State House News, Jan. 10, 2014

Updates on NH House Bills and Hearing Dates

Jan. 16 is huge for prison reform:

Two sex crime bills promoted by Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform will have hearings Thursday, Jan. 16, before the House Criminal Justice Committee in Room 204 of the Legislative Office Building.  That afternoon a big crowd is going to pack a hearing on repeal of the death penalty, in the same room.

Risk assessments for people on sex offender registry:

HB 1457 scheduled for a 10 a.m. hearing Jan. 16 would authorize the state to post risk assessments on the State Police website for convicted sex offenders leaving prison. Prison officials tell us they already have the needed information in the inmate records to produce quick and valid ratings of the likelihood of sex crime recidivism for each person going on parole. Folks now outside prison could pay for their own risk assessments and have them posted on the state site. Over time the registry would evolve to let viewers more and more discern the dangerous people from the ones who pose little risk. Today their mug shots all look alike. That means these ex-offenders suffer equally from being on the targeting roster.  So do their families. Today they all resemble Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial rapist and cannibal. In fact, sex crime recidivism rates are quite low, and few registrants pose a high risk. Some do, however, and they would be better exposed on the registry. 

Ban on sex offender residency restrictions:

A hearing begins at 10:45 a.m. on HB 1237 to stop towns from banning public registrants from living near parks, day care centers and schools. Lower courts have struck down such ordinances in both Dover and Franklin, but other towns still impose copycat codes.  Identical legislation passed the House with large majorities in 2010 and 1212, but died in the Senate. Last year senators tried to turn the bill into a House study of residency restrictions.  Reps said no because they had already studied the issue for several years and were quite sure that these banishment codes are unconstitutional and dangerous to the public.  Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform will ask the committee to appoint a subcommittee to review the research and write a report in time for passage in the House this term. Without that extra effort, the bill would probably die a third time in the Senate.

Death penalty repeal hearing:

Opponents of the death penalty will rally at noon on the State House steps Jan. 16 and move to the Legislative Office Building in time to pack the 1 p.m. public hearing in Room 204. There will be a reception afterward in the state-owned Upham Walker Building across Park Street from the State House. The New Hampshire Coalition Against the Death Penalty has recruited a compelling group of speakers to give testimony. I plan to wear one of their badges to help show our strength, but I’ll submit my testimony in writing. In previous years the death penalty hearing has occupied the committee until past dinner. 

House finally passes earned time bill:

Reps this week approved HB 694 to let prisoners earn time off their sentences through exemplary efforts to better themselves. The idea passed in committee 15-0.   A crucial section requires the original trial court to approve the reduction. The Parole Board could still deny release at the new minimum date. The Criminal Justice Committee worked on the bill all summer and fall. The Department of Corrections helped rework it into language they could implement without fear of litigation or backlash from advocates of truth in sentencing.  A similar bill died in the House in 2011 when House leaders branded the change a violation of truth in sentencing. 

House passes bill to try 17-year-old defendants as kids:

HB 525 approved this week would force the state to imprison 17-year-olds in juvenile facilities for their protection and welfare. Supporters said teens have a lower recidivism rate when they do their time with peers instead of adult predators. The young person can also leave with a clean criminal record and better chances for further education and good careers. Keeping the status quo would make the state spend extra money chaperoning youngsters under the new federal anti-rape law to keep them from getting abused. 

By Chris Dornin, founder, CCJR