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State Senate Roundup: Fetal homicide bill passes Senate

State House Bureau

February 16. 2017 8:49PM
Joel Snelgrove of Loudon with his son, Brody, 5 months old, during the New Hampshire Right to Life's March for Life rally held at the State House in Concord on Jan. 14, 2017. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD — A bill to define a viable fetus as a person in the prosecution of murder, manslaughter or negligent homicide passed the Senate along party lines, 14-10, on Thursday.

Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, a prime sponsor of SB66, described it as a “call for justice when an unborn child is killed.”

“New Hampshire will join 38 other states that have similar, common sense laws providing protections for the mother and unborn child,” she said.

Birdsell said senators heard some emotional testimony in hearings.

“We heard a number of very moving and tragic cases,” she said, “where a mother lost her child due to an unexpected incident out of her control and was unable to have the closure of a death certificate or even allow prosecutors to charge criminals with the death of an unborn child, providing justice to families.”

The bill now moves on to the House.

Democrats in the Senate described the bill as a “vehicle to undermine protections established by Roe v. Wade.”

“Senate Bill 66 puts New Hampshire on the dangerous path to recognizing fetal personhood in our laws,” said Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover. “New Hampshire statute already provides for enhanced felony penalties when a crime committed against a woman tragically results in a miscarriage or stillbirth.”

Senate Republicans offered two amendments on SB 66 to define viability at eight weeks, which was defeated, and 20 weeks, which passed. The bill exempts pregnant women from criminal liability.

Rape shield law expanded

The senate also passed SB 9, a bill to ban a victim’s prior sexual history in rape or sexual assault cases at any level of appeal in the state. Existing law prohibited such evidence at trial, but not on appeal.

The change was prompted in part by the appeal of Seth Mazzaglia in the rape and murder of UNH student Lizzi Marriott in 2014.

“While this bill simply brings statute in line with current rules and practices in New Hampshire, it is critical to maintaining the rights of sexual assault victims and ensures that any previous sexual history continues to be sealed from the jury, public and press,” said the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua.

“No victims of sexual assault should be subject to the public release of their sexual history,” he said. “This common sense legislation provides an important protection for victims of sexual assault and their families.”

The Senate also passed:

SB 200, which forbids the imprisonment of anyone for failure to pay a debt;

SB 229, which makes it harder and more expensive for a pipeline company to take property by eminent domain; and

SB 204, which expands veterans' motor vehicle plates to include Purple Heart recipients at no cost.

McGilvray taking leave of absence from NEA-NH

Sen. Scott McGilvray, D-Hooksett, announced on Thursday that he is taking a leave of absence from his role as president of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, citing health issues.

“I have requested and been granted leave from my duties as president of NEA-NH so that I can concentrate on getting well and serving my constituents in the state Senate,” he said. “I intend to continue fulfilling my duties as senator and keeping my commitment to my constituents while I am on leave from my job.”

His dual role, as both a state senator and head of a union, caused controversy as opponents said it would present a conflict on interest.

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