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Our Turn: Constitutional protections go up in smoke

Published: 7/8/2019 8:56:43 AM

As we celebrate the 243rd birthday of our country, we are dismayed by the trampling of our rights that the citizens of New Hampshire have endured.

Shortly after helping pen our Constitutional protections and the necessary constraints on government, when asked “what have you given us” Benjamin Franklin eloquently replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

The framework that he helped establish when our founders drafted the Constitution included a Bill of Rights that provided strict constraints on the authority and reach of government. These limitations were instituted for the protection of our citizens. Today, our Legislature frequently violates these sacred provisions without fear of backlash from the citizens.

This past week, the majority running the New Hampshire Legislature “torched” what remaining protections that were left under the U.S. Bill of Rights (4th Amendment) and trampled the constraints outlined in the 15th and 19th articles of the N.H. Constitution.

Two weeks ago, HB696 Establishing a Protective Order for Vulnerable Adults, also known as “Elder Care Gun Confiscation,” went to a Committee of Conference with a minimal vestige of due process in the legislation.

The bill that came out of the Committee of Conference removed all remaining due process protections. The bill now openly requires gun confiscation with zero judicial oversight. The ex-parte hearing required before seizing personal property of the accused was removed, and the ability to request a hearing to contest the accusations was similarly removed.

What remains in the bill is the clause that mandates that if an officer believes he has probable cause for something as simple as failing to “maintain the minimum mental, emotional, or physical health and safety of a vulnerable adult,” the officer must remove the firearms from the property. On the eve of our country’s birthday, the New Hampshire Legislature voted to require that personal property must be confiscated upon a mere and potentially unfounded accusation, and the police do not even need a search or arrest warrant to begin the process.

Another major change to HB696 was made at the conclusion of the process. HB696 as originally passed by the House of Representatives had a process for returning the seized property if the accusation was proven false, or when the resulting order expired. Not only does the “compromise” bill remove all pretense of due process and judicial oversight prior to the confiscation of property, it removes any process for the return of the property. That’s right. If you are falsely accused, the final version of the bill removes all procedural ways to regain your property.

The sponsor’s stated intention was to protect vulnerable adults from financial exploitation and other neglect or abuse. That would have been a laudable goal. However, the necessary protections are already in statute. Fraud, assault, theft and exploitation are covered under existing statues. The bill could have created additional methods to facilitate the return of stolen property. The bill could have made it easier to restore to the victim what was rightly theirs or their children’s.

Instead, should we go back to a time of the pre-Declaration of Independence where the trees on one’s property are taken without our permission by order of the king?

Or should one be forced to give up one’s bed and food and cook for an unwanted government official that decided your house was the correct place to hang out for the night? HB696 is a crucial step in heading back down that road.

The passage of HB696 shows total disregard for the principles of liberty upon which our country is founded and utter contempt for the people of New Hampshire. If allowed to become law, HB696 becomes the pattern mold for a police state in New Hampshire. How many other “urgent” situations could government officials imagine in order to justify the denial of due process and other fundamental liberties?

Benjamin Franklin further stated; “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

As you ponder what our Founding Fathers gave us for our country, consider whether we want to protect what little remains of our rights or do we want to let government have a say in everything, including the ability to seize our property without a specific court order?

Gov. Chris Sununu would be wise to protect what little liberty remains and ask the sponsors to draft a bill that facilitates restoration of stolen property instead of allowing government to steal it instead.

(Daniel C. Itse, former state representative and chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Review and Statutory Recodification, and vice chairman of the Committee on Children and Family Law, lives in Milford. JR Hoell, former state rep and co-founder of the N.H. House Freedom Caucus, lives in Dunbarton.)


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