CONCORD — The House Wednesday gave overwhelmingly final approval to raise from 17 to 18 the age that young Granite Staters must be tried as adults.
The vote was 256-40 and came despite impassioned pleas by several Republicans that the present system should not be changed. The House originally passed the bill, 324-17, in early January and sent it to its Finance Committee. The panel found that the bill, if passed, would result in significant savings to the state and county corrections systems. The finance panel recommended that the bill ought to pass on a 25-0 vote.
As a result of Wednesday’s vote, the bill now moves to the state Senate, where its fate is uncertain.
Rep. William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, argued for keeping the age of majority at 17, where it has been since 1996.
Referring to the home invasion by teenagers that resulted in the murder of Kimberly Cates in his home town in 2009, the former House speaker said, “Monsters come in all ages and those monsters reached into my town.”
He said that under the proposed bill, murderers under the age of 18 could be released and “walk among us” at the age of 21.
“What this bill says to these monsters is that if you are under 18, you will get out when you are 21.”
But Rep. Dan Eaton, D-Stoddard, said that even under the proposed legislation “those monsters would be certified as adults by the state system and tried as adults by the state system.”
O’Brien said such policy decisions should be made by lawmakers, not prosecutors.
Eaton countered that the Attorney General’s Office and law enforcement officials, those with “boots on the ground,” are in a better position to make such decisions.
Rep. Mary Beth Walz, D-Bow, said O’Brien’s concerns are “a straw man.
“We know there are monsters out there, but we have looked at this carefully and we are confident that we are not passing any law that is ever going to allow monsters to walk among us a mere three years after being convicted of a monstrous crime.”
She said that overall, “the best thing for 17-year-olds is to put them back into the juvenile justice system.”
Rep. Robert Rowe, R-Amherst, opposed the bill, saying, “Leave the system alone.
“What we’re doing is an effort to save money rather than individuals.”
An amendment passed by the House requires the state Department of Health and Human Services to report to lawmakers key information on the cost or savings to the state of the change in the age of majority and the effectiveness of services in reducing repeat juvenile offenders.