House Criminal Justice committee recommends bills on checkpoint warnings, gun storage, protecting first responders

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The New Hampshire House of Representatives’ Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety finished off the legislative week with executive session on a series of bills. Here is a recap.

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Linda Harriott-Gathright (D-Nashua) on Feb. 17, 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

HB 588

This bill modifies the criteria for parole.

Linda Harriott-Gathright (D-Nashua) introduced an amendment to the bill, modifying language that would require prisoners to serve 65 percent of their sentence rather than 50 percent and ensuring that they serve a sentence of not less than 7.5 years.

Committee Chair Terry Roy (R-Deerfield) complimented the committee on its work reaching a compromise on the bill, which he said helps incarcerated people working hard on rehabilitating themselves get an opportunity for early parole, but does not guarantee early parole.

Vice Chair Jennifer Rhodes (R-Winchester) echoed Roy’s sentiments, also noting that it would still not apply to anyone that has committed a violent crime against a child, anyone who has behaved poorly in jail, or anyone that committed a crime of a sexual nature.

Harriott-Gathright also noted that this bill was significant since it is based on behavior related toward rehabilitation rather than checking off a box on a list.

Nancy Murphy (D-Merrimack) thought the bill should also include a carveout for crimes against the elderly, but did feel that was enough to change her vote.

Votes on the amendment and an OTP (Ought to Pass) motion were both passed 20-0. Greg Hill (R-Northfield) substituted for John Sytek (R-Salem) on the vote.

As of Friday, there were 12 online testimony submissions in favor of the bill and three opposed.

HB 653

This bill prohibits personal recognizance bail, also known as PR Bail, for violent crimes. No action was taken on the bill, no follow up date was announced on Friday.

As of Friday, there were 23 people testifying online in favor of the bill and 16 people testifying in opposition.

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Johah Wheeler (D-Peterborough) on Feb. 17, 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

HB 624

This bill requires state, county or municipal law enforcement agencies to provide public notice of new federal immigration checkpoints once they learn of their existence.

Under federal law, U.S. Border Patrol agents can create federal immigration checkpoints at will within 100 miles of a U.S. border, which includes almost all of New Hampshire.

According to the ACLU-New Hampshire, there were ten temporary checkpoints from 2017 to 2019 and seven in Woodstock alone with a drug-sniffing canine.

David Meuse (D-Portsmouth) expressed that motorists who are not aware of immigration checkpoints can enter what can be seen as an environment of fear, which could harm tourism efforts in the state.

Jonah Wheeler (D-Peterborough) was worried that fourth amendment violations could occur at these stops.

Harriott-Gathright did not understand why local law enforcement did not provide notifications already and Alissandra Murray (D-Manchester) said that warnings could reduce harassment.

Lauren Selig (D-Durham) also noted that she has had issues at immigration checkpoints in the past since she was born in Pakistan while her father was working for the U.S. Government even though she is a U.S. citizen and her parents are U.S. citizens. Roy said he has a child that was born in Germany under similar circumstances, so he understood her concerns.

A motion to ITL (inexpedient to legislate) the bill failed in a 10-10 party line vote.

Meuse offered an amendment with more specifics from the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, adding that even with the amendment, all the bill does is make sure that local law enforcement notifies motorists of check points and does not interfere in federal employees from doing their jobs.

The amendment passed 18-2, with Jason Janvrin (R-Seabrook) and Jonathan Stone (R-Claremont) voting in opposition.

After the amendment passed, Meuse noted that all the amended bill does is asking that motorists be notified in a manner similar to sobriety checkpoints since delays on highways can cause safety concerns and traffic delays.

Selig noted that these checkpoints were also ineffective in catching immigration law violators.

Jodi Newell (D-Keene) also expressed concerns that checkpoints could be purposed toward catching violators of drug crimes rather than immigration-related crimes.

Stone said that giving notice of immigration checkpoints defeats the purpose of doing them and if notification were given here, they should be given for every crime.

Janvrin said that the added cost to local law enforcement may violate state constitutional provisions prohibiting unfunded mandates on municipalities, but Ray Newman (D-Nashua) said determining that issue is a matter for the Finance Committee, not this committee.

A motion recommending the bill ought to pass as amended 14-6, with Kevin Pratt (R-Raymond), Dennis Mannion (R-Salem), Karen Reid (R-Deering), joining Hill, Stone, Janvrin in opposition.

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Mark Proulx (R-Manchester) on Feb. 17, 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

HB 596

This bill prohibits the use of racial profiling in law enforcement activities and sentencing of individuals found guilty of a crime.

Jeffrey Tenczar (R-Pelham) offered an inexpedient to legislate motion, stating that it was duplicative to federal standards that are already being given to local law enforcement agencies.

Selig questioned how state agencies could enforce federal standards.

Roy said that he expressed concern over putting an officer in a position where they are forced to identify race or gender.

Hill said HB 597 attempted to address Roy’s concerns by placing an opt-in number on driver’s licenses that let officers avoid having to identify race while also providing data to deal with the problem, but there were concerns over incompleteness of data related to the proposed program.

Meuse said that the purpose of the bill was making sure that racial profiling is prohibited and that the legislature should make it clear that racial profiling is not acceptable in New Hampshire.

