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House panel recommends killing social-media bill, takes more time on 911 legislation

A House committee yesterday recommended killing a bill that would hand over control of a dead person’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to the executor or administrator of their estate.

Several members of the House Judiciary Committee said the bill, introduced by Manchester Democratic Rep. Peter Sullivan, offered a state solution to what is really a national problem. And a national organization, the Uniform Law Commission, is drafting a model law on the issue for individual states to adopt.

“This is a national issue. The commission on uniform state laws is dealing with this issue,” said Rep. Paul Berch, a Westmoreland Democrat. “They’re going to come up with a solution that is a national solution, which I believe is the only one that will work.”

The committee voted 13-7 to recommend that the full House find the bill “inexpedient to legislate,” which would kill it.

Sullivan’s bill states that control of a person’s social media and webmail accounts passes to the executor of their estate after death. That would include online services like Facebook, Twitter and Gmail, which the executor could then delete or continue to operate.

Sullivan said his bill addressed a legal problem of modern life, that someone’s online presence can outlive them. And he cited cases when bullying had led to teenagers’ suicides, then continued online even after their deaths.

“The law is very vague as to the power of survivors to do something about it,” Sullivan said earlier this month.

Similar laws have been enacted in a handful of states since 2005.

But members of the judiciary committee yesterday said the New Hampshire bill had a number of problems. They debated whether to retain the bill, so the committee could work on redrafting it later in the year, but in the end voted to recommend killing it.

Rep. Marjorie Smith, a Durham Democrat and the committee’s chairwoman, said Sullivan could ask the House Rules Committee for permission to introduce a new version of the bill later in the session, if and when the Uniform Law Commission comes out with its model law.

“The rules committee would certainly entertain that motion,” Smith said.

911 bill delayed

The House Judiciary Committee discussed, but didn’t vote, yesterday on a bill that would grant civil and criminal immunity to anyone who calls 911 to seek medical treatment in a drug- or alcohol-related emergency.

Supporters say the legislation would potentially save lives by encouraging people to call 911 in an emergency without worrying about whether they’ll be arrested. But critics, including the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, say the immunity is too broad and could potentially protect drunken drivers and drug dealers.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Joel Winters of Manchester, asked the committee yesterday for more time to draft changes. He said he hopes to make clear the bill intends to grant immunity specifically for alcohol- or drug-possession charges.

The committee agreed, voting to establish a subcommittee to examine the legislation more closely. That subcommittee will meet next Wednesday at 9 a.m., and the full committee could vote on the bill as soon as the next day, Smith said.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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