N.H. Considers Death Penalty Repeal Again

A veto by Governor Chris Sununu last June stopped a bill to repeal New Hampshire’s death penalty statute. Undeterred, advocates of repeal have brought forth another bill this year, HB 455. It just received an “ought to pass” recommendation from the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee on a vote of 11-6. I’m glad to see that.

The repeal effort picked up a powerful advocate this time: Rep. David Welch (R-Kingston). He’s the committee’s ranking Republican and former chairman.

I went to the recent public hearing on HB 455 to sign “the blue sheet” indicating my support. I’m a registered lobbyist with a client that does not take a position on capital punishment, so as I entered the room I had to take off my orange badge and become just another member of the general public losing time from work in order to weigh in on the bill. I caught just the end of Rep. Welch’s testimony.

As quoted in a New Hampshire Union Leader report, Rep. Welch announced he had abandoned his longtime support for capital punishment. “Now I’ve resolved my positions. I’m consistently prolife and will not vote for the death penalty.”

Remember that the next time you think someone’s views on the right to life are set in stone.

I’m going to thank Rep. Welch. I’m not sure he’s hearing a lot of that. Emotions run high when capital punishment is up for debate.

A legislator who’s a friend of mine testified in strong opposition to repeal. She reminded her colleagues of a horrific murder in New Hampshire that occurred during a home invasion, and how the murderers were not covered by the death penalty statute at that time – unjustly, in the legislator’s view. (The statute has since been amended to include murders committed during home invasions.) She considers her support for capital punishment to be advocacy for the woman, Kimberly Cates, who was a victim of that violent crime.

I understand that, even if I don’t agree with the conclusion. I also understand the legislators who cry out about the hypocrisy of their colleagues who oppose the death penalty but who vote pro-abortion every chance they get. Believe me, I understand their frustration.

A House vote is still some days off. I’m looking forward to a roll call.

N.H. Legislators Try Again to Repeal Death Penalty

Two years after repeal of New Hampshire’s death penalty law failed on a tie vote in the Senate, the Senate has approved SB 593 on a 14-10 vote. The bill would change the penalty for capital murder to life imprisonment without the possibility for parole.

SB 593 has been assigned to the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee where a hearing is yet to be scheduled.

SB 593 has a long bipartisan list of co-sponsors, led by Sen. Kevin Avard (R-Nashua). In an op-ed published in the New Hampshire Union Leader two days before the Senate vote, Sen. Avard wrote about his reason for introducing the legislation. An excerpt:

SINCE THE DEATH penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1973, for every 10 people who have been executed across the country, one person has been exonerated. Can we continue to live with a 10 percent wrongful conviction rate in capital punishment cases? I cannot, which is why I have introduced a bill to abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire.

I have reached the point where no argument made in favor of capital punishment can overcome the reality that having the death penalty inevitably means that innocent people have been and will continue to be wrongfully convicted and executed. The only way to guarantee that the innocent are not wrongfully executed is to abolish capital punishment.

A Union Leader news report published the day after the Senate hearing on the bill said that people testifying in opposition included the president of the N.H. Chiefs of Police Association, the chief steward of the Manchester Police Patrolmen’s Association and president of the New Hampshire Police Association. The report also said that Governor Chris Sununu has threatened to veto the bill in the form passed by the Senate.

Death penalty in NH: two bills, two directions

Legislators came close to repealing New Hampshire’s death penalty statute a couple of years ago. I cheered for that.  Now, two death penalty bills are on the table: one a moratorium, one an expansion.

Senate Bill 463 would suspend imposition of capital punishment “until such time that methods exist to ensure that the death penalty cannot be imposed on an innocent person.” The list of sponsors is impressively varied: Senators Avard, Daniels, Kelly and Lasky, and Reps. Seidel, Cushing and Ferreira. The Senate Judiciary Committee has made an “ought to pass” recommendation on a 3-1 vote, and the full Senate will vote on the bill on March 3.

