On March 7, 2019, the NH House of Representatives voted in favor of a bill to repeal the death penalty by a margin of 279-88. (Watch the House videostream of the proceedings here – the HB 455 segment starts at the 9:48 mark).
HB 455 would replace the sentence of death with life in prison without parole and would only apply to future capital cases.
Among those speaking in favor of the bill were Representatives David Welch (R), David Danielson (R), Safiya Wazir (D), Renny Cushing (D) (listen to his speech here), Frank Kotowski (R) and Beth Rodd (D). Supporters spoke about: being pro-life; that the death penalty causes more harm to victims’ families; that the death penalty is expensive, costing over $5 million to date for a single capital case; that it does not achieve the aims of the criminal justice system, which is to rehabilitate; and that the death penalty can kill innocent people with 164 people having been exonerated from death row in the US since 1972.
Speaking against the bill were Representatives Jeanine Notter, Kurt Wuelper, Al Badasaro, and Werner Horn. They cited the need to retain the death penalty due to the heinous nature of some murders, and due to conceptions of justice.
Rep. Renny Cushing, the prime sponsor of the bill, spoke about the murder of his father and brother-in-law. He shared how the one thing victim family members want is to return the life of the loved one, and that the death penalty cannot make that happen and does not aid in the healing process. (Listen to his speech here.)
On February 20, the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 11-6 in favor of an Out to Pass motion on the bill. In the committee’s public hearing on the bill the previous day, 95 of the 100 people who rose to speak testified in favor of repealing the death penalty. These included murder victim family members, members of the clergy from many different faiths, former judges and veterans of law enforcement, prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers, and many ordinary citizens. (Videos of many of the witnesses can be viewed here.)
Barbara Keshen, former Assistant Attorney General and chair of the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said of today’s vote, “Today, the House of Representatives voted as it has in numerous previous legislative sessions, stating unequivocally and in a bipartisan fashion that New Hampshire can live without the death penalty.”
When asked about the prospects for the bill in the Senate, Keshen said, “We have the votes to pass the bill and we’re confident we can override a veto, should the governor choose to ignore the mandate of the legislature again.”
Last June, Gov. Sununu vetoed a similar bill, SB 593, which had passed both the House and Senate with bipartisan majorities. To override a veto requires two-thirds of those present and voting in each legislative chamber. If all House members were present, that would require 267 votes to override.