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Republican New Hampshire governor vetoes bill that would have prevented mask mandates in schools

Republican Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire vetoed a bill Friday that would have prevented local school districts from implementing mask mandates in the state.

Republicans in the legislature began pushing the bill earlier this year after the state revised its guidance in February to no longer advise masking in schools, and the State Department of Education directed schools to eliminate their mandates. However, a number of school districts claimed at the time that the state had no legal authority to prevent them from implementing a mask mandate if they so desired.

State Rep. Melissa Blasek, a Republican, said at the time, “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 passed the bill, but Sununu vetoed it Friday, claiming that it impermissibly infringed on local control of schools. “Just because we may not like a local decision does not mean we should remove their authority. One of the state’s foremost responsibilities is to know the limits of its power.”

However, it should be noted that in February, Sununu supported the State Department of Education’s new rule, which prohibited schools from moving to full or part-time distance learning due to COVID-19 outbreaks. At the time, Sununu said, “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.”

Sununu did not explain in Friday’s veto message why he supported statewide control over whether local school districts can implement remote learning, but did not support statewide control over whether local school districts can implement mask mandates.

It was not immediately clear whether the bill’s supporters are likely to be able to override Sununu’s veto of the measure.