New Hampshire Senate approves “red flag law” allowing temporary firearm confiscation

  • Members of the N.H. Senate stand for the Pledge of Allegience as they gather for a session on Tuesday, June 16, 2020 at the State House in Concord, New Hampshire. The 24 N.H. Senators met in the N.H. House Chamber while adhering to social distancing rules due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

Monitor staff
Published: 6/29/2020 5:17:43 PM

The New Hampshire Senate passed a bill to allow the temporary confiscation of firearms in dangerous situations Monday, part of an end-of-year suite of bills on the last voting day of the session.

In a party-line, 14-10 vote, senators voted to pass “extreme risk protection orders" allowing concerned family members, housemates and romantic partners of a firearm owner to ask a judge to have that firearm removed if they believe the person intends self-harm or poses a risk to others. 

Democrats held up the bill, known nationally as a “red flag law” as an effective tool against New Hampshire’s rising suicide crisis, allowing loved ones to intervene and remove a gun from a scenario that could turn to tragedy. 

The bill would allow the family member or housemate to seek an “ex parte” order – meaning that the defendant would not be present – that would temporarily require the person to relinquish their firearm. That order could be carried out by law enforcement, according to the bill.

A full hearing with the defendant would need to be held within seven days. Those filing false reports would be subject to perjury charges.

But Republicans argued the act of eliminating firearms without the input of the defendant was a constitutional violation. And they said the bill did not have a strong enough vetting process to stop preliminary confiscations.

One senator struck a deeply personal note. Sen. Jon Morgan, a Brentwood Democrat, invoked the deaths by suicide of his aunt and uncle, in a lengthy, wrenching speech from the floor.

“I urge, plead with this body to reflect on these words and help other families out there – in the midst of a mental health and addiction crisis exacerbated by economic catastrophe and a pandemic – not have to experience what mine has,” Morgan said.

The bill heads to Gov. Chris Sununu, who has expressed skepticism of red flag laws in the past. 

Medical monitoring bill 

Senate Democrats forged ahead Monday on an effort to attempt to increase corporate accountability for toxic waste. But Republicans slammed it as too broad, and argued it should be narrowed to the perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which the state has struggled.

In a 14-10 vote, the Senate voted to approve an amendment to House Bill 1375 that would create a “medical monitoring” claim. That would create guidelines to allow a  person who had ingested toxins sue a negligent company to pay for a medical monitoring program such as cancer screenings. 

Republican senators said they supported the concept as applied to PFAS, which are prevalent in the state’s Seacoast and have been linked to cancer and other ailments. But they said by applying it to all toxins, the bill opened up the possibility of burdening companies unnecessarily.

Democrats said by keeping the bill broad, the state would provide for a remedy for future substances that may not be known yet to be toxic. 

State employee contract report

The Senate voted to accept a key report that could determine whether to give state employees a raise. But it splintered on party lines.

That report – an independent fact finder’s report – was supposed to settle a months-long impasse between Gov. Chris Sununu and the state’s four unions, the second in four years.

The report recommended that the state increase the nearly 10,000 state employees’ wages by 4.02% over two years. It was issued after both sides submitted their cases last year detailing how high the pay raise should be. 

But Sununu has rejected the fact finder's conclusions, pushing for his proposal: a 2.32% wage increase. With both sides still deadlocked, the fact finder’s report headed to the Legislature.

Democratic senators, who favor the report, said that the stresses of the pandemic on public employees drove home the need to increase pay. Due to the impasse last year, there has been no new contract with new provisions since July 2019. 

“The Bible says pay the workers before the sun goes down,” said Sen. David Watters, a Dover Democrat. “For these workers, it’s past sundown.”

But to Republicans it was the wrong time to contemplate a wage increase – as the plummeting state business tax remedies brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and business shut down deals a blow to state coffers.

“How do we pay for this?” Sen. Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican, said. “What tax will we raise? What service will we cut to pay for this. That’s truly the question.”

The vote on the report brought a handful of State Employees Association demonstrators outside the State House Monday afternoon. Two weeks ago, SEA representatives staged a vehicle demonstration, forming a line of cars and honking around the State House grounds. 

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