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New Hampshire lawmakers pass bill to annul pot possession arrests

State House Bureau

February 23. 2018 9:23AM

CONCORD — People convicted for possessing small amounts of marijuana will be able to have their criminal records annulled if a bill passed by the House on Thursday clears the Senate and is signed into law by the governor.

In the most lopsided roll-call vote of Thursday’s session, the House voted 314-24 to pass HB 1477, which allows for the annulment of charges related to possession of three-quarters of an ounce or less.

A new state law decriminalizing possession of that amount of marijuana took effect on Sept. 16, 2017. Any arrests prior to that date would be eligible for annulment under the bill, which also has bipartisan sponsorship in the Senate.

“Among the reasons the legislature voted last year to remove the criminal penalty for possession of a small amount of marijuana and make possession a civil penalty was the long-term, negative impact a criminal record has on individuals and their families, including loss of housing, loss of employment, denial of student loans and other barriers to social wellbeing,” according to Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton.

“Fairness requires that we provide the opportunity to remove the shackles of a criminal record for an activity that no longer is criminal.”

The bill provides for a petition to the court in which the person was convicted to annul the arrest, conviction and related court records.

The prosecutor can object within 10 days and request a hearing, otherwise the annulment will be granted. If the prosecutor objects, the court will hold a hearing at which the prosecutor will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the petitioner possessed more than three-quarters of an ounce.

Successful petitioners will have to pay a fee of $100 to the Department of Safety for researching and correcting the criminal record.

School nurse rules

The House also took the first step toward reversing a year-long process by the Department of Health and Human Services to change the licensing requirements for school nurses.

All that was required to be a school nurse was to have a nursing license from the state Board of Nursing, but a law passed in 2016 and signed into law by Gov. Maggie Hassan, changed that.

School nurses hired after July 1, 2016, now have to be certified by the Board of Education, just like teachers. While an associate degree is sufficient for a state nursing license, it would no longer qualify for school nursing certification, which would require a bachelor’s degree.

Candidates also need three years of experience in pediatric nursing or related areas, and have to commit to continuing education. Like teachers, they have to be re-certified every three years by the Department of Education, at a cost of $130 to $150, in addition to what they pay for their nursing licenses.

The House voted 233-107 to wipe all that away and revert to the original requirement of a nursing license from the Board of Nursing. The bill now goes to the Senate.

“The changes implemented last year placed unforeseen financial and other burdens on school districts,” said Rep. Victoria Sullivan, R-Manchester. “If we do not pass this bill, we will quickly see a shortage of school nurses and have a number of children without qualified medical professionals at their schools.”

Sobriety checkpoints

A bill prohibiting sobriety checkpoints passed the House on a voice vote, even though the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee was divided, 12-8, on the issue.

Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, speaking for the committee majority, said data from the state police showed fewer than 1 percent of stops at roadblocks resulted in DWI arrests, a lower arrest rate than what police experience during stops on routine DWI patrols.

Opponents of the bill pointed out that police who testified said the checkpoints, which must be approved by a court, have value.

“If police believe that this is another way to keep drunk drivers off the road, the elected representatives of the people should not prohibit the police from using that tool to protect us,” said Rep. Laura Pantelakos, D-Portsmouth.

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