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House restores deadly force

Last modified: 9/15/2011 12:00:00 AM
Above the objections of the governor and law enforcement, and against the protests of Democrats who decried the lack of public notice, the Republican-controlled House yesterday voted to allow citizens to use deadly force in self-defense wherever they have "a right to be" without attempting to retreat.

Senate Bill 88 was vetoed by Gov. John Lynch in July, and the veto was overridden by the Senate last week. Yesterday, the House also voted with the necessary two-thirds majority, 251-111, to override the veto and move the bill into law, effective in 60 days.

House Speaker William O'Brien's office had said no vetoes would be taken up yesterday. But the Mont Vernon Republican had the votes and decided to go forward with the override, angering Democrats on the floor.

"Can you explain to me where the people of New Hampshire can find in an agenda on any given day when a veto will be taken up?" asked Assistant Democratic Leader Lucy Weber of Walpole.

O'Brien said a vote "at any time can be taken up when the chair chooses."

"That is the chair's prerogative," he said.

Lynch had toured the state in recent weeks backed by top law enforcement officials to make the case that the bill would give criminals legal cover for avoidable homicides. The law has previously required citizens to attempt to retreat from the threat of deadly force if they can do so safely. The use of deadly force in self-defense without seeking safe retreat was only justified in the victim's home or surrounding property.

Rep. David Campbell, a Democrat from Nashua, said the bill will "have a destabilizing effect on law and order" and will "empower the wrong people" in a state that is already the safest in the country.

"What about a gang member from Lowell who thinks a park bench in Nashua is something he ought to defend?" Campbell said. "I don't think these consequences were thought out."

Pro-gun groups had rallied behind the bill as a defense of the Second Amendment. Rep. Ken Kreis, a Canterbury Republican, said it is "not a gun bill . . . this is a self-protection bill."

"Why would my life be worth less in a Shaw's parking lot . . . versus sleeping in my house?" he asked. Rep. Jenn Coffey, an Andover Republican, argued "no law-abiding citizen should have to turn their back on a rapist or a robber."

Rep. Steve Shurtleff, a Concord Democrat, said citizens are already justified in using deadly force in self-defense if they cannot safely retreat.

"I would ask them to give me the name of one person who has been charged for using deadly force to protect their life or another person's life," he said.

After the vote, Lynch's spokesman, Colin Manning, said "this Legislature has chosen to put politics over public safety."

"The governor believes we should be listening to law enforcement and prosecutors when it comes to matters of public safety," Manning said.

In a statement, O'Brien said "this new law allows New Hampshire citizens to stand their ground when they are threatened."

"This is an important step forward to ensure the safety of our residents and sends a clear message to the criminals of the state to think twice before targeting law-abiding citizens," he said.

 New bills introduced

 

Five new bills were also introduced in the House yesterday, including a contingency plan to cut $35 million from the state budget if the state is forced to repay that amount to the federal government for Medicaid funding found to have been improperly used in 2004. The bills are intended to be worked on by committees and taken up by the full House when it reconvenes Oct. 12. However, the Senate is not currently scheduled to return until the new legislative session begins in January, so the bills may not be able to be passed until then.

The House also must act in October on the other vetoes overridden by the Senate last week. One of the bills would raise the interest cap on car 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.

The House has also yet to override Lynch's veto in May of a so-called right-to-work bill that would bar unions from collecting fees from non-members. The Senate passed it with a veto-proof majority, but the House has not shown it has the votes needed for an override.

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com.)


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