House Increases the Consortium Cap for Wrongful Deaths

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Rep. Ross Berry, R-Manchester, Thursday speaks in opposition to a bill to allow town and city clerks to begin processing absentee ballots before election day.


CONCORD — The House Thursday agreed to increase the damage caps for wrongful death loss concerning spouses, parents and children, which have not been raised in more than 25 years.

Four of the six New England states have no caps on consortium claims, while New Hampshire and Maine are the only exceptions, and Maine’s cap is $1 million.

Senate Bill 362 would raise the cap for the loss of “the comfort, society, and companionship of the deceased” for a spouse from $150,000 to $500,000, and for the loss of a parent or a child from $50,000 to $300,000.

Supporters of the change said the state’s caps are unreasonably low today and do not properly compensate the person or persons suffering the loss.

Rep. Ben Ming, D-Hollis, said the current law “has a completely inadequate value on a relationship that will never exist again.” 

“It says some things in life are worse than death,” he said, “but not the loss of a spouse, or a parent or a child.”
Supporters also said states that have increased their caps or eliminated them have not experienced higher premiums, while in New Hampshire insurance companies are making record profits only paying slightly more than half in claims of what they collected for premiums.

But opponents said the bill would increase rates, make it more difficult to obtain some kinds of insurance such as medical malpractice and some insurance companies may leave the state.

The opponents wanted the Insurance Department to do an actuarial study of what would happen if the caps were increased before taking action.

Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, said the bill would help families who find themselves in a horrible situation.

“The increase of the caps are in line with all other states without any situation where the sky is falling,” she said.

The bill passed on a 191-174 vote and goes to the governor for his action.

Court Time

The House voted to give prisoners or those on probation an opportunity to petition the court for another trial if there is new evidence, new or additional forensic testing, or new scientific understanding that would have been material to the case.

Currently no one convicted of a felony or a class A misdemeanor may request a new trial more than three years after the conviction. Senate Bill 507 would allow a trial at any time, if the person meets the requirements.

Supporters said the provisions of the bill are very narrow and would leave the decision up to the trial judge.

But opponents said nothing in the bill would prevent a prisoner from repeatedly requesting a new trial and there is no emergency driving the need for the bill, so the House should take more time and improve the bill.

The House passed the bill on a 190-170 vote and it now goes to the governor.

Tax Caps 

The House approved Senate Bill 383, which would provide a new tax cap for school districts and a new formula for determining what is an acceptable increase in spending under a tax cap.

Supporters said the bill would provide another tool for towns and school districts to contain local spending that keeps increasing and escalates property taxes and that is unsustainable.

“Taxpayers will be better able to manage local spending in fiscally responsible ways,” said Rep. Diane Pauer, R-Brookline. “Within towns and school districts, this also gives Granite State taxpayers more effective management of local spending, keeping local taxes under control.”
But opponents said the vast majority of cities and towns do not believe spending caps are effective budget tools. And they said they often lead to staff and program cuts, and delayed maintenance that will eventually have to be done at greater cost, in order to provide essential services.

And they said the formulas are not specific enough to determine what is needed for a base budget and do not take into account such things as a recession when businesses close and people leave to find work elsewhere.

The consumer price index does include the cost of fuel or electricity which can make budgets highly volatile, they added.

“Under this bill you cannot sustain services,” said Rep. Julie Gilman, D-Exeter. “Join me and 97 percent of the state’s political subdivisions that reject tax caps.”

Under the bill, the new method for calculating the increased spending allowed under a cap would be based on past year’s effort, the consumer price index and the increase in population, or in school districts, the average daily membership.

The new method would need a three-fifths vote to be adopted by a city or town, and a three-fifths vote to end it, but a majority vote to override the tax cap.

The school district cap would require the same three-fifths threshold for adopting it and ending it and also for overriding the spending cap.

The bill was approved on a 184-177 vote and has to go back to the Senate because of the changes the House made.

Bradley Hass Memorial Highway

The House unanimously approved Senate Bill 592, which would rename Route 127 from Central Street in Franklin to the town line of Sanbornton as Officer Bradley Haas Memorial Highway in honor of the New Hampshire security guard killed Nov. 17 by former patient John Madore, who was 33 years old at the time.

Haas served in the Franklin Police Department for 28 years, ending his service as the chief.

The Franklin native also served in the US Army.

Haas’s family was present in the House Gallery when the bill passed.

The bill will go back to the Senate because of changes the House made.

Absentee Ballots

Town and city clerks may have a longer election day after the House killed Senate Bill 537, which would have allowed election officials to begin processing absentee ballots prior to election day and also would allow the ballots to be “cured” if there is a mistake made by the voter, the most common mistake failing to sign the back of the absentee ballot envelope.

The House voted 187-179 to indefinitely postpone the bill, which kills it and forbids the content or similar legislation to come before the House for the remainder of the current two-year term.

Republicans argued the bill would lead to mandatory pre- processing of absentee ballots when it is no longer necessary.

Clerks were allowed to pre-process absentee ballots during the COVID-19-impacted election of 2020 when there was an enormous increase in absentee ballots.

Rep. Ross Berry, R-Manchester, claimed when ballots are opened early, there is the possibility of mistakes being made when pre-processing is no longer necessary.

The bill was requested by the city clerks of Manchester and Nashua, the state’s two largest cities.

The House also approved Senate Bill 576, which requires the executor of an estate, within 30 days of appointment, to notify the town or city clerks of the person’s death, so he or she could be removed from the checklist.

Supporters said it would be a tool for election officials to ensure the voter checklist is up to date.

But opponents said the bill was unnecessary with a robust system in place that is effective and efficient. The bill was opposed by the Secretary of State and city and town clerks saying it would create confusion.

PFA Suits 

The House approved Senate Bill 413, which creates a private right of civil action for PFA contamination and clarifies the state’s authority to bring actions requiring remediation of hazardous waste to both facilities and “spillers” of hazardous waste.

The House also attached the contents of House Bill 1115, which allows a landlord to evict a tenant at the end of a lease if the lease is over six months in length.

The Senate sent the bill to interim study, a polite death in the second year of a two-year term.

The House attached a number of its bills the Senate either killed or sent to interim study to other bills Thursday in hopes of forcing the Senate to reconsider its actions, which is unlikely.

Garry Rayno may be reached at

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