N.H. Considers Death Penalty Repeal Again

Update, 5/4/19: HB 455, described in this post, passed House and Senate but was vetoed by Gov. Sununu. An override vote has not yet been scheduled.

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.

Roses and Resolve

It didn’t start with New York.

Video of New York legislators cheering after the January 22 passage of a pro-abortion law leaves an indelible impression. It certainly kicked up a fuss on my social media feed, as one person after another expressed shock that elected officials could celebrate abortion so publicly.

New Hampshire got there first, as a former state representative called to remind me.

Phyllis Woods
Phyllis Woods

Phyllis Woods of Dover was and is a woman who puts her belief in human dignity into practice every day. Being a state representative, as great an honor as that was, was just a waypoint on her journey of service. She told me recently about the day a bill to prevent partial-birth abortion came to a vote in 2000. Phyllis was chief sponsor, joined by nine co-sponsors.

Yes, 2000. That’s twelve years before New Hampshire legislators finally passed a partial-birth law banning the abortion practice of partially delivering children before killing them.

The docket for the bill in 2000 tells part of the story: the House defeated the bill on an “inexpedient to legislate” motion, 185-176. What the docket doesn’t mention, and what I never knew until Phyllis told me, is what happened right after the vote: one of her colleagues, an abortion advocate opposed to banning the killing of partially-delivered children, handed out roses to representatives who helped kill the bill.

That colleague, a Rochester Democrat, is still in office, serving her 16th term. She sits on the Judiciary Committee, where she recently voted to recommend killing an effort to repeal buffer zones that limit peaceful activity near abortion facilities.

In 2000, Phyllis was devastated to see fellow representatives celebrating like that. If they had spiked a football right there on the House floor they couldn’t have been more contemptuous not only of the bill but of its supporters.

That wasn’t the end of the story, of course. It was a bad day. But Phyllis is a woman of resolve and vision.

She was among the sponsors of a 2003 law calling for parental notification for minors seeking abortion. The law was challenged in court, and was eventually repealed. Later, after her time in the House, she encouraged parental notification supporters to try again. In 2011, another parental notification law passed, and it is still in place. Not even a veto by Gov. John Lynch could derail it.

She encouraged partial-birth legislation after she left the House, and she was around to celebrate when the legislature in 2012 overrode yet another Lynch veto and passed a partial-birth ban into law.

Phyllis continues to serve her community in many ways that have nothing to do with politics. She has a heart for her neighbors. I mention her political work only because it illustrates something easy to forget at the State House: opponents are gonna oppose. Sometimes they’ll be rude about it. Be of steadfast heart anyway.

Those roses on the New Hampshire House floor in 2000 were meant to silence and discourage everyone speaking out in defense of life. For Phyllis Woods, that indecorous in-your-face gesture strengthened her resolve.

N.H. House Kills Buffer Zone Repeal Bill

The New Hampshire House has voted “inexpedient to legislate” on a bill to repeal the state’s buffer zone law. The ITL motion passed on a vote of 228-141.

Roll call is here. Note that the motion was “inexpedient to legislate,” so a Yea vote was a vote to kill the repeal bill. A Yea vote was a vote in favor of keeping the buffer zone law.

Representatives Jeanine Notter (R-Merrimack), Max Abramson (R-Seabrook), Walter Stapleton (R-Claremont), and Kurt Wuelper (R-Strafford) spoke in favor of repeal. Rep. Abramson warned his colleagues about the constitutional defects of the law in light of the McCullen decision. Rep. Notter echoed that concern, saying, “The day the buffer zone is actually posted, I guarantee that litigation will ensue, costing us millions.”

Reps. Debra Altschiller (D-Stratham) and Sandra Keans (D-Rochester) defended the buffer zone law. Rep. Altschiller called it a “thoughtfully passed” measure to “remedy the harassment.” She then said that 8 murders, 17 attempted murders, and 42 bombings presumably related to abortion had occurred since Roe v. Wade. She did not mention that these numbers did not refer to New Hampshire.

 

Don’t Get Mad. Get Busy.

Yes, New York just passed an outrageous abortion law. But remember, New Hampshire got there first: no limitations on abortion, and no protection for children born alive after attempted abortion. We even out-do New York in one way: New Hampshire doesn’t collect any abortion statistics. And therein lies the best way for a Granite Stater to react to the news from New York.

Demand an abortion statistics law. There’s a hearing for one on Thursday, January 24, 2019 – mere hours away, as I publish this – at 11 a.m. in room 205 of the Legislative Office Building in Concord. The bill is HB 158-FN.

