House passes bill that would allow people to use deadly force in their vehicles

  • N.H. Rep. Mark Pearson, R-Hampstead, right, addresses a session of the New Hampshire House of Representatives held at an indoor sports club, due to the coronavirus, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, in Bedford, N.H. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

  • Legislators stand for the Pledge of Allegiance during a New Hampshire House of Representatives legislative session held at an indoor sports club, due to the coronavirus, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, in Bedford, N.H. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

Monitor staff
Published: 2/25/2021 5:43:06 PM

The New Hampshire House voted to expand New Hampshire’s “stand your ground law” Thursday, approving legislation that would allow people to use lethal force in self-defense inside their vehicles. 

Currently, New Hampshire law allows someone to use “deadly force” against another person if they reasonably believe that that person is about to use deadly force against themselves or someone else, in instances of suspected violence during a burglary or home invasion, or if someone is about to commit a forcible sex offense. The law largely applies to invasions of someone’s home.

House Bill 197 would allow lethal self-defense to be used from a person's vehicle as well.

“The rights of Granite Staters and their loved ones are of utmost importance and shall always be protected, upheld and reaffirmed, regardless of property line boundaries,” wrote Rep. Jennifer Rhodes, a Winchester Republican, in support of the bill.

But Democrats disagreed, arguing that it could lead to gray areas with confusing and fast-moving situations, such as in cases of road rage. Deciding whether a felony was being committed from inside a car would be too difficult, opponents said.

“It is difficult to justify using deadly force against someone if your or (another’s) life is not in danger,” said Rep. John Bordenet, a Keene Democrat. “We felt the bill went too far.”

The measure was one of the first to come up in the day. And it followed a chaotic and rancorous day Wednesday in which Democrats chose leave the House chambers ahead of a vote on an abortion-related bill, and House Speaker Sherman Packard attempted to lock the doors to prevent more departures.

Those actions made for a spectacle, packed with booing and arguments from each side that the other had abandoned decorum. As Speaker, Packard is allowed to lock the doors to prevent a mass departure in an effort to maintain quorum. But Democrats complained that once the doors were locked, the Speaker did not let members that had changed their minds to come back in, which they said is not allowed under his powers. Republicans, meanwhile, took issue with the Democrats’ decision to walk out in the first place, and railed against motions made by some of the Democrats that remained as being unnecessary and obstructive.

In the end, House Bill 233 passed despite the walkout, and both sides fumed through the evening. On Thursday morning Packard sought to address the chaos with an admonishment and an olive branch.

“Legislation is going to get passed that the Democratic caucus hates,” Packard told the room.” Last session, legislation was passed that Republican caucus hated. That’s the way it works. Today, we can continue fighting each other, or we can start anew, debate and vote upon the bills that we have before us.

“Everyone in this room loves this institution,” he added. “I don’t think any one of us likes it more than any other.”

Quietly, Democratic Leader Renny Cushing stood up to shake the speaker’s hand. The chamber rose in a standing ovation.

Here’s what else was voted on.

Affordable housing setback for Sununu

An affordable housing initiative from Gov. Chris Sununu took a hit Thursday after members narrowly moved to table a bill enabling it.

House Bill 586 contained a bipartisan package of proposals to encourage town zoning boards to build up affordable housing stock. The bill would have allowed towns to apply workforce housing incentives toward affordable housing for older people, expanded the use of economic development and revitalization districts to include affordable housing, and extended certain tax credit for housing projects.

While some Republican representatives supported the bill, others argued that the bill would be a “pendulum swing further in favor of land developers,” and that it would add too much bureaucracy to local approval processes.

The House moved to table it by a razor thin margin: 175-172.

Rep. Marjorie Porter, a Hillsborough Democrat, lamented the tabling in a statement.

“Our constituents across the state were already struggling to find affordable housing, and the economic shockwaves caused by the pandemic have only intensified this problem,” Porter said. “It is extremely disappointing that House Republicans would buck the governor, their own caucus members, and most importantly their constituents to sideline this bill.”

Bill banning rubber bullets falls

An effort to prohibit New Hampshire police departments from using rubber bullets for crowd control was voted down in the House Thursday, in a 225-126 vote.

Advocates for the bill had pointed to the spate of protests through the summer of 2020 in support of Black Lives Matter, some of which led to violence, noting that across the country police departments had been inconsistent in their use of the rubber bullets, which can cause in jury. Passing the bill would have given New Hampshire departments clear statutory guidance on how to use them.

But opponents had pointed to those same protests as justification for allowing New Hampshire departments to keep the bullets to potentially prevent riots, and said that state laws already prevent officers from firing rubber bullets indiscriminately and recklessly into crowds.

New civics test for New Hampshire children

The House passed a bill requiring a civics competency assessment in New Hampshire high schools, and making it a condition to graduate.

House Bill 320 would require that New Hampshire high school students score a 70% or higher on the U.S. citizenship exam in order to graduate. That exam includes a 128-question test on American history, governmental concepts, and geography.

“Some of these schools are more concerned with climate change than the Constitution,” said Rep. Michael Moffett, a Loudon Republican in support of the bill.

Republican supporters said that it would be an easy way to assure adequate instruction; Democrats protested that it would only teach children to learn for the test. The bill passed 208-141.

A separate bill, House Bill 242, would update the requirements for an adequate education in New Hampshire, necessitating classes in personal finance literacy, logic, biology, physical science and earth science instead of “science”, and civics and government, economics, geography and history instead of “social studies”. It passed largely on party lines.

House moves to reverse school nurse requirements

In 2019, the Democratic-led Legislature passed new eligibility requirements for school nurses, requiring that they have completed a bachelor-level nursing program and have three years working experience as a nurse.

In 2021, the Republican-led House has recommended reversing those requirements, making the case that the additional qualifications are not necessary and are making it harder for schools to hire nurses.

Instead, House Bill 349 would pare back the statute to only require that school nurses be licensed registered nurses (RNs), a qualification that does not require a four-year degree.

“An RN is an RN is an RN,” said Rep. Ralph Boehm, a Litchfield Republican. ” If they pass the (National Council Licensure Examination), then they are an RN.”

Democrats argued that the extra qualifications are necessary so that children with complex health conditions can be accommodated for and cared for, and said that they were unaware of school districts struggling to hire nurses.

The bill passed 201-146.

State revenue exceeds expectations

State budget writers will have a bit more money to work with this year than previously feared. Despite worries in 2020 that the pandemic would devastate business taxes and the rooms and meals tax, the state has fared better than expected.

As of February, the state is expected to pull in about $2.67 billion in revenue for state fiscal year 2021, which ends at the end of June –$18.5 million more than what the estimates had been.

That’s according to a joint presentation by House Ways and Means Chairman Norman Major, a Plaistow Republican, and ranking member Susan Almy, a Lebanon Democrat. Following tradition, the House Ways and Means committee makes an initial estimate of revenues to assist the House Finance Committee in drafting and amending the budget. That estimate is then updated

According to Major, three factors have helped to offset losses in tax revenue from struggling businesses and restaurants. First, the decision by Massachusetts to ban flavored tobacco products and menthol cigarettes drove a lot of business up north and caused increases in New Hampshire’s tobacco tax. Second, the pandemic accelerated the choice of people in urban areas like Boston and New York to move into rural states like New Hampshire, driving up home values and rental costs.

And third, amid panic and woe, state-run lottery games have been proven particularly popular, Major reported.

Still, much of the state’s financial picture could change, particularly after the Department of Revenue Administration collects annual business taxes in March and April. Until then, the scope and ambitions of the state’s budget will remain unresolved.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at 369-3307,, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)

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