Bail Reform Heading to the Governor’s Desk

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Paula Tracy photo

Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, is pictured speaking Thursday.


CONCORD — The House and Senate approved changing the state’s bail system to draw clearer lines on who should be held as a danger to the community and who should not.

House Bill 318 also appropriates $1.7 million to establish a bail notification and tracking system in the courts and for law enforcement to fill in gaps in the current system that allows some criminals to avoid detection of warrants and bail conditions.

The compromised bill was supported by both the House and Senate as lawmakers have worked to reform the system that has put dangerous criminals back on the streets to commit new crimes after arrests, many municipal officials have claimed.

“This legislation is a comprehensive solution to a complex problem.  It strikes the right balance by protecting our citizens and empowering victims of violent crimes while, at the same time, not unnecessarily detaining people who have been accused of crimes,” said Senate Minority Leader Donna Soucy, D-Manchester. “This bipartisan compromise legislation will serve all Granite Staters well.”

Under the bill, cash bail could not be set higher than the defendant is able to pay, and clearly states the intent of cash bail is to ensure a defendant appears for trial, not incarceration pending trial.

The standard of proof to hold a defendant who is a flight risk is a preponderance of the evidence, while the holding of a dangerous defendant requires clear and convincing evidence.

Potentially dangerous defendants would go before a judge or magistrate to decide if they are a danger to society.

“Fixing our bail system has been a priority for the Senate for several years, and thankfully for the safety of our state and residents, we have come to a solution this year,” said Senate President Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro. “This bill fixes what was broken about our existing system, where violent criminals would commit offenses and then immediately be released on the street to commit new crimes.” 

The bill not only protects the people of the state, it also improves the criminal justice system by promoting victim advocacy and improving training for court officers, said Senate Majority Leader Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry.

Under the bill, law enforcement “shall make every reasonable effort to notify a victim of a violent crime prior to the defendant’s release on bail,” said Rep. Terry Roy, R-Deerfield, chair of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

The House approved the compromise without debate. The Senate approved the compromise unanimously.

Hampton Casino

The House voted overwhelmingly not to allow the Hampton selectmen to discontinue D Street on Hampton Beach to allow for the expansion and rebuilding of the Hampton Beach Casino, a music venue that presents nationally known musicians and bands.

Some argued the bill bypasses current law which requires a vote of a town’s citizens to discontinue roads and enter long-term leases for public lands of more than five years, while others say the project has wide support in the community and would still require the project to go through the normal planning and zoning board approval process before moving forward.

Others objected to lengthening the time developments are exempt from changes in codes and building regulations once a project is begun.

Opponents of that provision said the change would saddle communities with projects that may never be completed while the land could instead be turned around quickly to allow much needed housing projects to move forward instead.

The compromise on House Bill 1215 failed on a 261-102 vote.

Investigating DCYF

The House turned down a request from Rep. Leah Cushman, R-Weare, to form an investigative committee into the Division for Children, Youth and Families, the family court system and the contractors providing services.

She begged the House to approve the committee that would have powers to take testimony under oath and have subpoena power.

Cushman said the House’s first duty is the redress of grievances brought to members by the people, noting the system has been an ongoing problem for years.

She noted allegations of mismanagement, conflicts of interest, corruption, and criminal behavior saying the issues raised need a deeper dive than the two current study committees on the family court system and DCYF could provide.

Cushman alleged the two committees have come under improper pressure and cannot do what is needed to get to the bottom of the concerns.

However Deputy House Speaker Steve Smith, R-Charlestown, said the House has never instituted such a committee, and the request should have come the first day of the session when it could have been properly vetted and not the last day of the session.

The House voted 120-247 not to suspend the rules to establish the committee, falling well short of the two-thirds majority needed.

Paula Tracy contributed to this report.

Garry Rayno may be reached at

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