Senate Opposes Creating Sanctuary Cities; Backs Bail Reform, Fentanyl Penalties

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Paula Tracy photo

State Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry is pictured standing. Seated are Sen. Tim Lang and Sen. Becky Whitley.


CONCORD – Getting tough on crime, drug dealers and illegal immigrants, the state Senate passed a number of measures Thursday including a prohibition on the creation of so-called “sanctuary cities” here. 

The Republican controlled Senate voted 14-10 to hold in pretrial detention those who repeatedly fail to show up in court. It also established a five-year penalty for those who transport fentanyl into the state, a minimum 3.5 year sentence for those in possession of 5 mg of fentanyl and passed a mandatory 10-year minimum sentence for those who distribute drugs with death resulting.

The bills are now headed to the House of Representatives for consideration.


After impassioned debate on both sides, Senate Bill 563, which would prohibit any government agency in the state from adopting policies to prohibit or impede enforcement of federal immigration, passed on a vote of 14-10 along partisan lines.

A copy of the bill is here: 

Sen. William Gannon, R-Sandown, said the country no longer has a border that functions and the state entities should help with federal immigration enforcement. 

He noted that Hanover, Lebanon and Harrisville already have “welcome policies” intended to force law enforcement to ignore federal immigration.

Democrats noted police don’t want the bill, that it would destroy relationships with members of the communities, would promote bias and suspicion of residents and it would be considered an unfunded mandate to require police to enforce federal laws.

Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, said relationships are critical between police and residents they serve.

He said constituents told him the bill would deteriorate those relationships and the work people do to protect everyone.

“Think about it,” he said, “We have a lot at stake.”

Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, also noted that her city was built on people who came here to work and is wonderfully diverse. She said for some reason those who support this measure believe people are coming here “for bad reasons.”

She said the bill was overwhelmingly opposed on a 10-to-one basis in the Senate Judiciary Committee particularly among public safety officials who don’t want it.

Sen. Shannon Chandley, D-Amherst, said the bill is not listening to the better angels of our nature and that history might look back at this as a mistake. 

“Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past,” Chandley said.

She said the human dignity of our immigrant communities are at stake.

But Republicans, looking at the issues facing neighboring Massachusetts that is overwhelmed with people who are here illegally said this would add to homelessness and the housing crisis.

Sen. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem, said he hears the rhetoric that does not characterize the difference between “legal” immigrants and “illegal” immigrants. He said the bill would not impact the former but would address those who have come here illegally.

He spoke of an arrest of a rapist of a developmentally disabled person that was thwarted by a sanctuary city in another state.

He said this is a protective measure for our state.

Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, said she was upset about the “immigrant” rhetoric as well and said no one is denying that immigration has been good for this country.

“What we are concerned about is the policies that are happening in New York. These blue cities are a magnet for these gang members to come. We don’t want it to happen in New Hampshire.” 

Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, said those who are trying to get in legally are being cut in front of by those who are coming here illegally.

“Yes, there are some who want to do us harm and they are here already,” Avard said. “I really want to protect our citizens.”

He said he talked to his chief who had some concern, but he gave his word he would protect it.

Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, who chairs the Senate Judiciary said “we want to help people but we are concerned about the number of people that are coming here that we don’t know anything about…we want to keep New Hampshire secure. That is all we are doing.”

Senate President Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, spoke to the issue from his seat on the floor.

“We have open borders,” he said. “We are confronting that.” He said sanctuary cities are happening and they become a magnet for illegal immigration. Fentanyl, he said, is coming from all directions, including across the border.

He said it is not fear-mongering to talk about these problems from sanctuary cities. It is a reality, Bradley said. Law enforcement members who oppose this are “misguided” because they are focused on legal immigrants but they should also be cooperating with federal authorities to remove dangerous individuals.

“We must do what we can to protect ourselves,” he said. “That’s why all 24 of us should be voting for this bill.” He said if we want to stay the safest state in the nation.

Sen. Becky Whitley, D-Hopkinton, said there is a difference in what was being said and that we are not talking about criminals but civil matters. Of course, local communities will cooperate when someone has committed a crime, she said.

“We are conflating criminal activity with immigration either legal or illegal and I can’t have that happen,” said Whitley. She said the bill is damaging to our communities.


The votes came Thursday, the day after the new Manchester Mayor, Republican Jay Ruais, held a press conference in an effort to get legislation moving on bail reform.

