June 22. 2017 9:20PM

Governor expected to sign 'fetal homicide' bill

By DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau


CONCORD — A bill defining a fetus as a person in the prosecution of the state’s murder and manslaughter statutes is on its way to Gov. Chris Sununu, who in the past has expressed support for the measure.

The bill was the subject of heated debate in the legislative session, as it was first retained by the House Criminal Justice Committee, but later moved to the full House with an “ought to pass” recommendation as two members changed their votes.

SB 66 was passed by the House on Feb. 16 and by the Senate on June 1. The bill states that a fetus “shall be included in the definition of ‘another’ for the purposes of first- and second-degree murder, manslaughter, negligent homicide, and causing or aiding suicide.”

The bill contains an exemption for abortion, and establishes that a pregnant woman cannot be prosecuted under the law.

Both the House and Senate had to pass the bill again on Thursday in order to correct a problem that was discovered while it was being prepared for the governor’s signature.

As originally written, the bill would have prohibited the prosecution of a pregnant woman for first and second-degree murder, manslaughter, negligent homicide, and causing or aiding suicide.

The bill had to be rewritten to clarify that the ban on prosecution applies only in regards to the fetus a pregnant woman is carrying.

Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, argued that the bill should be tabled to make sure there are no other technical errors, given the gravity of the issue.

“Can we be sure that this is the only unintended consequence of the bill … that a pregnant woman can commit murder with impunity?” she said.

House Speaker Shawn Jasper responded that corrections in wording as bills go through what is called the enrollment process are fairly commonplace.

“As with any legislation, there may be unintended consequences found later, or maybe adjudicated through the courts,” he said. “What I can tell you is that through the enrolled bills process we did find this error. The bill was looked at very carefully and this was the only error that was identified.”

Other bills that cleared both chambers on Thursday and are headed for the governor’s desk include:

HB 25, the state’s $125 million, two-year capital budget, which includes information technology upgrades, state park improvements and state prison upgrades.

SB 44, prohibiting the state from requiring implementation of the Common Core academic standard;

SB 43, forbidding non-academic surveys of students in public schools unless a parent opts in. The current practice is to administer such surveys unless parents opt out.

• The House declined to concur with the Conference Committee report on SB 134, a bill that authorized the Department of Transportation to implement electronic tolling at three new locations in the state, calling for additional study.

dsolomon@unionleader.com