And then there’s the House bill, or perhaps I should say Rep. Flanagan’s bill, since no one else’s name seems to be on it. It’s HB 1552, and it would  extend the death penalty to acts of terrorism and civil rights offenses. The House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee has already held a hearing on the measure and will vote on it March 1.

I’d like to believe that a moratorium or suspension in imposing the death penalty would be a step in the right direction. I hope the Senate passes SB 463. I’m proud that my own district’s Senator Gary Daniels is the one who will formally present the committee’s recommendation on the Senate floor.

SCOTUS term is over – but they suspended Texas abortion regs before leaving

Abortion regulation, the HHS/Obamacare contraceptive mandate, and the death penalty got some attention from the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) before the Court’s term ended Monday. The day was somewhat anticlimactic in view of last week’s decision re-defining marriage nationwide.

Justice Anthony Kennedy (supremecourt.gov photo)
Justice Anthony Kennedy (supremecourt.gov photo)

> New Texas abortion regulations are on hold by order of the Court, pending a full hearing of the case – possibly next term. The vote was 5-4. Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Justice Anthony Kennedy joined with “the Court’s liberals” (Politico’s term, not mine) in the majority.

> In the latest order – again, not a decision – on Obamacare’s insurance-coverage contraceptive mandate, the Court upheld for now a Solomonic decision by the Third Circuit that figuratively splits the baby. A group of Catholic entities in Pennsylvania challenged the mandate. The Third Circuit upheld the mandate, but okayed a mother-may-I procedure for religious entities objecting to it. Whether the Constitution allows mother-may-I is yet to be decided by the top court. I’ll let the legal eagles at SCOTUSblog summarize this one.

“First, the religious groups must provide some type of notice to the federal Department of Health and Human Services that they want and are entitled to a religious exemption from the mandate.   If the groups do that, the government may not enforce the mandate directly against them, while the Court is pondering whether to review the case itself.

“Second, the women who are employed by or are students at the religious organizations are assured that they will have access, at no cost to them, of birth control methods and devices approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.   The government can go ahead, the Court made clear, and make arrangements for the health insurance plans in effect for the religious groups to assure free access to the contraceptives.  The government will reimburse the cost.

“The Court’s order stressed that it did not mean that the Justices were ruling on the correctness of the Third Circuit decision.   That will be the issue if the Court grants review in the pending case of Zubik v. Burwell (docket 14-1418).”

> This one was a full-blown decision: in Glossip v. Gross, the Court upheld the use of a particular drug for executions. Challengers had claimed it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Among the original petitioners, according to Justice Scalia, was someone convicted of the rape and murder of an 11-month-old baby. I feel nothing but revulsion at that; “cruel and unusual” seems just about right for such a criminal. My opposition to the death penalty, though, doesn’t depend on how lovable the criminal might be.

Justice Stephen Breyer (supremecourt.gov photo)
Justice Stephen Breyer (supremecourt.gov photo)

I have to wonder whether “humane” execution is designed for the prisoner’s sake or the onlookers’. The less we squirm, the better – is that the idea? Justice Breyer – not a man whose decisions respect any right to life for preborn children – dissented from the Glossip decision, and he apparently didn’t parse the which-drugs-are-better question. He flat-out asked for a briefing on the constitutionality of capital punishment.

This wasn’t the case for that. Apparently, the Court is cautious about overreaching on the death penalty. Their delicacy is amusing in view of their marriage decision. Perhaps I’ll live to see a day when boldness prevails in defense of the right to life.

The bit of difference: what it means to “leaven the loaf”

I was disappointed – sock-in-the-gut discouraged, really – when a death penalty repeal bill failed in the New Hampshire Senate on a 12-12 vote last week. A friend and fellow activist who had worked hard on the bill said to me afterward about all the pro-repeal work, “None of it made a damn bit of difference.”

I understood how she felt. I had been thinking the same thing, right up until she uttered the words. Hearing her say them brought me up short. She forced me out of my funk.

