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Smiths Medical to expand, add jobs in Keene after landing vaccine-related contract

The Keene branch of Smiths Medical is planning an expansion to ramp up the production of needles and syringes to assist in the country’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts, the global medical manufacturer announced Wednesday.

Smiths Medical — which is one of three companies helping in the effort — has landed a contract with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to manufacture 78.6 million syringe-and-needle units.

The federal government will have priority access to the units for a potential COVID-19 vaccine, as well as for flu vaccines and future pandemics, a news release from the Minnesota-based company says.

To complete the order, Smiths Medical says the company is receiving $20 million in federal funding toward a $38 million expansion project at its Keene facility at 10 Bowman Drive.

The Keene location also wants to hire an additional 100 employees to help meet the demand, according to Vanessa Krier, a Smiths Medical spokeswoman.

Krier added in an email Thursday that Smiths Medical is still working out the logistics of the expansion, including when it will happen. She declined to elaborate further.

Researchers around the globe are working to develop a vaccine for the virus that causes COVID-19. Experts estimate a fast-tracked vaccine development could bring an option to market in about 12 to 18 months, according to a report Thursday from the Regulatory Affairs Professional Society.

One vaccine, developed by Moderna Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., is “really quite promising,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as quoted in a Bloomberg News article Thursday.

The vaccine is still in trials, but it produced equivalent antibody levels to what patients who recover from the virus have, the article says.

Smiths Medical’s planned expansion is being funded by the BARDA and the Department of Defense’s Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense, the release says.

The syringes produced will be of Smiths Medical’s design, which the company says offers the lowest dead space — the space between the needle and syringe hub — when compared to other leading hypodermic safety needles. This helps ensure dosage accuracy and less wasted medication, the release says, while helping to prevent needlestick injuries.

In April, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence urging an increase in the domestic supply chain for syringes, warning that the country was falling behind.

“There is no more important task than the development and delivery of a COVID-19 vaccine,” Shaheen said in a statement Thursday in response to the Smiths Medical news.

“I’m glad that New Hampshire will play a large role in this manufacturing effort,” she added. “I know employees at Smiths Medical stand ready to increase production of these vital needles and syringes and I thank them for their efforts.”

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Rindge seeks guidance in how to run elections

RINDGE — As September’s primary voting day approaches, Rindge voting officials are discussing how to accommodate absentee ballot voters — a process expected to be used by more voters this year due to concessions made by the state.

To vote absentee, voters must attest to their reason for doing so on their application. Concerns regarding the COVID-19 coronavirus is one of the reasons voters can cite to obtain an absentee ballot, at least for this election cycle. The bill allows residents to vote absentee if they or a family member has contracted the virus, or if they fear catching or spreading it by attending the election in person.

The issue has resulted in several bills being put forth to the legislature this year around voter registration and absentee ballot voting, including a bill vetoed by Governor Chris Sununu on July 10, which would have made no-excuse absentee voting permanent, as well as created an online voter registration system.

Other bills which have yet to be signed or vetoed by the governor include HB 1266, which temporarily modifies the absentee voter registration and application process, in response to COVID-19.

Even more pressing for officials is waiting on guidance from the state on how to run election day, including registering voters beforehand and voting for the state primary on Sept. 8, and the national election on Nov. 3.

Rindge voting officials, including member of the Supervisors of the Checklist, the town moderator, town clerk and Selectwoman Roberta Oeser met on Tuesday via teleconference to discuss how to approach this year’s election cycle, including how to safely set up a day for voters to apply for and receive absentee ballots.

While the N.H. Secretary of State’s Office has provided guidance around the new rules for registering for an absentee ballot, there have not been any official guidelines put out regarding safety measures such as whether masks or face guards should be required, or other safety measures, though that guidance is expected at some point this month.

“People are going to have questions, and I don’t think we have the answers,” Moderator Charlie Eicher said.

Oeser said there are some issues voters will have to regulate themselves on. She said she didn’t believe the Select Board had the authority to require voters to wear a mask or other protective devices, only recommend it.

“Too many people think it’s an overreach,” Oeser said.

Officials discussed whether there was opportunity for using separate spaces within the voting venue, such as the gymnasium and cafeteria. Oeser said the main obstacle to that may be obtaining volunteers to assist with running the voting day. She said this year is likely to be difficult to gather enough volunteers to run a single location, much less multiple.

The committee also discussed setting a date in August to provide a time for residents to pick up absentee ballots, and to fill them out and submit them to the town clerk if desired, but did not set a firm date. The committee discussed doing another absentee ballot application day at Franklin Pierce University prior to the November election.

