“We are sitting in unchartered territory here,” Smith said.
The swearing in of the the 400-member House and 24-member Senate was held outdoors at the University of New Hampshire because of the coronavirus pandemic. More than a quarter of House members, most of them Democrats, skipped the ceremony after learning the day before that several Republican lawmakers had tested positive for the virus after attending an indoor GOP caucus meeting November 20 where many attendees weren’t wearing masks.
On Thursday, Acting Speaker Sherman Packard and Senate President Chuck Morse issued a joint statement following the news that Hinch had died of COVID-19. They said they were “committed to protecting the health and safety of our fellow legislators and staff members who work at the statehouse in Concord.”
They said they will now be consulting with the state Department of Health and Human Services and the General Court’s Administrative Office regarding any additional steps needed beyond the current contact tracing and COVD-19 protocols in place “to ensure the continued protection of our legislators and staff.”
Packardwill remain the acting speaker until the full House membership meets January 6.
Republican Governor Chris Sununu ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff and said he was profoundly sad to learn of Hinch’s death.
Sununu said in a statement: “His loss will be greatly felt by the people of this state, and I ask Granite Staters to join me in praying for his family during this incredibly difficult time.”
Republicans won majorities in both chambers in November. Senate President Chuck Morse said he had been looking forward to serving with a colleague he considered a best friend.
A US Navy veteran, Hinch also was active in his community, serving stints on the Merrimack Board of Selectman and town budget committee. He also was the owner and principal broker of a real estate agency.
In an emotional speech when he was elected speaker December 2, Hinch urged lawmakers to view each other as “friends and colleagues,” rather than members of opposing parties, particularly during a pandemic.
He previously served as majority leader for the 2016-17 session and as minority leader when Democrats were in control the last two years.
“I’ve been working with members of our caucus in good times and in bad for a number of terms. Long nights, stressful days, but charging ahead for what we believed was the proper course,” he said. “Through that time, I’ve worked to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table.”