A three-year campaign to permit judges to impose longer prison terms for repeat drunken drivers who cause serious injury or death is likely to be signed into law, Gov. Chris Sununu said.
The measure was one of more than 50 bills the House of Representatives and state Senate wrapped up action on during legislative sessions Thursday.
With little debate, the House and Senate agreed to accept changes the other legislative branch had made on other bills.
These moves came as the 2021 session reached the horse-trading stage. Groups of House and Senate negotiators were named to resolve the remaining few dozen bills in dispute, including a two-year state budget.
The “Tyler Shaw Law” (HB 179) will honor a 20-year-old Bow man who died after a repeat drunken driver struck his truck at an on-ramp to Interstate 89 on April 30, 2018.
The driver who killed Shaw, Joseph Leonard of Derry, was found to have twice the legal blood-alcohol content and was convicted of his third drunken driving offense.
This bill would allow a judge to increase the punishment in cases like Leonard’s to 15 to 30 years. Anyone with one previous DWI who killed or maimed someone in an auto accident could be sentenced to state prison for 10 to 20 years.
The House agreed to a Senate amendment, which made clear this extended prison term could also apply if the driver was guilty of aggravated drunken driving and caused “serious bodily injury to another.”
Shaw’s mother, Beth, had lobbied at the State House for the change.
“The victim’s family that wanted this bill did give their blessing for the amendment,” said Rep. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem, chairman of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, during debate at the N.H. Sportsplex in Bedford.
Rep. John Bordenet, D-Keene, said longer prison terms would do little to convince motorists not to drive drunk.
The House voted, 211-149, to endorse the Senate changes.
In the coming weeks, the bill will go to the desk of Gov. Sununu, who said he has been following the issue.
“If the bill is like the last time I read it, I’m prepared to sign it,” Sununu told reporters.
An even more controversial measure (HB 220) addressed people’s right to refuse to be vaccinated.
Health care executives and some state officials had opposed the legislation, which sought to ensure that anyone who refused to get a vaccination would not be denied a public benefit or access to any public building or event.
State Rep. Timothy Lang, R-Sanbornton, said the state should not be able to require a citizen to get any medical procedure.
“I can understand you have a child with compromised immunity, but some religions and some people truly oppose that notion of a mandate,” Lang said. “We can ... (debate) this bill to death, but I believe this is a fundamental right.”
Dr. Beth Daly, director of the state Bureau of Infectious Disease Control, had said that eliminating all vaccine requirements would cause cases of preventable disease to grow as immunization rates go down.
The House and Senate amended the bill to restrict the bill’s application to the COVID-19 vaccine.
It also attached many exemptions, which will allow vaccines to be required by public schools, day care centers, health care providers and long-term care residences.
Laurie List reform
The House embraced legislation that would make public the names of police officers determined to have credibility problems.
The police reform measure (HB 471) would make public the estimated 270 officers on the state’s so-called Laurie List. Prosecutors are required to disclose to defense lawyers if one of those officers is involved in a pending case.
The Department of Justice created the secret list — formally known as the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule (EES) — so that information could be revealed privately to defense lawyers if any of these officers took part in an investigation before the court.
No uniform standard exists for placing officers on the Laurie List.
Officers have no current right to appeal that decision. This bill would give officers the right to challenge their presence on or addition to this list.
All officers on the list would be notified and given six months to file a lawsuit challenging their inclusion.
The state Department of Justice would update the list online every 30 days and on a quarterly basis would inform the public of the number of officers who have sued to keep their names private.
This reform was a major recommendation of the Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency Commission that Sununu created after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The commission urged lawmakers to create an independent panel that would investigate future complaints against law enforcement officers.
Legislative leaders and stakeholders could not come up with a proposal during the 2021 legislative session. A trailer bill to the state budget (HB 2) would create a new legislative commission to come up with a plan.