My social media feeds are full of upset New Hampshire neighbors, all of them sick at heart over the New York news. Here’s our challenge: get just as upset about New Hampshire’s situation, and then do something about it, starting with the abortion statistics hearing.

If every single one of my distressed friends were to contact the committee members who will consider the statistics bill, they’d make an impression. You can send a message to all twenty-two members of the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs committee by sending one email to one address: HHSEA@leg.state.nh.us. Simple message: Please vote ought to pass on HB 158-FN, the abortion statistics bill.

If even half of my upset friends took a day off work to attend the hearing and sign the “blue sheet” supporting the bill, they’d make an impression. They’d pack the whole committee room, in fact, and overflow into the hallway all the way down to the elevators. I know it’s hard to take a day off work. I also know it hurts to go to a hearing and see how many abortion advocates make that kind of sacrifice without batting an eyelash.

It’s easy for me to rail about New York politicians. It’s easy to go online and warn that Governor Cuomo’s soul is in peril (not a message from me, but I’ve seen it more than once in my media feed). It’s easy to share photos of New York buildings lit up in pink to “celebrate” the passage of the new abortion law.

How about we take that energy and anger and indignation and grief and put it where it will do some good?

The abortion statistics bill would authorize New Hampshire public health authorities to do what 47 other states already do: collect abortion information in a way that protects patient privacy, and report the numbers to the federal Centers for Disease Control. How many abortions, maternal age, gestational age, incidence of post-abortion complications: New Hampshire public health authorities only know what abortion providers tell them. There’s no reporting law. HB 158-FN would change that.

I am aware that passage is unlikely, given the current makeup of the New Hampshire legislature. This is a modest little test case, though: will we bring the same intensity to this bill that we’re bringing to the online fuss over New York’s lamentable law? Will we write those emails, call those reps, come to the hearing, and eventually show up for the House vote? Will we use social media as intensively to promote HB 158-FN as we use it to criticize New York?

We can try.

N.H. House Committee Rejects Buffer Zone Repeal Bill

On a vote of 14-4, the New Hampshire House Judiciary Committee voted “inexpedient to legislate” (ITL) today on HB 124, which seeks to repeal the buffer zone law. The full House will take up the bill at a date yet to be determined. [Update: House vote is scheduled for January 31.]

The law, written to give abortion facility managers authority to restrict public access to public areas, has never been used since its passage in 2014. Its clear incompatibility with the U.S. Supreme Court’s McCullen decision might be the reason. Only the abortion facility managers know for sure.

All Democrats on the committee were joined by Republicans Edward Gordon (R-Bristol) and Joe Alexander (R-Goffstown) in voting to kill the repeal effort. Voting against the ITL motion were Republicans Kurt Wuelper (R-Strafford), Gary Hopper (R-Weare), Barbara Griffin (R-Goffstown), and Mark McLean (R-Manchester).

“For me, it comes down to a free speech issue,” said Rep. McLean. “No clinic throughout the state has actually put [the buffer zone’s] provisions into play.”

Rep. Wuelper, the bill’s chief sponsor, told his colleagues before the vote, “[The buffer zone law’s] very intent is to restrict speech and religion in a public space based on the content of speech. [The law] hasn’t done any good in five years. It won’t do any good in 50 years.”

Not so, countered Rep. Paul Berch (D-Westmoreland). “Perhaps it’s had a salutary effect,” he said. “The facts that were present [when the law was passed] have not changed.” He’s right about that much: McCullen was present when the law was passed and it’s still binding precedent. Rep. Berch also said, “The law was drafted and passed after the Supreme Court decision [in McCullen].” He may have forgotten that the buffer zone law was drafted no later than the opening of the legislative session in January 2014, while the McCullen decision came down in June of that year.

“This is a church-state issue,” added Rep. Timothy Horrigan (D-Durham), saying he had documentation that one particular religious entity, the Catholic Church, opposed the buffer zone. “I am a Roman Catholic myself.” His one-religion claim probably comes as a surprise to people like Rev. Don Colageo of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Manchester, who has frequently led prayer vigils at an area abortion site. Further, said Rep. Horrigan, “There isn’t a First Amendment right to provide counseling or advocacy if you’re not licensed.”

The ITL motion was made by Rep. Debra Altschiller (D-Stratham) and seconded by Rep. Sandra Keans (D-Rochester.)