The Supervisors of the Checklist are scheduled to meet next to continue discussions on July 28 at 10 a.m. via Zoom. Sign in instructions are available on the town’s website. Information about absentee ballot application days will be posted to the town website and Facebook page as they become available.

Despite Supreme Court ruling, Trump administration rejects new DACA applications

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is venturing onto increasingly shaky legal ground as officials reject new applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, sidestepping a Supreme Court ruling reinstating DACA, legal experts and lawmakers say.

The court ruled last month that the Trump administration hadn’t followed federal procedural law or justified terminating DACA in 2017, calling the rescission “arbitrary and capricious.”

DACA grants protection from deportation to so-called Dreamers brought to the United States as children. The Obama-era program, which has bipartisan support, has given temporary relief to some 700,000 young immigrants, with nearly 200,000 DACA recipients in California.

The court did not decide on Trump’s executive authority to rescind DACA, and offered the administration a road map for how to try to end it for good.

But despite threatening another attempt to shut down the program, the president hasn’t tried again. Monday, 25 days after the ruling, was the deadline for the administration to file for a rehearing — it didn’t.

The White House’s refusal to either act or restart the program sets up a potential showdown with the court with little precedent, says Muneer Ahmad, clinical professor at Yale Law School, who was involved in a New York-based DACA suit against the administration.

“The longer the administration refuses to accept and adjudicate new applications and declines to issue a new rescission order,” said Ahmad, “the more of a legal concern that becomes.”

The White House declined to respond to requests for comment Thursday, and the Justice Department did not immediately respond.

Immediately after the court ruled, Trump and his officials rejected the decision as “politically charged.”

“The Supreme Court asked us to resubmit on DACA, nothing was lost or won,” Trump tweeted, trying to reframe the high-profile defeat on immigration, his signature campaign issue.

Since then, the administration has refused to process new DACA applications, advocates and lawmakers say, despite widespread legal consensus — including from Trump’s supporters and former officials — that slow-rolling the restarting of the program violates the court’s order.

On Tuesday, Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Dick Durbin of Illinois, as well as 31 other senators, wrote to the acting Homeland Security secretary demanding the department “immediately comply” with the court’s ruling and “fully reinstate DACA protections, as the Court’s decision unequivocally requires.”

The Citizenship and Immigration Services agency — which administers DACA — has rejected new applications, or confirmed receipt but then not acted on them, according to lawyers. Jaclyn Kelley-Widmer, associate clinical professor of law at Cornell law school and an immigration attorney, said USCIS is sending these new applicants notices saying the agency is “not accepting initial filings.”

Meanwhile, other USCIS employees say they’ve received no guidance on the Supreme Court ruling or new DACA applications. The agency did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.

The Trump administration has eschewed traditional policymaking and repeatedly sought an end run around Congress with immigration orders. Yet the president’s comments in recent days have only added to the confusion.

Last Friday in an interview with Telemundo, he contradicted himself, saying he would be issuing an executive order on DACA, then saying instead it was a bill that would “give them a road to citizenship.” The White House followed up with a statement saying Trump supports a legislative solution for DACA, potentially including citizenship, but not “amnesty.”

Then on Tuesday in a Rose Garden news conference, Trump said he’s working on DACA “because we want to make people happy.”

“We’ll be taking care of people from DACA in a very Republican way,” he said. “I’ve spoken to many Republicans, and some would like to leave it out, but, really, they understand that it’s the right thing to do.”

In 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared DACA unconstitutional, and lower courts issued orders that froze the program while the Trump administration appealed directly to the Supreme Court.

The administration was required to renew existing DACA cases, but has blocked tens of thousands from applying for DACA for the first time who became eligible once they turned 15.

In a statement published the day after the ruling, USCIS deputy director for policy Joseph Edlow said that the decision “merely delays the President’s lawful ability to end the illegal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals amnesty program.”

In early July, Democratic senators wrote to Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy Homeland Security secretary, demanding USCIS take down the statement from its website, including the “egregiously false claim” that the Supreme Court ruling “‘has no basis in law’” which they wrote “can only be read as a threat that USCIS will not comply with the Court’s order.” Cuccinelli has not responded, said Maria McElwain, a spokeswoman for Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., one of the letter’s authors.

“We should not need to tell you that defying the Supreme Court is completely unacceptable,” the senators wrote.

According to historians, a president defying the court has little precedent.

Only a few cases come close. President Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus to try and foil a potential takeover of Maryland’s government by Confederates, and when Chief Justice Roger B. Taney ruled only Congress could suspend the writ, Lincoln defied the court, scholars say (others dispute that reading).

