Sununu Center Life Extended Until Replacement Is Built

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Rep. Jess Edwards, R-Auburn, speaks for an amendment to House Bill 49, which extends the deadline to shut down the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester at Thursday's House session.


CONCORD — A battle over the criteria for sending children to the Sununu Youth Services Center took more than an hour to resolve before the House approved spending $21 million on a new facility.

Two years ago, lawmakers passed legislation to close the center by March 1 of this year, but instead the House and Senate have scrambled this session to extend the center’s operation until a new facility can be sited, designed and built.

House members argued over two proposed amendments to House Bill 49, but agreed a change in the center’s culture was needed to make it less of a jail for juveniles and more of a center with wraparound services aimed at rehabilitation.

An amendment approved 23-2 by the House Finance Committee was opposed by some of its sponsors as well as youth services advocates over a new determination of how juveniles could be sent to the center.

The amendment’s criteria were to have three active charges against a juvenile for admission, but opponents argued the current system that has trimmed the number of young people at the facility in Manchester is working well.
They said the change would reduce the number of juveniles in diversion programs and reduce plea deals.

The committee amendment also included some financial guidelines to reduce the cost of housing individuals who now cost the state between $800,000 and $1 million annually, as well as workforce requirements.

Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, supported the committee amendment, saying the current system imprisons young people who do not behave in an acceptable manner and all but guarantees they will be unsuccessful in society.

She noted the young people at the center are kept in isolation, in restraints and are strip-searched when they leave and return to the facility, including for such off-grounds trips as court or medical appointments.

“Can you imagine how traumatizing that would be?” she said.

Smith said low-level offenders should be cared for in their own communities and through a system of trauma-informed care.

“This should not be baseball’s field of dreams,” Smith said. “If they build it, they will come.”

Others were concerned that once a new facility is built, the state will take over the 150-acre parcel in Manchester’s North End and sell the property for development. The parcel could be subdivided into 600 house lots, one Manchester representative noted.

But Rep. Jess Edwards, R-Auburn, said provisions in the committee amendment should be reviewed by the House Children and Family Law Committee, not just the Finance Committee.

“Let them as a committee review those provisions,” he said. “We have to build a facility, and to build it you need money, and we are trying to lock in federal money.”

He said every time the new facility is delayed, that puts the federal money at risk.

“We need to stop delaying and move forward,” Edwards said.

He said today was the first time he heard someone does not want a new facility. The past two decades have been a failure at the facility, Edwards said, and a new direction is needed.

Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, supported the committee amendment, saying “children’s lives matter, and sometimes children made bad choices by accident and without understanding the consequences.”

He said they deserve a better shot to live outside the criminal justice system. The House voted 200-179 for the committee amendment, and then 176-104 for Edwards’ amendment before passing the bill, which will now go to the Senate, which has passed its own bill to delay closing the Sununu center.

Vaccination Bills Killed

The House killed two bills that would have limited the state’s ability to distribute vaccinations or to determine which ones are needed.

House Bill 557 would take rule-making authority away from the Health and Human Services commissioner for determining immunization requirements for attending schools.

The bill would have the legislature make a final decision instead of state officials.

Supporters of the bill said the state relies on federal statistics and analysis and yet the Centers for Disease Control made several critical mistakes during the COVID pandemic.

But Rep. James Murphy, D-Hanover, who is a physician, said the bill would take away the flexibility the commissioner needs to make a real-time decision to address a health threat.

He noted in the early days of the COVID pandemic the legislature was not meeting, and without the commissioner’s authority, the state’s public health could have been compromised.

Murphy said the kinds of decisions in the bill are made very infrequently and then with much input from others, not in isolation.

He said the commissioner has no intention of adding the COVID vaccine or flu shots to the shots necessary to attend school if that is the issue.

The vote to approve the bill failed on a 184-193 vote and then was killed on a 194-185 vote.

The House also killed a bill that would prohibit the state from purchasing, promoting or distributing any vaccine and pharmaceutical products that have not been tested on human beings.

House Bill 575 would put the state at a disadvantage, opponents said, and could prevent the state from purchasing low-cost vaccinations for children. The bill was killed on a 192-186 vote.

Other Action
House Bill 261, to allow tenants to terminate their lease in instances of domestic violence or following a disabling illness or accident, was approved on a 193-191 vote.

House Bill 142, to give the owners of the Burgess Biopower plant in Berlin another year to develop a plan on how to pay back the money it owes ratepayers under a Public Utilities Commission order, was approved on a 269-109 vote.
House Bill 150, which would lower the number of workers needed to form a union bargaining unit from 10 to five, passed on a 204-179 vote.

CACR 4, which would increase lawmakers’ salaries from $200 a term to $5,000 and presiding officers from $250 a term to $6,250, was killed on a 239-145 vote.

Garry Rayno may be reached at

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