NH House passes 2nd fetal homicide bill; back to Senate

The New Hampshire House on Wednesday passed Senate Bill 40, the fetal homicide bill introduced by Senator Regina Birdsell (R-Hampstead). The House voted to amend the measure to match the language of HB 560, Griffin’s Law, introduced by Rep. Leon Rideout (R-Lancaster). With today’s amendment, both bills would make a fetal homicide charge possible against anyone causing the death of a preborn child against the mother’s will more than eight weeks into pregnancy.

House committees have heard testimony this year from two families who are fighting for the legislation. In his floor speech today on SB 40, Rep. Rideout reminded his colleagues that the New Hampshire Supreme Court six years ago encouraged legislators to revisit the state’s homicide laws as they pertain to a fetus, and he added that thirty-eight other states have already dropped the circa-15th-century “born-alive rule” in favor of fetal homicide statutes.

Rep. Rideout later issued a statement via the House Republican Majority Caucus: “Bills such as this one have been on the books for years in other states across the nation beginning the early 1970’s in California. Our laws are long outdated in protecting unborn children, and this bill brings us into the 21st century for protecting all of our citizens. The faulty claims from the left have zero foundation in truth. keeping our laws antiquated and violating the 14th amendment of equal protection for all people is unacceptable With all the new technology we have developed during the past 30 years to understand the life cycle of a preborn child, it’s about time we started protecting them and providing justice for the families of New Hampshire’s most innocent victims.”

Status of the two bills: The Senate has them both. SB 40 must go back to the full Senate for concurrence with the House amendment. HB 560 remains for now in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Action is likely soon, but has not yet been scheduled.

In search of a supermajority: Governor Hassan has been quiet about this year’s fetal homicide bills. If she were to veto the legislation, a two-thirds vote in both chambers would be required to override. Support has not been at that level thus far in 2015.

How the Senate looks: The original version of SB 40, which would have gone into effect at viability (and which contained an odd definition of the term), passed on a 13-11 vote. Republican Nancy Stiles (R-Hampton) joined all Senate Democrats in opposing the bill. Concurrence with the House amendment would require a simple majority.

The numbers in the House: Today’s vote on SB 40 (ought to pass as amended) was 193-159, or 54.8%-45.2%. That compares to 208-155 for HB 560 in the same House two months ago. A few observations:

  • Eleven representatives supported HB 560 but changed their minds on SB 40 as amended today. Five are Democrats: Raymond Gagnon (Sullivan 5), Christopher Herbert (Hillsborough 43), Dick Patten (Merrimack 17), Timothy Smith (Hillsborough 17), and Benjamin Tilton (Cheshire 12). Six are Republicans: Stephen Darrow (Grafton 17), Susan Emerson (Cheshire 11), James Grenier (Sullivan 7), Douglas Long (Merrimack 4), Richard Marple (Merrimack 24), and Gregory Smith (Hillsborough 37).
  • On the other hand, three reps supported SB 40 as amended today after voting against HB 560: Republican Edmond Gionet (Grafton 5), Democrat Audrey Stevens (Strafford 7), and Democrat Deborah Wheeler (Merrimack 3).
  • In general, Republicans supported the bill and Democrats opposed it, as has been the case with every fetal homicide bill over the past twenty years in New Hampshire. Five Democrats voted for SB 40 today: Daniel Hansberry (Hills 35; did not vote on 560); Jean Jeudy (Hills 10; did not vote on 560), Audrey Stevens (see above), Robert Theberge (Coos 3; supports both bills), and Deborah Wheeler (see above). Nineteen Republicans opposed the bill, as did the House’s lone independent (David Luneau, Merrimack 10).
  • Today’s vote tally included 45 absences, most of them excused.

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