Let’s celebrate the victories…
By Kate Frey, Vice President of Advocacy, New Futures

Last week the 2022 legislative session ended with the House and Senate wrapping up its work. When the legislature gathered to open the session back in January, they had to navigate not only the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but also an unprecedented assault on New Hampshire’s public health system.

This session, more than 40 pieces of legislation were introduced that would have undermined our public health infrastructure like never before. These bills, proposed to weaken our highly effective childhood vaccine program and diminish our data collection systems, among other harmful efforts, and would have greatly impaired our ability not only to overcome COVID-19, but to prevent and address public health crises into the future. However, coalitions of health care and public health advocates worked together to defeat these harmful bills. Here is a re-cap of three public health bills New Futures prioritized and the outcome:
  • House Bill 1210, relative to exemptions from vaccine mandates: As proposed, this bill would have required all private employers and colleges and universities to grant requests for a conscientious exemption for all vaccines. These provisions would have prevented businesses, hospitals, post-secondary institutions, and other entities from requiring its employees and students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and other diseases, including influenza (flu), hepatitis, measles, and other deadly conditions. This would have not only put individual workers and college students at risk, but would have increased exposure and risk to seniors, children, and other vulnerable populations. Fortunately, this bill was voted “interim study” in the Senate and was defeated this session.
  • House Bill 1035, relative to exemptions from school vaccine mandates: This legislation would have allowed families to opt out of school vaccine requirements with a conscientious exemption. Early childhood immunizations have been shown to be safe and cost-effective tools for protecting infants and children from potentially life-threatening, preventable diseases. Current law allows for medical and religious exemptions for students, but a conscientious exemption, as proposed in this bill, would have opened the door for many more families to send their children to school unvaccinated and at risk for spreading polio, mumps, measles, and many other deadly diseases. The House Health and Human Services committee heard the concerns of public health advocates and amended the bill to a form that was no longer a concern to New Futures and other organizations.
  • HB 1639, relative to the youth risk behavior survey in schools. If passed, this bill would have proposed to shift the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) from “opt-out” participation to “opt-in,” which would have severely weakened New Hampshire’s youth behavioral health prevention and treatment systems by limiting access to confidential data needed to inform youth safety and wellness policies and programs throughout the state. This bill stalled during the conference committee process and was defeated for the session. Another victory for public health!

For those of us who have been around long we know that many of these bills will come back in future sessions, so it is important to never take your eyes off the prize. However, the positive outcome of all three of these bills is an indication on how hard advocates worked to have their voices heard through testimony, letters to the editors, and emails, texts and calls to the legislature. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world- indeed It's the only thing that ever has.” We are lucky to have so many committed citizens within our state’s public health community.

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