoors without adhering to the most basic COVID-19 precautions, then there is no longer any public-health rationale for the moratorium,” they said in their brief to the Supreme Court.

“The CDC’s continued insistence that public-health concerns necessitate that landlords continue to provide free housing for tenants who have received vaccines (or passed up the chance to get them) is sheer doublespeak.”

But the government’s lawyer, Acting Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, told the court the CDC had the authority and its judgment should be trusted during the pandemic, especially as children go unvaccinated and new variants of the virus emerge.

She also said the pain felt by landlords is only temporary and that Congress has appropriated nearly $50 billion for rental assistance.

Local governments may use the funds “to pay up to 12 months of back rent and an additional three months of future rent for eligible tenants,” Prelogar wrote. “The funds are payable directly to landlords.”


Local
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Keene needs to redistrict, but census lag is getting in the way
  • Updated

A delay in the return of data from the U.S. Census Bureau is causing complications for Keene as it looks to begin its legally required redistricting process.

During the City Council’s Finance, Organization and Personnel Committee’s most recent meeting last Thursday, City Clerk Patty Little explained that every 10 years, communities across the United States must reassess their voting districts based on updated census information. But while that process typically starts in June and finishes by August, Little said the city isn’t expecting to receive the new census data until the fall.

“Just recently, maybe two weeks ago, we got notice that the Census Bureau would be delaying the release of that data until Sept. 30,” Little said during the meeting. “We knew they were going to be late, we were hearing that much earlier on in the year. We were sort of thinking June or July, but Sept. 30, it was quite the surprise to hear that date.”

On Tuesday, Little explained to The Sentinel that the big concern is getting ward boundaries redrawn in time for the state to use that information in drawing its legislative districts. In the past, she said, mismatches between city wards and state legislative districts have led to some people having to vote on certain parts of the ballot in one ward and other parts of the ballot in another.

She said the state-mandated timelines for amending the city charter — which is where the boundaries of the city’s wards are defined — cannot be met in time for the state to use the information in its own redistricting effort.

In past years, when the redistricting process was complete, city residents would approve or reject the changes via a ballot question at the polls in November, as required by statute. This year, city officials are proposing putting a charter amendment on the ballot that would enable the council, rather than the voters, to officially accept new ward lines.

States and municipalities use census data to determine boundaries for voting districts.

A Feb. 12 statement from the Census Bureau cites the pandemic as a major factor in the delays. But the bureau said it has been working with states to help them accommodate the lags and that there are tools to help them move faster when the results are finally in.

Keene’s redistricting process will affect its five wards, Little said, each of which is represented by two city councilors. Each ward also has various election officers, whom voters select during the city’s annual elections. Redistricting also affects districts at the state level, with each ward representing a different legislative district under the current map.

This is where the city is hitting a roadblock.

“With this delay, we’re just unable to comply with the statutory process in terms of the actual election,” Little explained. The city’s general municipal elections will take place on Nov. 2.

Instead of following its normal procedure of sending proposed ward changes to the voters, Little recommended to the FOP Committee that the council remove ward descriptions from the city charter and instead define them in the city code, with any changes to be presented as a proposed ordinance. The ordinance would also identify the City Council as the authority for making changes to ward boundaries in the future.

Little asked that the committee vote to table the request, which it did. She said city staff will present the committee with draft language for the ballot question with the proposed charter amendment at the committee’s meeting next week. The language will then need to be reviewed by the state before it can go to the voters.

Little said many communities are moving toward defining their wards in the city code rather than the charter, and that while they could make the change for just one year, it would make more sense to keep it, rather than repealing the ordinance and then amending the charter again.

Little also said the ballot would include language to ensure that incumbent elected officials would be able to continue to serve out the remainders of their terms in the event that their home address ends up in a new district. Councilor At-Large Bettina Chadbourne said this happened to her when she had been serving as a Ward 2 councilor and her home was moved into Ward 3.

“I was grandfathered in so I could finish my term as Ward 2 councilor and I was three houses away from the ward line,” she said. “So I either had to move or run at-large. Or run in Ward 3 against two well-liked councilors at the time.”

Little said staff will likely request that Mayor George Hansel form an ad hoc redistricting committee after the census information comes in Sept. 30. This committee typically includes at least one councilor and a member of both the local Democratic and Republican committees, and Little said she’s also found it helpful for someone with an engineering background to be involved. People with this expertise are adept with numbers and understanding how they work within a bigger system, she explained.

Guidance from the N.H. House redistricting committee has suggested an effective date of Jan. 1 for any ward changes, and Little said she wasn’t opposed to that date. She said it would give the state as much opportunity as possible to work with the ward lines the city comes up with, so those same borders could be incorporated into the state’s district lines.

“This is definitely uncharted territory,” she said. “A lot of things are probably going to change over the next few weeks. But those cities in New Hampshire that have ward descriptions in their charter, they’re going to need to do exactly what we’re doing.”


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