Ruais, who ran on a platform of crime reduction, called for an end to the state’s five-year stalemate on bail reform and listed a number of bills, mostly in the House, which are also aimed addressing the matter

Senate Bill 321-FN passed on a vote of 14-10.

If passed by the House and signed by the governor it would hold in jail on pretrial detention those who repeatedly fail to appear in court.

The bill states that those who fail to show up three or more times within three years should be detained prior to trial. 

It was not supported by a single Democrat.

Sen. Abbas said people, as conditions of their release, need to return to court for a hearing. But in many cases, they are not doing this.

This high rate, where they are posting personal recognizance bail and not showing up is a drain on law enforcement and court resources, he said.

He said it is very rare for a request on continuance for a justifiable reason to be denied.

“We need to start enforcing the conditions of release,” Abbas said.

But Sen. Soucy said this piece of legislation is not the right way to go on bail reform.

“The notice that is sent is in English. Where is that notice sent? To a homeless shelter? There are a number of people that fall through the cracks,” she said. “What this says is ‘never mind the reason, you are going to sit in jail,” until the trial is held.

“Is it going to deter someone with a substance abuse issue?” she said. “What we should be doing instead is intervening on their behalf.”

Sen. Carson said this is a modest reform in a catch and release cycle that is exhausting police and wasting their resources.

Following the vote Abbas released the following statement: “New Hampshire’s current bail system is failing us. No one should be denied bail simply because they cannot afford it. At the same time, we have individuals charged with crimes, released on personal recognizance bail, and then they immediately go out and reoffend. SB 321-FN is a necessary change to our bail laws to decrease the number of failures to appear in our criminal justice system…”

It also passed on a voice vote Senate Bill 361-FN which extends the state’s legal paraprofessional pilot program in the court system by five years and makes it accessible in all court districts.  


Senate Bill 415, which would establish mandatory minimum prison sentences for possession of certain amounts of fentanyl passed on a vote of 18-6.

It would impose a 3.5 year sentence in prison for those who possess five grams of fentanyl or more and for those with 28 grams, seven years. 

Sen. Abbas urged passage. 

But Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, said she has a close relative with a fentanyl addiction. 

“My relative needs treatment, not incarceration,” she said.

Rosenwald said in prison, inmates don’t get mental health treatment or STD treatment and the institutions are not equipped or funded to sustain meaningful treatment. Out of prison, those incarcerated don’t receive housing and other help.

Abbas said the bill addresses those who possess a large amount of the drug.

An amended Senate Bill 418 which is related to marijuana THC concentrations when driving, which increases the penalty for those who refuse testing passed on a voice vote.


Senate Bill 316-FN which establishes a mandatory minimum sentencing penalty of five years in prison for a person who transports the drug fentanyl into the state. It passed the Senate along partisan lines, 14-10. 

It makes it a Class A felony and orders the vehicle used to transport it be seized. It would go into effect in 2025.

“It’s a deterrent,” said Abbas, and it is focused on dealers.

“They are not making fentanyl in this state,” he said. 

Soucy said the bill is not clear and needs more work.

The amount of fentanyl is not clear in the bill, she said.

“A dose means different things to different people,” she said.

In many ways, it moves the sentencing discretion away from a judge, Soucy said.

Another concern she had is that the vehicle used in the transport must be forfeited, even in cases where the vehicle was used without the owner’s knowledge.

Chandley said those who are suffering from an addiction are not in their right mind and the bill would not serve as a practical deterrent. She asked in vehicle seizure if the person used a bus, would the bus be seized?

She said mandatory minimum sentences lead to increased incarceration costs.

Carson said the bill is much needed and urged her fellow senators to pass it.

She said a convicted drug dealer told a legislative committee that this could scare away drug dealers.

Sen. Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton, said he was told there were 486 people in New Hampshire who died of fentanyl poisoning in 2022 and supported the bill’s passage. 

Sen. Carrie Gendreau, R-Littleton, noted three recent deaths in her community to fentanyl and said legislators should be doing everything they can to slow the flow of fentanyl here.

Carson asked if this has to do with illegal border entry and the Biden Administration’s policy on the border.

Whitley produced facts which she said contradict Carson’s assertion.

She said national policy about the border should not “invade” New Hampshire in trying to fight this matter here.