After a recess, an amendment to remove the second and third parts of the bill, which drew the most concern during public in-person testimony. Meuse noted that law enforcement agencies had no issues with the first part of the bill, which was a statement of opposition to racial profiling.

Wheeler said that the state can’t legislate away bias, it will only come with more conversations and connections, but agreed with Meuse that making a statement is beneficial to starting those conversations and connections.

After HB 400 was recessed the first time, the committee returned to the amendment on this bill, which passed 20-0.

Roy expressed the concern that allegations of racial bias can be weaponized against an officer and Mark Proulx (R-Manchester) expressed concern against statistical aberrations being construed as racial profiling. Dennis Mannion (R-Salem) also expressed concerns about vagueness in the bill.

Meuse said that this bill was comparable to another one providing specifics on prone control by police officers.

An OTP vote failed 10-10 on party lines. An ITL vote also failed 10-10 on party lines, leading the bill to go to the floor without a recommendation

Online testimony indicated 106 people in favor of the bill and 3 in opposition.

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Jodi Newell (D-Keene) on Feb. 17, 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

HB 400

This bill seeks to deny bail to anyone accused of a crime against a first responder. The bill also seeks to make it a Class B felony to knowingly report false allegations of misconduct against a law enforcement officer or agency.

Roy noted that New Hampshire is the only state in the U.S. where there is not a separate offense for assaulting a police officer. He also noted that there are high expectations of police officers and they deserve protection and that anyone willing to assault a police officer is incredibly dangerous since police officers are armed.

He also noted that there are situations where a person is arrested in one town, released and then arrested in a second town and in one of those instances they attacked a police officer, but one of the towns may not be aware. However, he did not want to address bail-related aspects of that situation.

Proulx appreciated that the language of this bill also protected firefighters and paramedics.

Meuse had concerns about a provision in the bill specifying 21 feet as a safe distance to be away from a police officer noted within the bill. He felt people may not immediately realize how far away that is. He also felt that it was overkill to classify false allegations of misconduct as a felony, with Roy saying he was amenable to making that part of the bill a misdemeanor.

Murray and Amanda Bouldin (D-Manchester) added that the state needs to weigh the impact of a potential felony on someone’s life and the lives of others who may rely on that person in circumstances where it may not be warranted.

Stone, Reid and Proulx added in relation to the importance of allegations that there is a very small world among police officers, firefighters and paramedics, and one mistake can prevent them from being hired anywhere else again, if the allegations are unfounded.

Wheeler said he might support the bill, but expressed concerns discussed by Dennis Manion (R-Salem) between criminal allegations and general misconduct.

Additional amendments arose after work on HB 107 and HB 360 modifying the false reporting aspect of the law from a felony to a misdemeanor and changing distance from 21 feet to a reasonable distance, although the original figure was estimated the distance needed for someone running at them with a knife.

However, he said he could not modify his opinion on issues between arrests in multiple towns.

Wheeler said this would modify his opinion on the bill. Meuse voiced concerns regarding how this could impact bail provisions.

After lunch, the amendment passed 19-0 and an ought to pass motion passed 19-0. Hill left after lunch.

In online testimony, 47 people opposed this bill and no one supported it.

HB 107

This bill addresses employment restrictions for registered sex offenders.

A recess was needed for additional work on the bill.

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David Meuse (D-Portsmouth) on Feb. 17, 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

HB 360

This bill legalizes the use and possession of cannabis for anyone over the age of 21 by modifying language in state law regarding therapeutic cannabis.

Karen Reid (R-Deering) noted the lack of road side tests for detecting marijuana and Kevin Pratt (R-Raymond) said it can cause brain damage in younger people, and has caused issues in other states where it is tolerated like Colorado.

Newell said that marijuana stays in your system for 30 days, making it hard for roadside testing. She also said that the potency of marijuana is higher due in part because it is largely illegal, comparable to alcohol during prohibition.

While she said her children lost their father due to heroin overdose, marijuana has become a “gateway” drug because it is seen in the same way as heroin because it is illegal, ultimately creating mistrust among children who use it and then see it is not and then assume heroin is not bad.

“We are essentially lying to our children,” she said.

Bouldin said that this bill could be a shell for future marijuana bills, but Roy said that this bill must be reported out by October and there are other marijuana bills before the legislature.

The ITL vote passed 11-9, with Harriott-Gathright voting with all Republicans in the majority.

Online, this bill has nine people in favor of it and six opposed.

HB 351

This bill increases penalties on negligence regarding not properly storing a firearm from children, with Meuse saying that current state laws are inadequate regarding keeping guns out of the hands of children, who he says sees them almost like a toy.

He later added that current law requires a child to shoot someone with a gun before it is considered negligence.

“Under the constitution you have the right to own a firearm, but you also have the responsibility to keep it out of the hands of a child,” he said.

Wheeler and Selig provided personal experiences where they lost people they knew due to the negligent storage of firearms.

Meuse brought forward an amendment removing a monetary fine and making anyone guilty of violating the proposed law guilty of a misdemanor as well as language stating that a person would be guilty if they stored their firearm in a manner where they might reasonably know a child could access it.

The amendment passed 17-2, with Pratt and Stone opposed.

The amended bill passed 10-9 on party lines.

Online, the bill has 260 people in support and 153 in opposition.


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.