Rep. John Burt of the New Hampshire House Criminal Justice committee reported from the State House today that the committee “retained” SB 66, joining HB 156 in the pile of bills kicked aside for a vote in 2018.
Before the vote to retain, Burt moved “ought to pass with amendment” on SB 66. His motion failed, 10-11. Two Republicans, Carolyn Gargasz of Hollis and Scott Wallace of Danville, joined the committee’s Democrats in opposing the “ought to pass” motion.
Rep. Wallace is a first-term representative. Rep. Gargasz is serving her 9th term.
The bill, whose chief sponsor was Sen. Regina Birdsell, had passed the Senate 14-10 before moving to the House.
What does “retain” mean?
The immediate effect is to prevent the bill from coming to a House vote this year, giving the committee (or a subcommittee named by the chairman) time to look at the bill and study it some more. A House vote will come in 2018.
In practice, a vote to retain means whatever the committee wants to mean. The “study” could be serious or it could be a joke. A subcommittee might meet once, or not. The intention might be to strengthen the bill or it might be to shove the bill under the rug.
Post-study, the committee will then take vote later this year – possibly as late as late fall – to recommend Ought to Pass or Inexpedient to Legislate for House action in January 2018.
Note that both of this year’s fetal homicide bills were retained. It is likely that a study, if seriously undertaken, would look at both bills at the same time.
Another missed opportunity
This is the fourth full legislative biennium since the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s 2009 Lamy decision. In 2012, a fetal homicide bill actually made it to Governor Lynch’s desk, where he vetoed it. An override attempt failed.
So far, that’s the high-water mark for fetal homicide legislation in New Hampshire.
This is the fourth legislative biennium when House and Senate have refused to ask the state Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on a fetal homicide bill. Whether leadership has been Democrat or Republican, all have failed to seek that opinion.
Governor Sununu announced before last year’s election that he would support a fetal homicide bill. It remains to be seen whether that support will extend to reaching out to legislators studying the retained bills.
The Crucitti family may have to keep telling the story of their daughter. The Kenisons may have to keep speaking out about Griffin.
All the while, the Lamy decision rests in dusty pages and a seldom-used URL, after it served to overturn a conviction of a drunk driver who injured a pregnant woman, prompted cesarean delivery of her child, and left that child with injuries that caused his death two weeks later.
The Justice who wrote the decision noted that the current state of New Hampshire law left the court with no other choice. “Should the legislature find the result in this case as unfortunate as we do, it should follow the lead of many other states and revisit the homicide statutes as they pertain to a fetus.”
Since 2009, one legislator after another has decided no, I don’t find the outcome as unfortunate as the Justices did. Eleven of those legislators prevailed today.