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Death penalty repeal passes House; faces Sununu veto

By DAVE SOLOMON
New Hampshire Union Leader

April 26. 2018 12:27PM
Rep. Gary Hopper, R-Weare, pauses to look at the signs of death penalty opponents Ginny Mierins of Concord and Mark Barber of Boscawen ahead of the death penalty repeal vote at the State House in Concord. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)



CONCORD — The House of Representatives has joined the Senate in voting to repeal the death penalty in New Hampshire, but not by the margin needed to override an anticipated veto by Gov. Chris Sununu.

The 223-to-116 vote on Thursday came after a debate in which representatives restated many of the arguments made in hearings before House and Senate committees.

The state Senate voted 14-10 on March 16 to pass the death penalty repeal bill, SB 593.

Much of the debate has centered on whether such a move would affect the planned execution of the only convict on death row in the state.

The House has voted in the past to repeal the death penalty in New Hampshire, the only New England state with capital punishment still on the books. The Senate deadlocked on the issue 12-12 in 2016 and 2014.

Gov. Chris Sununu Thursday reiterated his support for the current death penalty law.

“I stand with crime victims, members of the law enforcement community, and advocates for justice in opposing a repeal of the death penalty,” he said. “A top priority of my administration has been to strengthen laws for crime victims and their families. Repealing the death penalty sends us in exactly the wrong direction, and I will veto this bill once it reaches my desk.”

A two-thirds majority of lawmakers present and voting will be needed to override a veto.

Votes in both chambers suggest an override is possible. The Senate was just two votes short of the 16 votes needed to override.

The House would need around 255 votes to override a Sununu veto if all 391 representatives currently in office show up for an override vote.

On Thursday, only 339 representatives were voting, so the 223 vote in favor of repeal was only one vote shy of a two-thirds majority on that day.

The state’s death penalty has not been used since 1939, and no one was on death row for decades until Michael Addison was convicted in the murder of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs in 2008.

The prospect of Addison’s sentence being reduced to life in prison without the possibility of parole dominated much of the debate, with opponents of repeal calling for justice on behalf of the officer’s surviving family.

The bill states that repeal can only be applied moving forward, suggesting that Addison’s death sentence remains in place even if the bill passes.

But opponents of repeal cited an advisory memo from Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, who said Addison’s sentence would “probably not” remain in place if the death penalty is repealed.

MacDonald cited court rulings in other states where the death penalty has been repealed, and noted that no convict on death row has ever been executed in a state once it repeals the death penalty.

Tax break for ARMI

The House of Representatives also approved a Senate-passed bill that will provide an unprecedented, 10-year tax holiday to firms involved in the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI) project in Manchester and a student loan forgiveness program for workers who devote at least five years to it.

The House voted 241-50 to pass the bill, SB 564, with some changes that will have to be reconciled with the Senate before the bill goes to Gov. Chris Sununu, who praised the House action.

“This bill makes New Hampshire the home for this next-generation science that will produce life-changing medical solution for veterans, children and people from all walks of life,” said Majority Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack.

Opponents of the bill argued that New Hampshire has not given tax breaks to selected industries in the past, and should not set a new precedent.

“Funding research and development is always a gamble,” said Rep. Marc Abear, R-Meredith. “We should not be gambling with taxpayer dollars. We should not be using governmental power for picking winners and loses in the private sector.”

Other House votes

The House refused to agree with Senate changes to HB 372, a bill regarding residency requirements for voting. Representatives and senators will try to hash out their differences in a conference committee by end of May.

A Senate-passed bill to create a citizens’ right to know appeals commission and ombudsman, SB 555, failed in the House, 212-103. The bill emerged from the deliberations of a Right-to-Know Study Commission that examined the law over the past year, chaired by Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren.


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