Rep. Leon Rideout saw the bill named for his grandson Griffin go down to defeat in Concord last year. He’s not giving up. In the past quarter-century, New Hampshire has seen several attempts to get a fetal homicide bill enacted. Never before has a campaign for such a bill been spearheaded by the family of a child whose death counted for nothing under New Hampshire law.
For more about Griffin Kenison and the origin of Griffin’s Law – not yet passed, but its time may be at hand – see this post from last February. As one of Griffin’s grandmothers put it, “Our family is on a mission to make sure if a person causes bodily harm or death to an unborn child due to violence or criminal behavior, there will be consequences.”
Already, some New Hampshire state representatives are filing their intentions for 2015 bills, and Griffin’s Law is on the list, sponsored once again by Rep. Rideout. I sat down with him recently to ask him about it. Will this be the same bill he introduced in the 2014 legislative session?
“We’re looking at the same bill. I might change a little bit to the language that came out of the Senate committee, because there were Democratic objections to language that was in the original bill.” He remarked that while those objections were addressed in committee, “of course the Democratic senators still voted against it.” So what is he going to say to colleagues who opposed Griffin’s Law last time, in the hope of getting them on board this time? He says he’ll point to new language – “and, it’s the right thing to do.”
“None of the ones who opposed [the bill] actually opposed it on the facts. Everything they opposed it on was based on NARAL’s interpretation, not based on facts from experience in thirty-eight states that have a similar law. As a matter of fact, they either didn’t read the bill, or they’re lying about it. I guess one of the biggest disappointments with the Senate vote was Senator Stiles, who stood up on the floor of the Senate and talked about ectopic pregnancies. If she read the bill, she knew that medical emergencies were covered under the bill as an exclusion.”
(It’s a sad and infuriating fact that the strongest opposition to Griffin’s Law – a bill that respects a woman’s choice to carry a child to term – came from abortion advocacy groups, whose representatives testified that respecting a woman’s choice to carry a child could somehow have a deleterious effect on another woman’s choice to have an abortion. Those objections were made despite the fact that in both its original and amended forms, Griffin’s Law would not have applied to any action taken with the consent of a pregnant woman.)
Rep. Rideout is not giving up. “So I’m just going to, again, put the facts forward: this is what the bill does, this is the experience in the other states. There was one reason why Griffin’s Law was better than what some states have – we did have a clause that does not hold the mother culpable. That was a huge issue that a lot of people wanted in the bill. It looked like a reasonable exclusion and I think it makes the law a better law. I actually have more co-sponsors than we had last year. We’ll probably run out of spots.”
What about Senator Jeff Woodburn, Rep. Rideout’s own North Country state senator? Has the senator reached out to Rep. Rideout about the bill? “No, he hasn’t. Of course, I’ve jabbed him on that issue several times. He likes to say he’s the most independent voice in the state senate. I guess the biggest disappointment was that he actually used the exact wording of NARAL when he was on the senate floor speaking. There was nothing independent about the wording he was using to say he opposed [the bill].”
One of the most remarkable and dramatic aspects of the 2014 campaign for Griffin’s Law was the presence of Griffin’s extended family at the hearings and votes on the bill. Rep. Rideout is from Lancaster, and most of the family members (including Griffin’s parents, Ashlyn Rideout and Daniel Kenison) are North Country residents as well. Trips to Concord for hearings were day-long events, and still the family came out again and again. Are they prepared to do that in 2015? “I think they are. Before I re-submitted the bill, I actually asked my daughter ‘do you want it?’ She’s on board with it. I hope people will be able to come down as many times as they did before.”
Rep. Rideout represents Coos County district 7, a floterial district covering eleven towns. He’s also a small business owner. The past session was a learning experience. “Last year, I think I had three bills I was the prime sponsor on, and about sixteen other ones where I was co-sponsor. It’s a little bit overwhelming. And I still needed to spend time on my business. If I co-sponsor something, I kinda want to be there. So this year, I’ll be a little [more] selective when people ask me to co-sponsor.”
So what will we see his name on in the 2015 session? “Pretty much the main [one] will be Griffin’s Law. I’ve also submitted a bill for our maple syrup producers for seasonal weight restrictions. And I’m sure you’ve heard of the ballot controversy.”
For those who haven’t heard of the “ballot controversy”: there’s a law that makes it illegal to take a photo of one’s own completed ballot and post it to social media. Rep. Rideout is teaming up with Rep. John Burt of Goffstown to introduce a repeal effort. “When we took the vote on that [last year], we spent a couple of hours debating it. To me it seemed like one of the most ridiculous laws. When I was talking to people, they said, ‘that’s idiotic. There’s no way that can be a law.’ To get the conversation going, there had to be something. So I posted my ballot on Twitter, and that definitely got a conversation going. Whether that’s good or bad …” He chuckled and then added, “it’s a First Amendment issue.” He says the buffer zone bill is a similar First Amendment issue. “I think there will be a move to repeal it this year.”
He has a message for voters who might be tempted to stay home on Election Day out of disappointment in the top-of-the-ticket nominees. “What we need to do is not stay home – if you want to skip a spot on the ballot, skip a spot. But don’t stay home. There’s just so many races in the balance.”