Busy Week for Senate Judiciary Committee

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Senate Judiciary Committee met day and night Thursday.

 By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org

CONCORD – The Senate Judiciary Committee had a busy week both hearing and voting on many of the bills referred to them after passing through the House of Representatives.

In addition to passing unanimously a measure that would remove some controversial aspects of the state’s new abortion bill in House Bill 1609, the committee recommended a number of other measures including one sponsored by the late House Minority Leader Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton related to victims’ compensation.
House Bill 1235 https://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/bill_Status/pdf.aspx?id=32255&q=billVersion increases the maximum recovery for crime victims under a state fund and extends the repeal date for victims of the Ponzi style scheme under the former Meredith investment group known as FRM.

House Bill 1682 establishing the law enforcement conduct review committee within the state Police Standards and Training Council got the thumbs up with a 5-0 ought to pass recommendation.

No Vote on Gay Panic Bill

The committee did not take any action as yet on House Bill 238 https://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/bill_Status/pdf.aspx?id=4481&q=billVersion if passed would have New Hampshire join 13 other states and D.C. in barring “gay panic” as a formal line of defense in manslaughter cases.

Rep. Mike Sylvia, R-Belmont, testified that he had a serious concern about the Constitutional ramifications if it passed.

“All people are protected and allowed to bring any defense, suitable and this seems to preclude that,” he said of the bill. “I’m just one of those guys who really likes to stick to the Constitution.”
Sylvia said New Hampshire is a welcoming place and “there is incidence here and there.”
While it may be a problem in another state, it isn’t here.

“Frankly, I think it is unconstitutional,” Sylvia said.

Jeff Strelzin, associate attorney general, said he came not to take a position on the bill but to point out an inconsistency within it, noting the last sentence of the bill states that nothing shall preclude the jury from hearing any and all relevant facts.

The claim that someone was inflamed by someone’s gender identity could still go before a jury to decide, he noted.

It will definitely engender legal Constitutional challenge, Strelzin said, but if passed, he did not go so far as to say it was unconstitutional.

Strelzin said he could think of no specific past cases in recent years where such a defense was offered but some nuances of it in two sexual assault cases.

Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, asked if it could be covered under a hate crime statute.

Strelzin said what this is aimed at is a retaliation based on a person’s identity.

Carson asked Strelzin if this is a slippery slope.

He said if it barred evidence it would be a problem and said he could not speak to whether it is a slippery slope or not.

Sen. Becky Whitley, D-Hopkinton asked the committee to hold off on the bill for some more work she thought was needed on the legal front.


Getting the green light from Senate Judiciary was House Bill 1343 which would create a two-year state pilot program to help some of the victims in the state in non-criminal cases.

It received support from officials from the court system, advocates and attorneys.
The Judiciary Committee agreed 4-1 to support passage of the measure as amended, but also wanted to add that the Supreme Court provide a report on whether the program worked or did not six months after it ended.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Gordon McDonald spoke in support of the bill at the hearing and there were no individuals who testified against it.

The bill will include advocates for custody issues.
Sen. Bill Gannon, R-Sandown, said he was concerned about the danger of not having lawyers but noted he understood that it was better to have some advocate rather than having none, and supporters of the bill said this would not replace professionals in the cases.

 Gannon voted against it.

Whitley said it was an innovative, New Hampshire approach and Sen. Carson agreed that more people could have some advocacy. She noted if it doesn’t work “we will know in two years.”

Rail Trail Indemnity

Another bill that unanimously passed the committee was one that would help develop the state’s recreational rail-trail opportunities by offering railroad companies and owners of those rail beds to be indemnified under the state if they enter a lease agreement, similar to snowmobile trails and OHRV trails.

Craig Rennie, chief of the state bureau of trails, said he strongly supports House Bill 1579 as a vehicle to help drop roadblocks to recreational access and said the bill is similar if not identical to what other states have in place.

He said most all of the thousands of miles of trails the state already uses for many purposes are owned by others who agree to it knowing that they won’t be individually sued.

Members of the Manchester Moves organization testified that the bill would greatly help efforts to negotiate with the new owners of the rail line from Manchester to Concord so that they can develop trails in that direction. The group has created rail trails to the East, West, and South of the Queen City.

 On Thursday, It was a unanimous 5 to 0 vote ought to pass when the Senate Judiciary Committee finally voted to support House Bill 1609 Thursday evening.

The bill adds an exception for fatal fetal diagnoses to the state’s 24-week abortion ban. It also removes the requirement that everyone seeking an abortion must first undergo an ultrasound, both of which proponents call “critical fixes.”

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