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House approves bill to allow widows to retain Purple Heart license plates

CONCORD — After years of trying, the widows of purple-heart veterans may retain their spouses’ commemorative license plates after the House passed Senate Bill 47 Wednesday on a 188-158 vote.

Always a contentious issue, lawmakers spent an hour-and-a-half of heartfelt debate with bill supporters saying the widows only want to honor their spouses by retaining the plate, while opponents said the medal is scared and reserved for only those who have shed blood on the battlefield.

The bill would allow widows to retain the plate until the die or until they remarry, but no new plate would be issued after the purple-heart recipient dies.

If Gov. Maggie Hassan signs the bill, New Hampshire would join 30 states including the other New England states in allowing the surviving spouse to retain the purple heart license plate.

Hassan communication director Marc Goldberg said the governor has yet to decide on the bill.

“The governor understands the importance of respecting and honoring the sacrifices of our veterans, and she looks forward to hearing from legislators and members of New Hampshire’s veterans community as she considers the legislation,” he said.

After the House vote, the bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, said he has worked to pass the bill for four years.

“What better gift could we give (the surviving spouses) on this great American day.” D’Allesnadro said.

During debate, bill opponents argued allowing anyone but the medal holder would dilute or degrade its value.

Rep. John Cebrowski, R-Bedford, said the purple heart is reserved for those who shed blood, were maimed, lost limbs or lost their lives. They are entitled to wear the purple heart, he said, and only those people.

But proponents of the bill said the surviving spouses of purple-heart holders want the plates to honor those they love, not to wear the medal.

Rep. Dudley Dumaine, R-Auburn, said surviving spouses want to use purple-heart plates to honor and to show reverence and respect for their husbands and wives because they are proud of them.

At a time when people burn flags and Vietnam War veterans throw their medals in the dirt at the White House, which is their first amendment right, he said, are bill opponents saying a wife does not have her first amendment right to honor her husband? “This has nothing to do with the purple-heart (medal),” he said, “it is about carrying on his legacy once he dies.”

Rep. Frederick Rice, R-Hampton, disagreed.

“The purple heart is for one thing and one thing only,” said Rep. Frederick Rice, R-Hampton. “To send it to someone beyond the person who earned it is to dilute it.”

House members rejected two attempts to table the bill that would have essentially killed it with Thursday’s deadline for the House to act on all Senate bills.

And the House voted 236-111 to kill an attempt to add the “Liberty Act” to the bill. The Senate killed House Bill 399 or the Liberty Act last month.

The bill would have prevented the state from enforcing the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, or from cooperating with federal authorities in enforcing the act.

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