Her work did matter. She was and is the kind of “leaven for the loaf” that I want to become.

I get questions about this blog’s name all the time. The person who created the logo lives in another country and needed clarification; he thought “leaven” translated to “leaf.” (I kept his leafy logo idea, though.) I’ve heard it pronounced LEE-ven instead of LEV-en. I’ve learned that the biblical metaphor of Christians leavening a community the way yeast leavens a loaf of bread is unfamiliar to some readers. Maybe I’ll change the blog’s name to something snappier and clearer someday. For now, though, the original name stays. It expresses the idea of one person being able to make the community stronger, simply by choosing life when it would be easier not to.

My discouraged friend is a longtime classic pro-lifer. One of the first things I heard from her when we met was that she wasn’t aiming to make abortion illegal, she was aiming to make it unthinkable. (We hit it off right away.) She and her husband make a formidable team. Over the years, by means of their philanthropy and a staggering amount of volunteer work, they have done a great deal to make New Hampshire a better place.

As a result, they have influence. They have earned respect from people who think most pro-lifers are far-right whackos. When this year’s death penalty repeal bill came up, my friend put that influence and respect to work. She started talking with people, one-on-one, quietly, behind the scenes. She had a tough audience: life-issue allies who support the death penalty for one reason or another.

Some of the most dedicated pro-life representatives I know fought hard against death-penalty repeal. A paradox, since these are people of good will. During the debate on the bill, they spoke of murdered Manchester police officer Michael Briggs, and how it would be an insult to his memory not to execute the man who killed him. (Briggs’s killer, Michael Addison, is New Hampshire’s only death row inmate.) They spoke of people for whom a life sentence isn’t enough; as one of the reps put it, “there are monsters among us.” Someone actually said that the death penalty had to be available for use as a bargaining chip in plea negotiations.

None of those representatives was about to give ear to a repeal argument from someone who has voted against abortion regulation. You’ll kill the babies but not the convicted criminals, they think. They were nonetheless willing to listen to my friend and others like her who are stalwart pro-lifers.

People of consistent across-the-board prolife belief trying to bridge a divide with neighbors who are usually allies: how can that possibly be a waste of time? Not to mention that it’s hardly a waste of time to show abortion advocates what a consistent ethic of life looks like.

It’s funny that this loss on the repeal bill hurt me so much. As a prolife activist, I’m used to dealing with legislation that goes down by lopsided margins. No big deal; we just keep trying. But this one, a failure on a tie vote, stung badly. I saw an acquaintance shortly after the vote, and she asked “how’re you doing?” I found myself unable to speak. I couldn’t manage to say the usual fine-thanks-how-are-you. I was discouraged and fed up, and I was afraid if I opened my mouth, it would all come pouring out on the poor unsuspecting acquaintance who was just being polite.

The death penalty repeal fails; the New Hampshire legislature is halfway to nullifying the First Amendment within 25 feet of abortion facilities; fetal homicide legislation, while not dead, is in trouble. And you ask me how I’m doing …

It took my friend’s despairing remark – “none of it made a damn bit of difference” – to shake me out of my pity party. Dragging her out of discouragement is what I need to be doing.

Death penalty repeal efforts have come up before. A tie vote in the Senate, after getting the bill through the House? That’s fantastic progress. The Senate went on to table the bill, so there is a tiny chance it may yet be revived this session. A coalition with some bemused abortion advocates who can’t quite believe we’re agreeing on something? More progress

Then there are those prolife representatives who defend the death penalty. They heard an argument in favor of repeal from someone they respect who has been with them in other legislative battles for a long time.

My friend could have been silent. No one would have thought less of her for staying out of this death-penalty debate. Instead, she went to work with the peaceful persistence and determination that has characterized every decision she’s made since I’ve known her. Her beliefs, and the way she lives them out, are touching people in ways that will last long after this vote’s been forgotten.

What a friend. What an inspiration. That’s what leaven looks like.