Bill outlawing slavery gets senate hearing

Sign Up For Our FREE Daily eNews!

Screenshot 2024 03 29 202030
A screenshot of the video from the hearing.

CONCORD, N.H. – This week, the New Hampshire Senate Committee on Executive Departments and Administration heard testimony on CACR 13, a proposed state constitutional amendment that would outlaw slavery in all its forms in New Hampshire.

State Representative Amanda Bouldin (D-Manchester), the bill’s prime sponsor, told the committee that the proposal seeks for the exception clause within the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to be prohibited under New Hampshire law.

The 13th Amendment reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” It is the exception clause – except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted – that is the target of the legislation.

Bouldin and others who testified before the committee indicated that this exception was put in place as a method for slave owners to continue slavery by incarcerating former slaves with newly enacted laws through a racially-biased criminal justice system that disproportionately disenfranchises people of color to this day. While she added that New Hampshire’s correctional system generally does not force prisoners to perform tasks against their will, she noted that they can receive punishments if they refuse to engage in certain activities outside of physical or mental health exceptions.

She and others in support of the legislation such as State Representative Jonah Wheeler (D-Peterborough) indicated that New Hampshire should follow with several other states in moving to remove this exception given the fear that the federal government either would not do so or eventually may no longer be in a place to enforce any part of the 13th amendment.

Bouldin also noted that many individuals within New Hampshire’s correctional system are not actually incarcerated, but are awaiting trial and were not convicted of a crime.

Several formerly incarcerated individuals indicated to the committee that the practice of forced labor by inmates was generally counterproductive in efforts to rehabilitate them and NH ACLU Legal Director Gilles Bissonnette argued that the 13th Amendment was a floor, which CACR 13 built upon at the state level.

Testimony was also given by several county correctional administrators who voiced concerns about the bill without officially opposing it, stating that work acts as a rehabilitation tool in many cases. They also noted that people enslaved before the 13th Amendment had not committed any crimes, unlike those incarcerated today.

There were also concerns that fears over ambiguity in the law could lead to correctional facilities “warehousing” prisoners in fear of violating their civil rights.

Grafton County Department of Corrections Superintendent Tim Lethbridge stated that the proposal was so broad in scope that it would ultimately be adjudicated by the courts, leading him to indicate that if it was passed that he would remove many assignments given to prisoners and instead use civilian independent contractors. He also questioned if prisoners would need to receive minimum wage if they did tasks while incarcerated or if requiring them to perform daily chores like cleaning their cells would be considered work.

State Senator Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry), who provided a majority of the questions from the committee, said that she opposes slavery, but was uncertain if requiring prisoners to perform duties met the definition of that word and that the state constitution required clarity. She also questioned if this legislation was needed if prisoners in New Hampshire were generally not forced to do work against their will.

This sentiment was challenged by Dennis Febo, lead organizer for the Abolish Slavery National Network.

“If you feel like slavery is necessary, then you argue for it. Don’t ask us to define it. It’s already defined,” he said. “Getting us stuck in the weeds, I don’t think it’s fair. I think it’s insensitive.”

CACR 13 passed the New Hampshire House of Representatives by a vote of 366-5 earlier this year.


About this Author

Andrew Sylvia

Assistant EditorManchester Ink Link

Born and raised in the Granite State, Andrew Sylvia has written approximately 10,000 pieces over his career for outlets across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. On top of that, he's a licensed notary and licensed to sell property, casualty and life insurance, he's been a USSF trained youth soccer and futsal referee for the past six years and he can name over 60 national flags in under 60 seconds according to that flag game app he has on his phone, which makes sense because he also has a bachelor's degree in geography (like Michael Jordan). He can also type over 100 words a minute on a good day.