By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
MANCHESTER — By a two-to-one margin, the House Thursday approved a bill that would prohibit using the “gay panic defense” to seek a lesser charge of manslaughter instead of murder.
The House also approved bills allowing adults to grow their own marijuana plants, further limit a governor’s powers during a declared emergency, require a Merrimack company to pay to remediate groundwater pollution, and gave initial approval to an adult dental Medicaid benefit.
House Bill 238 would apply to both members of the LGBTQ community and straight people according to bill supporters.
This legal strategy under the panic defense asks a judge or jury to find that the actual or perceived gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation of a victim — and that alone — was to blame for their killing.
A person using the defense admits guilt said Rep. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem, and uses the panic defense to justify or seek a lesser sentence.
“It really is a mitigation defense,” Abbas said. “It would never work in a courtroom in New Hampshire and it should be prohibited.”
But opponents argued prohibiting the defense would limit a defendant’s rights to present all available information to make his or her case.
Someone charged with killing a person “needs to be able to tell the whole story,” said Rep. Max Abramson, R-Seabrook, “warts and all to a jury of his peers. It is a matter of life and death.”
The prime sponsor of the bill, Rep. Joshua Query, D-Manchester, said the bill is needed to protect the LGBTQ+ community.
“This bill is entirely constitutional, does not dismiss traditional self-defense lawsuits, and does not deny existing due process defenses,” he said. “This legislation will correct a dangerous and life-threatening oversight that is needed to protect the safety of LGBTQ+ people in New Hampshire.”
The bill passed on a 223-118 vote and now goes to the Senate,
The House approved House Bill 579, which requires law enforcement to provide the public with 24 hours notice before an immigration checkpoint is established.
“This legislation will provide 24 hours’ notice to the public after being notified by federal law enforcement officials that an immigration checkpoint will be conducted,” said Rep. Amanda Bouldin, D-Manchester. “Racial profiling happens in our state and is unacceptable.”
The bill was approved on a 254-85 vote and now goes to the Senate.
The House overturned its Criminal Justice and Public Protection Committee and approved allowing adults to grow their own marijuana and to share it in their home with other adults.
“This bill is not about retail sales at all,” said Rep. Casey Conley, D-Dover. “It does not need another study.” The committee recommended the bill go to interim study, but supporters voted that recommendation down and instead passed the bill on a 241-113 vote
Abramson said it has never been the government’s job to protect people from a plant.
The war on drugs began in 1967 has been a failure, he said and lost public support.
Rep. Mark Warden, R-Manchester, said House Bill 628 is a straightforward, common sense bill that “treats adults like adults.”
But Rep. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem, said the House should not pass another bill on marijuana legalization that sends a conflicting message to other bills also passed, and should wait until his committee can work on several bills this session that will put a single, well thought out program in place.
The bill now goes to the Senate which has not approved similar bills in the past.
The House approved a bill that would give the legislature more say in extended states of emergency declared by the governor.
House Bill 275 would allow the governor to approve three, two-day, states of emergency and the legislature would need to approve or deny additional declarations.
Rep. Tony Lekas, R-Hudson, said there is a difference between the initial emergency when a governor needs to react quickly and a long-going emergency when the Legislature has its constitutional role to play.
“HB 275 re-balances the scales by ensuring that the legislature has a say in emergency situations,” he said. “This bill is not a referendum on how the recent state of emergency was handled. Even if we believe that the current governor handled it perfectly, we need to consider the possibility that a future governor may respond in a less appropriate manner.”
He said the bills passed last year did not give the Legislature the ability to approve or deny individual emergency orders issued by the governor, which this bill will do.
But Rep. Jaci Grote, D-Rye, said the legislature already has the power to meet and deny or approve emergency declarations and said the bill is not needed.
But Rep. Carol McGuire, R-Epsom, said the bill is the final installment of bills reining in a governor’s authority during a declared state of emergency.
The bill passed on a 190-165 vote and now goes to the Senate.
The House overwhelmingly approved a bill to institute an adult dental benefit under the state’s Medicaid program.
There is currently a child’s dental program, but not an adult benefit.
Rep. Jim Kofalt, R-Wilton, said one of the three managed care organizations administering the Medicaid program offers a dental benefit, so the bill is not needed.
He said the program will grow if instituted and will be permanent without a realistic way to determine if the program will save as much money as supporters claim.
But Mark Pearson, R-Hampstead, said the bipartisan working group has done a good job of putting together a balanced, preventative program that will forestall much more expansive treatment down the road.
“It truly is a hand up and not an hand out,” Pearson said, noting the managed care organization is providing the dental benefit as a charity and could end the program at any time.
The bill passed on a 225-137 vote and will go to the House Finance Committee to review the financial implications of the bill.
The House approved allowing clothing or paraphernalia with a candidate or party or ballot issues displayed while inside the polling place.
Currently such clothing and displays are forbidden inside the polls, but allowed outside the polling place.
The change will create a circus atmosphere with pep rallies inside the polling place, and Rep. Paul Bergeron, D-Nashua, the former Nashua city clerk.
He said there is no requirement for someone to be a resident of the ward of the district, nor any time limit to be inside the polling place.
“This is not party specific,” he said, and asked his colleagues if they wanted to turn the polls into a circus atmosphere.
Rep. Joe Sweeney, R-Salem, said his party has sought to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat.
If someone has a red hat or a blue shirt or a yellow scarf, they should be able to vote on election day, he said, no matter what clothing they are wearing.
People arriving at the polls know who they are going to vote for, Sweeney said, and will not be influenced by people wearing clothes supporting a candidate or signs lining roads leading to the polls.
House Bill 97 was approved on a 186-164 vote and now goes to the Senate.
The House overturned its Judiciary Committee and approved a bill requiring Saint-Gobain Performance Plastic to pay for the remediation of water in wells contaminated by PFAS.
The committee had recommended House Bill 478 be killed, but bill supporters argued the company, not state or local taxpayers and areas residents, should be responsible for the cleanup costs of polluting wells.
The majority of the committee said they believed the legislature should not be involved in the issue and the town should return to the courts with new information to seek a solution.
Supporters argued Saint-Gobain should take full responsibility for the contamination as it has elsewhere by installing and maintaining infiltration systems for two of the Merrimack Village District wells to meet drinking water standards.
Treatment will be needed for some time, they said, and the company ought to be the one paying the bills.
The committee’s recommendation to kill the bill was voted down on a 212-139 vote before it was approved.
The bill will now go to the Senate.
Not surprisingly, the House voted to table a bill that would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 over the next three years.
The state does not have its own minimum wage but instead depends on the federal minimum wage.
House Bill 517 supporters said it is high time the state raised its minimum wage as all surrounding states have higher wages than New Hampshire.
But opponents said supply and demand should set salaries, noting the average starting wage in New Hampshire is much higher than the federal limit.
The House tabled the bill on a 191-158 vote.
The House also tabled a number of other bills including one to prohibit the fluoridation of drinking water, to study board band needs in the state, and a series of study committees dealing with energy and utility issues.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.