Deadly force rule revived
Senate overturns governor's veto
Shrugging off pressure from Gov. John Lynch and the state's top law enforcement officials, the Republican-controlled Senate yesterday voted to overturn the Democratic governor's veto of a bill that expands residents' ability to use deadly force in self-defense.
Elsewhere, the 24-member chamber failed to muster the two-thirds majority necessary to override Lynch's vetoes of a withdrawal from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and a requirement that voters show a photo ID at the polls.
Backed by police chiefs and sheriffs throughout New Hampshire, as well as the state safety commissioner and the attorney general, Lynch had toured the state in recent weeks to make the case against the deadly force bill, which allows residents to use deadly force in self-defense wherever they have "a right to be" without attempting to retreat. Lynch and law enforcement officials said the bill would provide legal cover to criminals and gangsters in a state that is already the safest in the country.
"What we are looking for is a problem that doesn't exist," Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat, said on the floor yesterday. Currently, citizens must attempt to retreat from the threat of deadly force if it is safe to do so unless they are threatened in their home or surrounding area.
But Republicans stood their ground, seeing the bill as giving law-abiding citizens greater security to properly defend themselves without fear of consequences. Sen. Raymond White, a Republican from Bedford, read from the Constitution's second amendment and asked D'Allesandro if he believed in it.
"This bill allows the average citizen to take responsibility for his own safety," said Sen. Tom De Blois, a Republican from Manchester.
Republicans Nancy Stiles of Hampton and Bob Odell of Lempster switched their previous positions, voting to sustain the veto. Stiles said since her initial vote she met with local and state police, who told her they had concerns about the bill impacting their ability to prosecute criminals. Stiles said her main question for authorities was what the current law considers a sufficient attempt to retreat.
"If I am somewhere I have a right to be and someone comes after me and I say 'Get out of here' and try to move away . . . do I have the right to pick up a rock or whatever's handy?" she said. "And they all assured me that, 'Yes, I do have that right.' "
Despite losing two votes, the Senate still managed to override Lynch's veto on a 17-7 vote, sending it to the House for an override attempt there. Lynch released a statement after the vote saying he is "disappointed that lawmakers did not listen to the men and women who protect the citizens of New Hampshire every day."
The Senate fell one vote short of overriding Lynch's veto of a withdrawal from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. By requiring utilities to purchase carbon dioxide allowances at auction, the 10-state compact seeks to reduce carbon emissions by 10 percent by 2018 and has brought in about $16 million in revenue to the state since joining in 2008, Lynch has said.
But Republicans have said the program acts as an added tax on ratepayers, driving up energy costs. Utilities say the program adds about 36 cents to an average monthly bill.
Among those voting in favor of the governor's veto yesterday were Odell and Senate President Peter Bragdon, a Milford Republican, both of whom were original cosponsors of the legislation that made New Hampshire join RGGI three years ago. Sen. Gary Lambert, a Nashua Republican and former Marine reservist of 30 years, appeared at a press event earlier in the day in support of RGGI as a way to strengthen American security by reducing dependence on foreign oil.
Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley had pushed for a reform bill because he knew the Senate didn't have the votes for a complete repeal.
"I have known that it was going to be by 15-to-9 since February," Bradley said, but he could not get House leaders to stray from an attempt at complete repeal.
A bill that requires voters to show photo identification at the polls also failed. After passing the Senate 14-9 earlier this year, yesterday only seven senators supported the bill after others said they heard from local voting clerks who were worried about being able to implement the new requirements.
A main concern was the bill's provisional ballot exception, which allowed for a three day window during which voters could return to the polls and present a photo ID if they didn't have one at the time they voted. Clerks said this would present staffing problems at small-town offices, while state officials were concerned the provisional window would eat into New Hampshire's already-quick turnaround time between primary and general elections.
Sen. Sharon Carson, the Londonderry Republican who sponsored the bill, said she plans to introduce a new version in January to address those concerns. Sen. Sylvia Larsen, a Concord Democrat, said she was glad a photo ID requirement at the polls didn't pass because she said it would create an impediment to voters, who can still register to vote without a photo ID. But Larsen indicated her relief may be short-lived.
"From the statements that were made on the Senate floor it sounds like there may be some folks who will change their vote and support a photo ID if (the bill) is changed in some way," Larsen said. "I think that's a disappointment. . . the fight goes on."
The Senate took up three other vetoed bills yesterday, overcoming Lynch's objection on each and sending them along to the House. One raises the interest cap on title loans from 36 percent per year to 25 percent per month, which Lynch says will allow for predatory lending but supporters say provides consumers the ability to make their own choices. Another prevents local officials from requiring fire sprinklers in one- and two-family homes, and the third is a package of reforms to the state retirement system that is nearly identical to one already passed in the budget.
The Senate also passed a legislative fix for a cost-saving proposal that was not properly included in the governor's budget recommendation. A new bill, passed yesterday, allows income from other social programs to be counted when calculating how much welfare assistance a person receives. The state Division of Family Assistance estimates the change will close about 1,136 welfare cases and reduce funding to another 420 families. Lynch said the change will save $8.3 million annually.
(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)