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Capital Beat: Death penalty repeal may be back on the table



Monitor staff
Monday, October 23, 2017

It might not have the dazzle of paid family leave, nor the timeliness of Medicaid expansion reauthorization, but Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn is predicting one legislative effort will take center stage next year: death penalty repeal.

The Whitefield Democrat said the latest push by Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, will have his personal support next session. And amid the usual partisan rancor, Woodburn said, the topic is one whose positions cross party lines, making its success or failure particularly inscrutable.

Still, Woodburn said he thinks 2018 is the year for it to happen. Cushing, who has submitted a legislative service request for repeal, was unavailable for comment.

It’s an oft-traveled road for the New Hampshire Legislature, ever since 2000, when a repeal bill comfortably passed the House and Senate. That effort was vetoed by then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, but similar attempts have been made by members of both parties in the intervening years.

Most recently, while efforts have passed the House, the Senate has deadlocked in 2014 and 2016 on efforts to repeal.

The latest was co-led by Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Concord, who said at the time that he had dropped his long-held support for the death penalty out of concern for the potential innocence of prisoners. Avard did not reply to a request for comment.

New Hampshire’s capital punishment laws are relatively narrow, applicable to murders of police officers, judges and prosecutors, or in killings during kidnappings, robberies and sexual assault. And the law is rarely invoked; no execution has taken place in the state since 1939.

But the topic has been an emotional minefield since 2008, when Michael Addison was sentenced to death for the murder of Manchester police Officer Michael Briggs.

Opponents of repeal say Addison, the only person on death row in New Hampshire, exemplifies the need for a strong deterrent against police violence.

Off the heels of last year’s deadlock, and with nine new senators in the chamber, Woodburn said he thinks the winds will shift. But he said conviction in this area comes down to personal conscience, and he’s not going to wrangle any votes beyond his own.

“This is not a party line vote – we do not whip anyone, we do not bring it up. It is not a caucus decision, and I believe the Republicans have the same view,” he said. “They’re all over the map on this issue.”

Back to the drawing board

After the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules rejected an overhaul of New Hampshire’s day care policies by the Department of Health and Human Services, Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers said the department will take another look.

“We’ll take a look and we’ll have to make a decision over whether we’ll make any further changes to the rules,” he said.

The comments came after a sometimes heated hearing in which representatives for day cares argued that the new rules would create cost barriers and could lead to closures. The rule changes, which comprise more than 100 pages, touch on everything from outdoor play to screen time, and add lengthier training requirements for child care workers that opponents say could deter employment.

The department has defended the rules, calling them federally-mandated updates to protect children’s health, but it has pared back the scope of the law after months of vocal opposition.

In its voice vote rejecting the latest rules, the committee instructed DHHS to return with rules that it can demonstrate do not exceed federal mandates.

The Hopeful Eight

The race for House Speaker is growing crowded, after two more Republicans threw in their names for consideration.

Steve Smith, R-Charlestown, says he will make a run, while Barbara Griffin, R-Goffstown, said she’s considering; the two chair the Transportation and Election Law committees, respectively.

The position may become open next month, with the Oct. 12 announcement that Speaker Shawn Jasper will seek the position of Commissioner of Agriculture, and will resign from his post if confirmed.

Full party elections are still over a month off, with caucus meetings set for Nov. 29, but Rep. Laurie Sanborn – who narrowly lost a similar bid in 2016 – and Deputy Speaker Gene Chandler – the former Speaker who has Jasper’s endorsement – remain presumptive front-runners. The House Freedom Caucus, which is staying coy on whether it will make an endorsement, will host a candidate forum Nov. 2 at the Concord Holiday Inn.