CONCORD — The latest attempt to repeal the death penalty in New Hampshire cleared its first hurdle on Wednesday, as the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 11-6 to recommend the bill, HB 455, to the full House.
The issue has never broken along party lines, and the committee vote was no exception, as Republican David Welch of Kingston voted with the Democrats.
Much of the debate echoed the hours of testimony heard in a well-attended public hearing on Tuesday, as some representatives on the committee attempted to reconcile their position on abortion with their position on the death penalty.
“Now I’ve resolved my positions,” said Welch, who chaired Criminal Justice under Republican majorities. “I’m consistently pro-life and will not vote for the death penalty.”
Republicans Jody McNally, Dennis Green and Dave Testerman all accused the Democrats who support abortion rights as being hypocritical in their opposition to the death penalty.
“Children being born are innocent. Criminals on death row are not innocent,” said Green. “To me they are no different than a rattle snake, and you can never change a rattle snake. I have no problem with putting someone to death. Yes, they can prove years ago that someone was on death row and found evidence it was not him, but today, they can find it much faster.”
Testerman framed the issue in a similar way.
“What bothers me is a lot of people who are for repeal of the death penalty are pro-abortion advocates. I don’t understand how they can be pro-abortion and vote against the death penalty. For me it’s the same thing. As a father, I would want retribution if someone killed one of my children.”
Supporters of the repeal effort cited many of the same arguments heard at Tuesday’s public hearing on the bill, which Rep. Linda Harriott-Gathright, D-Nashua, described as “pretty profound.”
“This is the only law we have in New Hampshire that is 100 percent about retribution,” said Rep. David Meuse, D-Portsmouth.
“It’s about revenge; it’s about the state essentially condoning the murder of one individual for the murder of another, and I don’t believe our state or federal government should be in the business of murdering its citizens, no matter what they’ve done.”
Gov. Chris Sununu said on Wednesday that he plans to veto any repeal measure if it lands on his desk, just as he did last year.
“I stand with police and I stand with victims,” he said.
The House vote on the bill could come as early as Feb. 27, after which it will move over to the Senate if it passes.