Hassan: I would sign Addison’s death warrant

Last modified: Saturday, March 08, 2014
If the death warrant for Michael Addison came to Gov. Maggie Hassan’s desk, she would sign it even if it arrived after a repeal of the death penalty.

“I have a deep respect for the criminal justice system in New Hampshire and the people who sat on the Addison jury, and I will respect their verdict,” she said yesterday in an interview with the Monitor’s editorial board.

This is the same opinion she gave during the 2012 campaign, but one that holds more weight now because a death penalty repeal bill has a very real chance of getting to her desk this year. The bill would not be retroactive, meaning Addison would remain on death row unless his sentence was commuted. The state is waiting on a decision by the state Supreme Court on whether Addison’s death sentence should be upheld. The high court upheld his capital murder conviction last year for killing police Officer Michael Briggs, but the justices said they needed more time to rule on the death sentence.

When a death penalty repeal bill passed in Illinois in 2011, the governor commuted the sentences of everyone on death row. But in Maryland, Connecticut and New Mexico, all states that have recently repealed it, the governors did not commute sentences. None has had death warrants come to their desks yet, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Also yesterday, Hassan touched upon her priorities, which include expanding access to health care, finding new money for roads and bridges, and improving mental health and substance abuse treatment, especially in light of the recent growth in heroin use.

She applauded the Senate’s passage of a bill this week that will expand access to private health insurance through Medicaid dollars. The plan will strengthen the state’s economy and provide financial security for families, she said. Under the bill, which now goes to the House, the program would stop if federal contribution dips below 100 percent, which it is set to do in 2017. Republicans are touting this “sunset provision” as a taxpayer protection. Hassan said she believes lawmakers will see the benefits of this expansion.

“I think what we all need to focus on is the value to the economy and our families of having this kind of coverage,” she said.

This expansion also is important because it will bring in new federal dollars for substance abuse and mental health treatment, Hassan said. New Hampshire is facing a surge in heroin usage and deaths as well as grappling with how to pay for a multimillion-dollar mental health settlement. The two problems are often co-occurring, Hassan said. Having new money to pay for treatment of both could encourage providers to strengthen their treatment programs, she said.

“We have a real opportunity here to integrate treatment in our health care system in a way that I think would really help solve the problem,” she said.

Hassan reiterated her support for a gas tax increase, one highly regulated casino and raising the minimum wage. But, if a casino fails, she did not offer another solution for finding revenue to repair the state’s roads and bridges. The 4-cent gas tax increase would bring in $32 million a year, which falls far below what the Department of Transportation says it needs. Hassan only said she’d continue to push for bipartisan solutions.

On casinos, Hassan said the regulations written into this year’s bill have improved the casino proposal and that bringing one to New Hampshire is part of building a modern economy. New Hampshire’s neighboring states are building casinos, putting New Hampshire at risk of losing revenue to those states, she said.

“I think the people of New Hampshire are very, very pragmatic about this and have a very good understanding that we can do this while protecting our brand,” she said.

Raising New Hampshire’s minimum wage is another way to strengthen New Hampshire’s families, Hassan said. New Hampshire relies on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, and there is a bill in the Legislature to set a state rate of $8.25 in 2015 then to $9.25 in 2016. President Obama came to New England this week to push raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10.

The raise will face serious challenges in the Senate, but Hassan said she will continue making her case to lawmakers.

“I also think most Granite Staters really believe that if somebody is working a 40-hour week or more, that they shouldn’t need public assistance,” she said.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)