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Garry Rayno's Statehouse Dome: Diverse group favors death penalty repeal

January 11. 2014 8:59PM

Perhaps the biggest new issue to come before lawmakers this year will be death penalty repeal.

Rep. Robert Cushing, D-Hampton, has put together a group of co-sponsors for his repeal bill that includes Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives and House and Senate members.

Among the sponsors are Sen. Bette Laskey, D-Nashua, and Sen. Sam Cataldo, R-Farmington, who are on opposite sides of the political spectrum; Rep. Kathy Souza, D-Manchester, a pro-life activist, and Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, a pro-choice activist; Rep. Mark Warden, R-Goffstown, a Free State supporter; Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, a libertarian-leaning longtime repeal supporter; and Rep. Robert Rowe, R-Amherst, a former district court judge.

Sister Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States," will be in New Hampshire this week to add repeal support.

In the early 1980s, Prejean corresponded with death row inmate Patrick Sonnier, becoming his spiritual adviser. After witnessing his execution, she wrote her book, which became a movie, an opera and a play.

Since 1984, Prejean has offered support to six men who were executed and is convinced some were not guilty.

Cushing's father was murdered by an off-duty Hampton police officer about 25 years ago. Cushing has sponsored similar repeal legislation that wound up being vetoed by former Gov. John Lynch.

Both the House and the Senate approved repealing the death penalty during Jeanne Shaheen's tenure as governor, but lawmakers failed to override her veto. In recent years, the House approved repeal, but the Senate killed it.

This time, the bill has a very good chance or passing the House, but its fate in the Senate is very iffy.

Gov. Maggie Hassan has said she would sign a repeal bill as long as it was not retroactive, so Michael Addison's death sentenced could not be commuted. Addison killed Manchester police Officer Michael Briggs in 2006.

The public hearing on the death penalty repeal bill, House Bill 1170, is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday in Room 204 of the Legislative Office Building, but could be moved to Representative's Hall.


Guns: Two bills dealing with guns will be heard Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senate Bill 318 would establish the crime of domestic violence without changing any state existing laws, instead grouping the statutes in a new domestic violence section.

Amanda Grady Sexton of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence said the change would help the state's law enforcement and criminal justice systems more easily identify instances of domestic violence.

New Hampshire is one of 15 states without the crime of domestic violence; instead, law enforcement uses assault and criminal-threatening statutes to charge abusers.

The mother of a boy killed by his father in Manchester last August will testify in favor of the bill. Becky Ranes had a domestic violence protection order against Muni Savyon when Savyon shot and killed their 9-year-old son, Joshua Savyon, before turning the gun on himself at the Manchester YWCA visitation center.

The Senate Judiciary hearing will be held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in Room 100 of the State House.

Earlier that morning, the same committee will hold a public hearing on Senate Bill 244, which would require those with mental illness to be placed on the federal registry of people prohibited from owning guns.

Under the bill, anyone who has been found incompetent to stand trial, found guilty by reason of insanity, had a court-appointed guardian or been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility would automatically be added to the federal registry.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, would also establish a procedure to have a person's name removed from the federal registry.

Bob Clegg, president of Pro Gun NH, said the bill needs a provision for people whose illness was temporary.

There is a big hole in the current system, he said, and the bill would work well if such a provision was added.

"We don't want people to have weapons who shouldn't have them," Clegg said. "We call mental health issues a disease, but why is it the disease where we punish people after they are cured?"

The public hearing on SB 244 will be at 9 a.m.

Another bill, House Bill 1379, would exempt firearms records from the state's right-to-know law.

Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Goley, D-Manchester, the bill attempts to prevent what happened in New York when a local newspaper published the names and addresses of people in the community with concealed carry permits.

According to Clegg, instead of avoiding the residences as most suspected, burglars targeted the homes to steal the guns.

"That put more illegal firearms on streets," Clegg said.

The public hearing on the bill will be held Jan. 23 at 1 p.m. in Room 208 of the LOB before the House Judiciary Committee.

Unfinished Business: The House continues Wednesday moving through its calendar of "retained bills," which committees worked on over the summer and fall and need to be decided by the end of the month.

House members will have to decide if they want to legalize marijuana, regulate it and tax it.

Under a proposal from Vaillancourt, the state would receive $30 an ounce as well as a 15 percent tax on the purchase price for pot that he believes could raise between $20 million to $30 million.

The bill would make New Hampshire the first state to have its legislature legalize, regulate and tax pot. Colorado and Washington legalized pot by referendum.

House members will also have to decide if young people who entered the country illegally, but spent much of the young lives in the

Granite State should receive in-state tuition rates at the University System of New Hampshire schools.

Supporters say the young people, who are here through no fault of their own, should not be punished, but opponents say giving them in-state tuition rates is not fair to young citizens of other states who pay more to attend the New Hampshire schools.

Another bill would allow the use of license plate scanning devices but not allow law enforcement to retain the information unless a match is found for such things as a stolen car or the owner is wanted on a warrant.

House members will be asked to decide if investments in the failed Financial Resource Mortgage should be compensated for their lost money, although the $5 million proposed for the fund would only cover a small portion of what investors lost in the ponzi scheme.

Requiring anyone who "records" cruelty to livestock would be required to report the action to law enforcement and preserve the recording to turn over to police.

The bill has drawn the interest of the National Press Photographers Association which objects to the bill.

"Your proposed bill not only undermines and abridges those important principals, but in effect makes journalists and anyone gathering such information an arm of law enforcement. If enacted, the law will stifle any meaningful reporting on animal cruelty. We believe the creation of a civil penalty for failure to report information (and retain protected news material for possible use as evidence) to law enforcement also fails under the First, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments in that it abridges free speech and press and may constitute a constructive unreasonable seizure lacking in due process," wrote the association's general counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher.

Resignations: The resignations of four House members were accepted at Wednesday first session day of the 2014 session.

The four Representatives, one Republicans and three Democrats, will not be replaced because it is too late to hold special elections to replace them.

Under state law, no special election may be held after March 15. The time requirements for signing up, holding a primary and then a special election would stretch beyond the March 15 deadline.

Those who resigned are:

David H. Thompson, a Derry Republican, serving his first term in the House;
Joy K. Tilton, a Northfield Democrat, serving her fourth term in the House;
Delmar Burridge, a Keene Democrat, serving his third term in the House;
And Nicholas Levasseau, a Manchester Democrat, serving his fourth term in the House.

The representative cited either moving out of their districts or a change in employment status as reasons for their resignations.

Explainer: Rep. David Hess, R-Hooksett, will have a press conference Monday to explain his bill that would make certain charitable and non-profit organizations subject to the business enterprise tax.

Under Hess's plan the change would be revenue neutral because the business enterprise tax rate would drop. His bill largely targets large non-profits such as hospitals and universities.

The bill is bound to draw the ire of the Hospital Association and the NH College and University Council.

A public hearing on House Bill 1509 will be held Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. in Room 202 of the LOB before the House Ways and Means Committee.

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