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Unlike elsewhere, New Hampshire refunds COVID business fines

Three Republican governors opposed efforts this year to absolve businesses for violating public health orders during the coronavirus pandemic

July 21, 2021, 1: 11 PM

5 min read

In March, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed legislation requiring the state to refund about $38,000 in fines imposed on businesses for violating coronavirus safety rules, and a subsequent effort to override the veto failed.

“The only message sent by this bill is that the rule of law does not matter,” Hutchinson said in a letter to legislative leaders. “It is an affront to those citizens who diligently followed health and safety directives to protect themselves and their fellow Arkansans.”

On July 1, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine likewise pushed back against fellow GOP lawmakers when he vetoed a budget provision that would have stopped disciplinary action against such businesses and would have resulted in about $100,000 in refunds.

“To say to them there’s no consequences for what you did — that would simply not be right. It would send a horrible, horrible, horrible message,” DeWine said.

And New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu was equally blunt back in March when lawmakers were considering a similar bill.

“We can’t claim to support law and order, then incentivize law-breaking and reward those who do not follow the rules,” he said. “Rewarding the small handful who recklessly thwarted public health and safety after outreach and educational attempts is a complete disservice to the thousands of small businesses who worked tirelessly to keep their employees and customers safe while enabling our economy to stay open for business.”

But the provision later was folded into the state budget, and — lacking Ohio’s line item veto authority — Sununu signed it on June 25.

“While the Governor strongly opposed this provision as a standalone item out of fairness to the countless small businesses that followed the rules and helped the state recover from COVID, the Governor worked to find compromise and was not going to veto a $13B state budget over any one provision and risk shutting down state government,” his spokesperson, Ben Vihstadt, said.

The New Hampshire attorney general had issued fines totaling $10,000 to eight businesses, but three hadn’t paid and instead appealed the citations. Those cases were dropped in June because the state of emergency was ending, the violated rules were no longer in effect and the appeals were using up the office’s scarce resources, said Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards.

She said her office will send checks to the other five businesses “in order to be equitable,” but also will include letters reminding them that they violated duly authorized regulations and must comply with any future laws and rules.

“We stand by the legal actions that were taken in accordance with those documents,” said Edwards, who said the budget provision “raises serious separation of powers concerns.”

“When the state takes an action for a violation of the law, no matter what that action is, the Legislature doesn’t have the authority to retroactively try to change those actions taken by the st

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