Legislator barred from bringing oxygen tank to N.H. House chamber

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UNITY, N.H. >> An 80-year-old New Hampshire legislator with a lung problem has been told not to bring his portable oxygen concentrator with him to the Statehouse because it creates a safety hazard.

The Valley News reports that Rep. Ernie Bridge, a first-term lawmaker from Unity, says he's required to be on a concentrator 24 hours a day after suffering a small "leak" in his lung in January, about the time when the legislative session started.

Bridge says the House's sergeant-at-arms told him that the oxygen tank couldn't accompany him to his assigned seat about three weeks ago, when he was finally able to show up for the first time this session. The Republican said he asked for an aisle seat, but those are usually reserved for House committee chairs and senior leaders.

"If I can't get to my seat to push the button (to vote), I'm not much good," said Bridge, who is no longer driving the 50 miles to Concord and has decided not to run for re-election.

"It's kind of like a done deal and it's over," added Bridge, a freelance toy designer whose work has included creating figurines for cereals such as Cap'n Crunch.

He said Monday that he did not press the issue "for various personal and medical reasons."

Jim Rivers, a spokesman for Speaker Shawn Jasper, said the concentrator posed a safety hazard to other legislators and could have blocked their route to emergency exits. Rivers also said "the rolling piece of equipment that he had could not be left in the main aisle."

Rivers said Jasper "makes every attempt to accommodate our members who have health issues." The 400-member House has allowed some members using oxygen tanks to sit in their assigned spots, and the body also provides special seating to others, he said.

"By asking for a chair in the rear of the hall, accommodations could be made to record his vote," Rivers wrote in an email. "But, as I understand it, that request was never made."

The National Conference of State Legislatures says that the average age of a lawmaker at the New Hampshire Statehouse is 66, about a full decade older than the national average. Members of the citizen Legislature are paid $200 per two-year term, plus mileage costs.

Rep. Steven Smith, R-Charlestown, said he heard of Bridge's problems and submitted a request with the House health office, so they can determine how best to accommodate Bridge.

"It isn't something that happens the moment you ask," Smith said, adding that the office can take weeks before deciding whether a legislator needs a seat change.

– The Associated Press


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