Reconsideration of Senate Bill 414 which would require a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison for those who provide drugs with a death resulting was debated and passed on a vote of 18-6.

Democrats, like Whitley said statistics show prosecution in death resulting cases are not drug dealers themselves but lower level individuals.

“This is ineffective,” she said. “It will absolutely not do what it wants it to do,” which she said is deterring criminal activity.

She said the money spent on incarceration could be better spent on drug treatment, education and intervention.

“Why not focus on evidence-based solutions?” she asked. 

But Sen. Denise Ricciardi, R-Bedford, said there has to be a deterrent to stop those who bring fentanyl into this state and the amount of that drug intercepted at the northern border is enough to kill every resident of every major city in the state.

Sen. Suzanne Prentiss, D-Lebanon, said this bill takes away the judges’ ability to do their job.

She noted borders have nothing to do with this issue.


Senate Bill 504-FN passed on to the House, relative to land in current use. It gives property owners rights and law enforcement the tools they need to deal with border security, Gendreau said. It would allow the land to stay open for recreation but would consider it trespassing for those using the land illegally.

Chandley said the bill would change the 50-year-old current use law in an unprecedented manner, and is unnecessary.

But Gendreau said in her district, the issues of criminals using land for illegal crossing, drug smuggling and human trafficking are present. For those whose lands are in current use, it would help keep their land open for recreational use but would warn those who use it for illegal means that it is prohibited trespassing. The bill would also allow owners to keep their land open to public use with exceptions rather than having to close it. 

She said a constituent whose land is in current use on the border asked for the bill.  

“The ACLU is full of malarkey,” she said referring to information provided by the federal government to the ACLU which showed in 15 months there had been 21 arrests for illegal crossings.

“Are you aware that that information was from the federal government?” Whitley said noting it was not the ACLU.

If this bill passes, Whitley asked, how do we establish the difference between a hiker walking the woods or an illegal migrant?

Avard said this is a small measure to protect our borders.

Chandley said the bill makes very dangerous assumptions and does not belong in the current use statute.

Carson said we are dealing with a crisis on the northern border and some are trying to ignore it.

“We have no idea who these people are,” she said. “Why are you coming here? What can you offer to make this a better place?”

The vote was 14-10.


Senate Bill 533, which would create enabling legislation to let municipal boards allow for remote participation of its boards to meet quorum requirements was killed on a voice vote.

Democrats asked for the body to support the measure noting that it would help keep small town boards going and that the Senate itself uses remote presence to vote on it.

Carson urged the body to kill the measure. She said after the pandemic was over, senators heard from a lot who wanted to keep that emergency order in place.

“Local government is the closest government to the people and if you can’t face your local officials because they couldn’t get there?” Carson said. “My constituents say ‘no’…they want the dialogue” in person. “If you don’t have the courage to face the people who elected you, maybe you should find something else to do.”

You can still be accountable and have a medical emergency and Zoom in and join the meeting and important work can still be done, said Sen. Debra Altschiller, D-Stratham. She said one community should not be penalized because another community doesn’t want that and that all this is allowing municipalities flexibilities.


A $100,000 death benefit for the family of Bradley Haas, killed in the line of duty as a security officer at the New Hampshire State Hospital was approved unanimously by the state Senate on a voice vote.

Speaking to Senate Bill 603-FN, D’Allesandro said unfortunately you have to be a sworn police officer to automatically get this death benefit in New Hampshire. Bradley was not a sworn officer as a security guard when he was killed Nov. 17, 2023 but he had spent much of his career as a sworn officer in Franklin.

His life was taken in a very difficult and terrible situation, D’Allesandro said, and it seemed morally the right thing to do to extend this benefit.

“It is a situation of doing the right thing,” D’Allesandro said.

It also passed Senate Bill 592-FN which names a main thoroughfare through Franklin in his honor and memory.

Ricciardi said the bill would rename Route 127 from Central Street in Franklin to the town line with Sanbornton as the Officer Bradley Haas Memorial Highway.

Haas worked 26 years in the Franklin’s Police Department including a number of years as its chief.

He grew up in the town and served in the military as well. 

A roll call was requested and the vote was unanimous.


The Senate approved Senate Bill 603-FN which aims to preserve the iconic 603 telephone area code for the state of New Hampshire. It passed unanimously.

Paula Tracy is’s senior writer. She has been a reporter in New Hampshire for 30 years.

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