N.H. House Approves Fetal Homicide Bill, SB 66

After lengthy debate and four preliminary roll call votes, the New Hampshire House on June 1 voted 186-170 to approve fetal homicide legislation. SB 66 now goes back to the Senate for expected concurrence with a House amendment. From there, the Governor’s desk awaits.

Roll call on SB 66, main motion of Ought to Pass with Amendment

I need to write some thank-yous to my reps. Maybe you do, too. 

No surprises in debate

The debate plowed no new ground.  Representatives who walked into the House chamber believing that fetal homicide laws are anti-abortion measures in disguise didn’t change their minds. Those who insisted on treating this criminal justice measure as a personhood bill kept right on doing so.  Rep. Kurt Wuelper in his floor speech on SB 66 reminded his colleagues of the Lamy case, which opponents of the bill would rather forget. Rep. Jeanine Notter carried a photo of Griffin Kenison as she spoke up for the bill.

I was in the House gallery for the debate and the vote. I was pessimistic.  When it was over, when that 186-170 tally went up on the display board in the House chamber, I lost my composure. Gratitude, relief, overwhelming respect for the families who have worked for passage of fetal homicide legislation: it all caught up with me.

Unlike the last time House and Senate had different versions of fetal homicide legislation in play, New Hampshire has a governor who is willing to sign a bill. Last time around, the antagonism between House and Senate conferees led to stalemate. This time, to this observer, things look different.

What’s next?

The state Senate will decide whether to Concur or Nonconcur with the House version of the bill. With concurrence, the bill would go to Governor Sununu, who has expressed his support.

Nonconcurrence would most likely lead to a House/Senate conference committee, which would have a short period of time to hammer out differences. Since the House amendment did not change the substance of the original bill, there aren’t many differences to be hammered.

Why six separate votes in the House?

The House proceedings on SB 66 included two attempts to table the bill, two attempts to attach amendments other than what the committee majority recommended, one vote on the finished product, and one vote to reconsider. All were roll calls.

The reconsideration vote was a pesky thing. Reconsideration can allow a do-over on a completed vote; it can also be used to prevent a do-over, since if a reconsideration motion fails, it can’t be tried again. (Still with me?) A look at the roll call on SB 66’s final “Ought to Pass w/ Amendment” motion showed at least one ferocious opponent of fetal homicide legislation voting “Yea”, putting her in a position to call for reconsideration – perhaps late in the day, after some reps had gone home.

That was forestalled when a supporter of the bill moved for reconsideration shortly after the bill’s passage, and asked that his colleagues vote No on the motion. Reconsideration duly failed, and SB 66’s House passage was a done deal.

About those Nays

Two representatives, Barbara Comtois and J.R. Hoell, spoke eloquently against SB 66 in its current version – not because it’s a fetal homicide bill, but because it didn’t go far enough, applying only to preborn children at 20 or more weeks’ gestation. Rep. Hoell proposed a floor amendment to address that concern, and his colleagues by a significant margin declined to support it. Here’s the roll call on the Hoell amendment. 

Was there one straightforward vote?

So was there a “clean” vote in there somewhere today? Sure. In my opinion, the motion that separated the real fetal homicide supporters from opponents was the one to gut the bill and replace it with “enhanced penalties,” a proposal that was floated (and rejected) in the House Criminal Justice committee. Abortion supporters touted “enhanced penalties” as the way to compromise on the bill, ignoring the fact that enhanced penalties would not have enabled the New Hampshire Supreme Court to come to a different conclusion in Lamy. The “enhanced penalties” roll call may be viewed here.  Those Yea votes were trying to torpedo fetal homicide language.

If you want to know who the real hard-liners are when it comes to opposing fetal homicide laws, watch for my next post. I’ll list the 144 representatives who managed to do all this in one day: vote twice to table the bill, vote against an amendment to apply SB 66 throughout pregnancy, vote in favor of the “enhanced penalties” substitute, vote against final passage of SB 66 with its committee amendment, and vote in favor of reconsidering passage.

Postscript: whatever happened to HB 156?

HB 156, the other fetal homicide bill this session, is in “retained” status, legislatively shunted aside for now. In some form, it will get a House vote early in 2018. HB 156’s version of fetal homicide law would be applicable eight or more weeks into pregnancy, compared to SB 66’s 20-weeks. Passage of SB 66 would not preclude future passage of HB 156.