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Judge tosses suit against Sununu

By Dean Shalhoup - Senior Staff Writer | Apr 23, 2020

MANCHESTER – Judge David Anderson Wednesday issued a ruling dismissing the lawsuit against Gov. Chris Sununu, in which the plaintiffs – four top legislative Democrats – argued Sununu needed to involve the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee in the plans to distribute the $1.25 billion in emergency federal COVID-19 funding now arriving in New Hampshire.

Anderson cited lack of standing, meaning it’s the court’s opinion that the plaintiffs were unable to show they had sufficient stake in the outcome.

Anderson also agreed with Sununu’s position that the time required to convene meetings with the committee to discuss the funding would likely delay the process of distributing the funds.

“To stop or even delay the governor from distributing purely federal funds intended for the benefit of the public in the midst of a global pandemic would be contrary to the public interest,” Anderson wrote in his order.

Sununu expressed gratitude over the order, which he said was issued “under immense time constraints.

“In this unprecedented public health emergency, it is paramount that we get relief out to New Hampshire families fast, and that is what I am determined to do,” he said.

The plaintiffs – House Speaker Steve Shurtleff, Senate president Donna Soucy, state Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, D-Merrimack County District 10, and state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester – filed suit last week in Hillsborough County Superior Court North in Manchester.

They argued that the Fiscal Committee “is the rightful authority to have oversight of these critical funds,” which were allocated as part of the bi-partisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The committee, the plaintiffs added, is tasked with providing “advice and consent” to Sununu and other state executives when it comes to applying the funds to where the need is greatest.

Democratic lawmakers said they had no objection to Sununu assembling a team of advisors, which he named the Stakeholder Advisory Board, a component of the recently formed Governor’s Office For Emergency Relief and Recovery (GOFERR).

But the advisory board cannot take the place of the Joint Fiscal committee, they argued, for the purposes of reviewing and approving emergency fund dollars.

The committee’s approval is required by statute, even in a state of emergency, the plaintiffs said.

The plaintiffs, in a joint statement issued Wednesday afternoon, said they “respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling.”

They reiterated their position that the Fiscal Committee, by constitutional decree, is the body that legally approves proposed spending requests by the executive branch during an emergency.”

In statements also issued Wednesday afternoon, Senate Republican Leader Chuck Morse, R-Salem, and Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, weighed in on Anderson’s ruling.

Morse called for the sides “to come together, regardless of political party, and get the assistance needed to the hard-working people and small businesses of New Hampshire.”

Bradley called it “critical” that Sununu “be able to react quickly … to make the best decisions for New Hampshire.”

Dean Shalhoup may be reached at 594-1256 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com.

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