New year, new laws: Changes for 2021

Monitor staff
Published: 1/2/2021 4:01:26 PM

Changes to New Hampshire state laws on sexual assault take effect in the new year.

Starting Jan. 1, the definition of sexual assault expanded to include any sexual contact between school employees and students between ages 13 and 18. The legislation was aimed at closing a loophole in state law that advocates argued enabled a Concord High School teacher accused of abuse.

Primo “Howie” Leung was charged in 2019 with sexually assaulting a student off school property in Massachusetts in 2015 and 2016. But school officials did not report him to police after he was seen kissing a different student in 2018 because state law allowed teenagers 16 and older to consent to such contact if they were not being coerced.

Other legislation that takes effect Jan. 16 increases protections for sexual assault victims and requires colleges and universities to adopt sexual misconduct policies.

Under those changes to state law, institutions of higher education must adopt and make available to students policies on dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking; develop a task force and survey on sexual misconduct and report its findings; collaborate with law enforcement on the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault incidents; establish confidential resource advisers; develop awareness programming; and undertake institutional training in the awareness and prevention of sexual violence on campus.

Advocates said the bill, authored by students and survivors of sexual violence and promoted by The Every Voice Coalition, was one of the most comprehensive bills addressing campus sexual violence anywhere in the country. Similar legislation was introduced in four other states but failed to pass. A spokesman for the coalition said bills will be introduced in seven states in 2021.

The bill is one of a number of statutory changes to take effect Jan. 1. Here are some others:

Epi-pens covered by insurance

Health insurance plans in New Hampshire are now required to cover epinephrine auto-injectors, often known by the leading brand “Epi-Pen,” according to a change in statute that takes effect Friday. 

House Bill 1280 specifies that the injectors, which cover single-use devices that inject epinephrine onto the body, must be included. Additionally, the co-pays and deductibles for the Epi-Pens cannot be higher than comparable services.

Police officers mustreport misconduct

Starting Jan. 1, police officers in New Hampshire must report instances of misconduct they observe by their fellow officers.

If a law enforcement officer sees any misconduct by their peer, they must notify the chief of their department as soon as possible, the new law stipulates. At that point, the chief is required to set in motion an investigation of the claim to determine whether it is merited, and notify the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council. 

The behavior in question includes assault, sexual assault, bribery, theft, fraud, evidence or witness tampering, the use of a chokehold, and excessive force. 

The department may not take disciplinary or retaliatory action against officers that make the first report, the law states.

Jail time for truckers who get DWIs 

The Legislature has ratcheted up legal penalties for commercial truck drivers that drive while intoxicated. Now, if they're caught, they’ll get jail time.

House Bill 1182 states that any person who is driving a vehicle that weighs 10,001 pounds or more, and who is found with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more, automatically must be charged with an aggravated DWI.

That's a higher charge than what drivers of smaller vehicles get for the same behavior. For most drivers, being pulled over and found to have a BAC of over 0.08 simply results in a DWI charge, which carries a fine of at least $500 but no jail time. In order to get an aggravated DWI charge, the driver must be moving more than 30 miles per hour over the speed limit, or have caused a crash that results in serious bodily injury, or have been carrying passengers under 16 years old, or have attempted to evade capture.

Those conditions used to apply to commercial truck drivers; unless they caused an accident or speeded or attempted to evade police, those drivers were charged like anyone else. Now, simply driving a vehicle over the weight limit while intoxicated will lead to an aggravated DWI charge. 

An aggravated DWI charge is a Class A misdemeanor, and leads to a fine of at least $750 and a mandatory minimum of 17 days of jail time in the county correctional facility. Twelve days of those 17 must be suspended pending the driver’s cooperation with a substance use disorder evaluation. 

The law also ramps up the penalties for commercial truck drivers who refuse to subject themselves to a breathalyzer when pulled over. Before, they would have their commercial driver’s license suspended for doing that. Now, that license is suspended “immediately.” 

An expansion of home health care for Medicaid nursing home residents

For years, Medicaid recipients in New Hampshire who wanted to get health care at home rather than in a county nursing home faced tall barriers.

That's because the county nursing homes were directly capped in how much they could spend on home health care. In total, counties could only spend up to 50% of the total they spent on nursing home care toward home health care. And individuals who wanted to use home health care could only get 80% of the value of care they would have received in the nursing home; any more and they would need a direct exemption from the state commissioner of the Department Health and Human Services. 

No longer. A change in laws that takes effect this New Year eliminates those price caps on counties. 

Now, Medicaid recipients must be offered the choice to receive care in a “less restrictive setting if such services are available,”and there are no limits on how much the county can spend on them. 

The change could see a surge of lower income residents being accommodated in their homes – a potentially significant change in the era of COVID-19. 

The new law also requires DHHS to submit an annual report the Legislature on how many people are taking up this option, allowing lawmakers keep tabs on how expensive it becomes.

The end of ‘no-excuses’ absentee voting

New Hampshire’s short-lived, pandemic-era experiment into widespread absentee voting this fall is coming to an end. 

A wide range of changes passed to help people vote and avoid the crowds on Election Day 2020 expires on New Year’s Day. 

That includes an expansion of who is eligible to vote absentee. While New Hampshire law normally dictates that a person must have a direct reason for requesting and filling out an absentee ballot, the Legislature temporarily extended that to anyone worried about the COVID-19 pandemic. 

And because of the record-breaking surge of absentee voting in the state, lawmakers had temporarily allowed town and city election clerks to open the outer envelope of the ballots and pre-process them to cut down time on Election Day.

Now, both of those provisions have ended. The same statute that created them included a sunset clause for Jan. 1.

“No excuses” absentee voting is a change that has been pushed for by New Hampshire Democrats for years. Democrats say that making the change permanent would allow more voters to vote who may have work complications or other mobility issues on Election Day. But Republicans have argued that broadening the absentee voting requirements would be insecure and encourage “ballot harvesting” ahead of the election.

The compromise: The state passed de facto no excuse voting, but for one unique election only.

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