CONCORD, N.H. – In 1865, the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution outlawed slavery with the exception as a punishment for a crime. If one piece of legislation currently making its way through New Hampshire’s legislature becomes law, that exception will be gone here in the Granite State.
Last Thursday, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 366-5 to advance CACR 13, a bill that would amend New Hampshire’s constitution to explicitly ban slavery without any exceptions.
If passed, individuals sentenced to prison time in the state of New Hampshire would still be separated from the general public, but they would receive the same rights as non-incarcerated individuals when it comes to work.
Lead sponsor Amanda Bouldin (D-Manchester) told the New Hampshire House of Representatives Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee that the state has been avoiding the issue for hundreds of years and that what might seem like a given protection from the federal government may evaporate like in the case of the Dobbs decision or if ties between New Hampshire and the federal government were removed completely.
Bouldin joked her wish that passage of the constitutional amendment could contradict the memory of her great-great-great-great-great grandfather, U.S. Representative Thomas Tyler Bouldin (D-VA-5), who she said was a misogynist, a slave-owner and the only man to die while speaking in Congress.
“I hope you join with me in deeply upsetting his memory and making him roll over in his icy grave,” she said.
The bill received unanimous approval in committee, and a letter of approval from New Hampshire Department of Corrections Commissioner Helen Hanks.
An amendment to the bill by State Representative J.D Bernardy (R-South Hampton) that would have copied the wording of the 13th amendment and replaced “United States” with “New Hampshire” failed, 168-201.
Bernardy said that the 13th amendment had served the country well and feared that the bill could be construed as making parents indentured servants to their children.
State Representative Jonah Wheeler (D-Peterborough) was one of several legislators who spoke against the amendment, citing the hundreds of thousands of people still enslaved today through debt bondage, sex trafficking and other means.
“The problem with (the 13th amendment) is that it leaves an excuse for slavery,” he said. “And as a student of history, I don’t think there should be any exemption for slavery.”
The bill will also have to receive a three-fifths majority in the New Hampshire Senate before it can go on the ballot, where it would require a two-thirds majority from voters.
Alabama, Tennessee, Vermont and Oregon voters approved similar measures in 2022 and efforts are underway in Nevada and California to address the topic, with Utah, Nebraska and Colorado approving similar measures as well before 2022.