ALERT: Senate judiciary to hear pot, sex offender bills on April 9th

Two bills affecting registered sex offenders will have public hearings Tuesday, April 9, before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senators will accept testimony at 10 a.m. in Room 100 of the State House on HB 165 to study ways to improve the sex offender public registry. The meeting on HB 153 to bar towns from imposing residency restrictions on this group of offenders starts at 10:20 a.m. in the same venue. 

Both bills emerged as the unanimous recommendations of a diverse forum of stakeholders on sex offender issues this fall. Some police and victim advocates here and in other states oppose housing restrictions as a risk to public safety. They drive registrants underground, ostracize them, banish them far from jobs and public transportation, destabilize them and sever them critical supports.

New Hampshire is one of the majority of states that have chosen not to meet the standards of the Adam Walsh federal registry Act, even at the risk of losing 10 percent of their Byrne Law Enforcement grant. States like New York have found compliance to be far more expensive than losing the federal dollars.

The registry has been ruled an unconstitutional ex post facto punishment in Maine and Ohio for people who did their crimes before the roster went public and became heavily punitive. New Hampshire Victim advocates supported HB 165 at its public hearing in the House because they hoped to add more names to the list.

But the rape crisis centers in Cleveland and Texas are critical of the registry because it is much too large to be helpful. They intervened on behalf of sex offender plaintiffs in a successful Ohio Supreme Court challenge to the registry. They warned that it causes registrants to lose jobs, families and housing. And it hides the truly dangerous people among a huge group who pose little danger.

Easing the war on marijuana

Senators will hear testimony Thursday, April 11, for bills to decriminalize industrial hemp (sometimes used to get high) and the possession of small amounts of pot. The hearing on HB 621 to allow recreational users one-fourth of an ounce or less of marijuana starts at 9 a.m. in Room 100 of the State House. The hearing on the hemp bill, HB 153, starts at 10:30 a.m.

Marijuana use helped to spike the rapid growth in the prison population in the last two decades. There is a strong push by Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau to deal with such offenders in drug courts that keep non-dangerous people out of prison.