N.H. Senate blocks ‘stand your ground’ repeal, debates voter ID, kills state minimum wage

Last modified: 5/24/2013 12:36:30 PM
Four months of red-hot debate over New Hampshire’s “stand your ground” law ended with a whimper yesterday when the Republican-led Senate tabled the Democratic-led House’s bill to repeal the self-defense law enacted in 2011.

“Since that time we’ve had no problems, no vigilante behavior and no questionable actions,” said Sen. Sharon Carson, a Londonderry Republican. “We trust our citizens to interpret the law and behave appropriately.”

The 19-5 vote to table the bill was bipartisan, with 13 Republicans and six Democrats in the majority. All five “no” votes came from Democrats.

The bill will die on the table this summer when the Senate adjourns for the year, unless a majority of senators decides to remove it before then for an up-or-down vote.

In 2011, the GOP-dominated Legislature enacted a stand your ground law over a veto from then-Gov. John Lynch. After Democrats gained seats in the Senate and won a majority in the House last year, they sought to repeal it.

The bill introduced this year by House Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff, a Penacook Democrat, would return state law governing the use of deadly force in self-defense to its pre-2011 language, which required a person to withdraw from a situation, if possible, except in their home. Today, a person is not required to retreat if they are “anywhere he or she has a right to be,” according to the law.

The bill had become one of the year’s most controversial pieces of legislation, starting with a contentious 5-hour hearing in January before a House committee. Advocates called it a relatively small change that would protect public safety, but opponents said the repeal would restrict the fundamental right of citizens to defend themselves.

The House passed the repeal bill March 27 by a slim margin, 189-184. With yesterday’s Senate vote, the stand your ground law will remain on the books.

Voter ID and registration

Yesterday also saw Senate Republicans resist efforts by Democrats, in both the House and the Senate, to roll back the voter ID law enacted last year.

The law enacted last year requires voters to present a photo ID or sign an affidavit at the polls. Starting this fall, the list of acceptable forms of ID will narrow and voters who opt for the affidavit will have their photo taken by poll workers.

The House in March voted, 184-122, to freeze the law in place, repealing the changes set to take effect later this year. But the Senate Public and Municipal Affairs Committee rewrote the bill, restoring a limited list of acceptable IDs and the photo-taking requirement, though the latter would be delayed until 2015.

After a lengthy debate, including six unsuccessful attempts by Senate Democrats to amend the bill, the Senate voted, 13-10, along party lines, with Republicans in the majority and Democrats in the minority, to pass it.

The House and Senate are also fighting over changes made last year to voter registration forms. The Legislature added, among other things, a reference stating residents are required to register their motor vehicles in New Hampshire, which critics have challenged in court as confusing and unconstitutional.

The House voted, 190-149, to remove the reference to vehicles. The Senate amended the bill to keep a reference to vehicle registration on the voter registration forms, albeit with slightly different language, and passed it on a 13-11 party-line vote.

The debate isn’t over on either issue. The differences between the House and Senate versions mean both bills are likely headed to committees of conference.

Minimum wage

In 2011, the Legislature repealed New Hampshire’s minimum wage. On March 13, the House voted, 200-133, to re-establish a state minimum wage at $7.25 an hour, the same as the current federal minimum wage.

But yesterday, the Senate rejected that bill on a 13-11 vote that broke along party lines.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, said creating a state minimum wage now could lead to a higher state minimum wage later, which would hurt the job market.

He also called the bill unnecessary.

“There are well-meaning people on both sides of this debate,” Bradley said. “But it should be clear to everybody in this room, New Hampshire has a minimum wage. It is the federal minimum wage. It is $7.25 an hour.”

But Sen. Donna Soucy, a Manchester Democrat, said New Hampshire is now one of just a handful of states without a minimum wage. The Granite State, she said, shouldn’t defer to the federal government on the issue.

“Why today would we want to cede that authority to the federal government, and let them be the sole decider on what should be our New Hampshire minimum wage?” Soucy asked.

RGGI, lobsters, terrorists

In other action yesterday, the Senate approved a bill dealing with New Hampshire’s participation in a regional cap-and-trade system, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Among other things, the bill implements a planned 45 percent reduction in the cap on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants across the nine RGGI states in 2014.

The legislation passed the House in March on a 190-156 vote. It passed the Senate yesterday on a 14-10 vote, with three Republicans – Stiles, Odell and Senate President Peter Bragdon of Milford – joining all 11 Democrats to support it.

The Senate also, on a series of voice votes:

∎ Killed a bill that would have allowed “properly disciplined and leashed” pet dogs to accompany their owners into outdoor patio areas at restaurants. It had passed the House on a 307-25 vote.

∎ Killed a bill that would have allowed specially licensed scuba divers to capture lobsters by hand. It had passed the House on a 303-66 vote.

∎ Killed a bill that would have barred state officials from helping enforce provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act that provide for the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists. The New Hampshire Liberty Act had passed the House on a 337-15 vote.

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

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