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Bail reform bill passes N.H. Legislature over concerns from county attorneys



Monitor staff
Thursday, May 24, 2018

A bill making broad changes to loosen the state’s bail laws is moving to the governor’s desk after approval by the House and Senate on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 556 would allow most alleged criminal offenders to be released by police departments on personal recognizance, unless a judge determined they were a danger to themselves or the community. The legislation would require that those accused of Class B misdemeanors be allowed no-cash, no-condition bail unless safety circumstances intervened.

Supporters have hailed the bill as a comprehensive means to reduce cash bail, which they say can trap low-income people unable to post bond in jail, regardless of innocence. The bill is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, which conducted a yearslong investigation showing high levels of indigent people detained under the state’s system.

Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, the bill’s prime sponsor, praised its passage Wednesday.

“Working together, we passed the Criminal Justice Reform and Economic Fairness Act of 2018, which is commonsense bail and annulment reform that protects public safety, protects taxpayers and protects economic opportunity,” he said.

But others, including the New Hampshire Police Chief’s Association and the state’s 10 county attorneys, have cited safety concerns, and pointed to a lack of statewide pretrial resources to handle the expected increase in releases if the bill becomes law. The bill would take effect 60 days after its passage.

After a compromise was hammered out last week, both the House and Senate approved the bill by voice vote. Gov. Chris Sununu has expressed concerns in recent months, but indicated last week he would likely sign the bill into law.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)