Bill banning police choke holds in NH becomes law

Gov. Chris Sununu has signed a sweeping bill to overhaul state criminal justice policy, including a ban on the use of choke holds by police in New Hampshire.

In addition, the bill, which was retooled this session in response to the killing of George Floyd, requires police officers to report misconduct they see on the job and provides money to pay for psychological screenings of police recruits.

It prohibits private prisons in New Hampshire and creates so-called “good Samaritan” protections for reporting an alcohol-related emergency if the person is younger than 21. It also adjusts the state’s bail system, clarifying the process for detaining defendents considered dangerous by a judge.

In a statement, Sununu called the measure, which was largely crafted by Democrats, “a good first step.” Sununu added that he looks forward to the continued work of the commission he established earlier this year on law enforcement accountability.

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Proposed mask mandate in Keene resurrected

A proposed face mask ordinance is back on the table in Keene after a judge upheld a similar ordinance in Nashua.

The Keene City Council had been set to vote on a resolution that would strongly recommend the use of face masks in public to help stem the spread of COVID-19, but wouldn’t make them mandatory.

Prior to Thursday’s vote, however, Mayor George Hansel said new information had emerged and that some councilors had expressed interest in submitting the resolution as an ordinance.

Because an ordinance needs to be read at two council meetings, Hansel suggested suspending the rules of order to allow the ordinance to be read during Thursday’s meeting; this would allow for a second reading before the council goes on its August break. The reason for the urgency, he said, is to enable any ordinance to be in place by the time Keene State College students begin returning to campus next month.

“It was made clear to me by several people and councilors that the ordinance would really be most effective if it was able to be put in place before the students got back,” Hansel said during the meeting, which was held via Zoom.

In the end, the council voted both to approve the resolution that encourages the use of masks, as well as to suspend the rules and reintroduce the ordinance that would make mask-wearing mandatory. The proposed law was sent to the council’s Planning, Licenses and Development Committee for further discussion.

The ordinance, as originally written, would require members of the public to wear masks inside all city businesses, including in outdoor areas where business is conducted, and government buildings. Masks would be optional for children under the age of 10, and they are not recommended for children under 2.

A mask ordinance was originally proposed by Councilor Randy Filiault in May. He has been a vocal supporter of the use of face coverings to help contain COVID-19. He echoed those sentiments Thursday.

“As of this morning, 36 states now require masks … we’re only one of 14 states that doesn’t,” Filiault said during the meeting. “But we have the opportunity to lead our city to do the right thing.”

Filiault withdrew the proposed ordinance after Nashua’s version was challenged, explaining that he had used very similar language to what was in that city’s law. While penalties weren’t included in the original draft, Filiault said he planned to model that after Nashua’s ordnance as well, which permits fines up to $1,000.

But on Monday, Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Jacalyn Colburn denied a motion made by a Nashua resident claiming that city’s mandate violated his First Amendment rights, according to the Associated Press.

Colburn cited a century-old U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says actions taken during public health emergencies ought to be upheld so long as they do not constitute a “plain, palpable invasion of rights.”

Councilor Kate Bosley, who chairs the Planning, Licenses and Development Committee, said Friday morning the current draft of the ordinance has no language of penalties or enforcement, but these issues will be discussed at next week’s committee meeting.

Keene councilors generally seemed supportive of a mask ordinance Thursday, though some expressed concerns about suspending the rules to expedite the process, as well as how the ordinance would be enforced.

Bosley said she thinks more time is needed to discuss specifics, especially pertaining to who the mandate would apply to.

“I think we need to give it the time that it deserves to come up with proper consequences, proper processes for how it’s going to be upheld, what exact items we would be talking about,” Bosley said. “Would pumping your gas be OK to not have your mask on? What type of businesses are we requiring to have masks inside?”

Councilor Mitch Greenwald expressed some skepticism about whether the law would be enforceable. He said he thinks the city is on the right track with its Keene Safe program, which encourages businesses to support masks and other public safety measures.

On the other hand, Councilor Michael Giacomo said he was in favor of suspending the rules to hurry the process along, but said the primary reason for that is to allow the city to collaborate with the college and bring their mask policies into sync. He said if students know they don’t have to wear a mask when they go off campus, they’ll be likely to gravitate toward “the path of least resistance.”

“If the school has a different set of rules than the city, you’re encouraging the students then to go and leave campus and use that as a way to basically be mask-free,” he said.

The public will be able to weigh in on the proposed mask ordinance during the Planning, Licenses and Development Committee’s next meeting on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The meeting will be held via Zoom, and access information can be found on the calendar on the city’s website.