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NH Senate votes 17-6 in favor of repeal

On April 11, the NH Senate voted 17-6 in favor of HB 455 (see roll call below), a bill to repeal the death penalty. This is enough to override an expected veto by Governor Sununu.

Last month, the NH House voted 279-88 in favor of the bill, which also represents a veto-proof majority.

Speaking in favor of the bill were Senators Martha Hennessey (D), Harold French (R), Melanie Levesque (D), and Ruth Ward (R). Speaking against was Senator Sharon Carson.

“The death penalty is cruel, ineffective and inherently flawed,” said Senator Hennessey, speaking first and for the majority opinion of the Judiciary Committee, which voted 4-1 to recommend passage. Hennessey added, “the taking of another life cannot do the one thing that everyone wants — to bring back their family member.”

Senator French spoke of the “compelling testimony” of the many people who testified in favor of repeal before the Judiciary Committee. “I won’t turn a deaf ear” to these witnessses, said French.

Speaking for the minority opinion on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Carson claimed that for some people, the death penalty is justice, and that New Hampshire applies the law narrowly. She warned that NH’s sole death row prisoner would likely have his death sentence commuted to life in prison, should the bill become law.

Senator Levesque said the “people of color and the poor and impacted disporportionately,” citing national statistics regarding the application of the death penalty.

Senator Ward, whose father was murdered before she was 8 years old, rose to say that “my mother forgave whoever it was, and I will vote in favor of this bill.”

After the vote, Barbara Keshen, chair of the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty said, “If all of those votes stay strong, the New Hampshire Legislature should have support to override the governor’s veto,” adding that “we are on our way to becoming the 21st state without the death penalty.” Watch her message here (click image to watch):

Gov. Sununu has continued to indicate his opposition to the bill, saying he will veto it as he did with last year’s repeal bill, SB 593. If he does, the Legislature is likely to hold override votes as early as later this month.

If you have not already done so, would you kindly take a few moments today to write to your Senator to thank them for their vote last week? (See roll call below). You can click on their names below to get to their page and email address, or use our online tool here.

Also, if you have not yet thanked your House Rep(s) for their yea vote, please do so (see roll call here).

Media Coverage

Did you catch Barbara Keshen and Chuck Douglas debating the death penalty on WMUR? Watch here or click image below.

Other press coverage of the Senate vote:

To watch the full Senate discussion and vote, click here, or click on the image above.


Roll Call on HB-455:

District Senator Party Vote
1 David Starr Republican Yea
2 Bob Giuda Republican Yea
3 Jeb Bradley Republican Nay
4 David Watters Democratic Yea
5 Martha Hennessey Democratic Yea
6 James Gray Republican Nay
7 Harold F. French Republican Yea
8 Ruth Ward Republican Yea
9 Jeanne Dietsch Democratic Yea
10 Jay Kahn Democratic Yea
11 Shannon Chandley Democratic Yea
12 Melanie Levesque Democratic Yea
13 Cindy Rosenwald Democratic Yea
14 Sharon Carson Republican Nay
15 Dan Feltes Democratic Yea
16 Kevin Cavanaugh Democratic Nay
17 John Reagan Republican Yea
18 Donna Soucy Democratic Yea
19 Regina Birdsell Republican Nay
20 Lou D’Allesandro Democratic Excused
21 Martha Fuller Clark Democratic Yea
22 Chuck Morse Republican Nay
23 Jon Morgan Democratic Yea
24 Tom Sherman Democratic Yea

Senate Judiciary votes 4-1 in favor of repeal


On April 2, the NH Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-1 in favor of HB 455, a bill to repeal the death penalty. The committee now passes along its OTP or “ought to pass” recommendation to the full Senate, which is expected to take up the bill later this month.

The committee deliberations were brief, with only Senators Melanie Levesque and Harold French speaking, both in favor of the bill.

“If you continue to have appeals,” said Senator Levesque, referring to the years of capital punishment post-conviction motions, “then it brings that loved one through the whole thing over and over again.”

Senator French spoke of his previous support for repeal, saying “this year, having listened to the testimony, my feelings are stronger than last time.” French said that while there may be a handful of good reasons to keep the death penalty, the reasons for abolishing it were “overwhelming.”

Voting in favor of the OTP motion were Senator Martha Hennessey, Senator Melanie Levesque, Senator Shannon Chandley, and Senator Harold French. Voting against was Senator Sharon Carson.

“The senators clearly heard the compelling testimony on the death penalty last week,” said Arnie Alpert, Co-Director of AFSC-NH and board member of the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, after the executive session today. “We’re optimistic about the prospect of the bill passing when it comes to the full Senate.” Alpert, who has been involved in abolition efforts since 1985, testified before the committee last week as a murder victim family member.

Gov. Sununu has continued to indicate his opposition to the bill, saying he will veto it as he did with last year’s repeal bill, SB 593. If that happens, the Coalition will prepare for an override vote.