On May 23, the NH House of Representatives voted to override Gov. Sununu’s veto of HB 455 by a vote of 247 to 123. Speaker of the House Steve Shurtleff cast his vote with the majority, cementing by a single vote the two-thirds majority necessary to overturn the governor’s action.
Under considerable political pressure, about half of Republicans who voted for repeal three months ago reversed their votes in a bid to sustain the gubernatorial veto. But just enough Republicans and almost all the Democrats held firm in what could very well be the last House vote ever on this matter.
Following the successful vote, the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty said it is gearing up for one more override vote in the Senate, which could take place as early as Thursday, May 30.
HB 455 aims to replace death sentences in future capital cases with the sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The bill does not change the sentence for Michael Addison, the sole individual currently on death row in New Hampshire.
Speaking in favor of the override were Republican Representatives: Dave Danielson, who spoke about evolving his pro-life beliefs (video here); David Welch, who spoke about not wanting to create more grieving families (video here); and Max Abramson, who spoke about the exonerations of innocent people from death row (video here).
Also speaking in favor were Democrat Representatives: Susan Ticehurst, who related the story of an ancestor who was hung as a witch in Salem (video here); and Renny Cushing, who offered reflections on the leadership of Nelson Mandela and the author of the song, Amazing Grace. (Catch Rep. Cushing’s full remarks in the video below.)
Representative Laura Pantelakos offered the pro-override parliamentary inquiry. Pantelakos is the longest-serving current House member, a former chair of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee who several years ago changed her mind about the death penalty and became a strong advocate for its repeal.
[Watch the full streaming video of the override debate here – click on the “play” icon first then move the slider to the 10:18:33 mark for the beginning of deliberations on HB 455.]
Representative Renny Cushing, who lost both his father and a brother-in-law to murder, said after the vote, “I want to thank my colleagues who stood fast and voted their conscience today. A lot of people have put their heart and soul into this cause, not just this year but for some, over two decades now.”
Barbara Keshen, Chair of the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NHCADP) and a former NH Assistant Attorney General, commented, “We are deeply gratified that a majority of our elected representatives stuck to their convictions despite monumental political pressure to do otherwise. New Hampshire never has been in love with the death penalty and today, House members ratified what has been all but a policy for past 80 years.”
For HB 455 to become law, the NH Senate, which in April voted 17-6 in favor of repeal, will need to retain a minimum of 16 votes to achieve the two-thirds majority required to overturn the gubernatorial veto.
“We remain optimistic that the Senate will follow suit and make New Hampshire the 21st state to abolish capital punishment,” said Representative Cushing, who has campaigned for repeal since 1998.
District 8 Senator Ruth Ward, a Republican from Stoddard, wrote in a recent letter to the editor, “My father was killed when I was a young child, and taking the perpetrator’s life would not have brought my father back. I will vote to override the governor’s veto.”
Historic Roll Call Vote
Watch a 30-second clip of the roll call of the override vote here:
Press coverage of the override vote:
Post-House Override Actions
The Coalition is asking all of its members to write or call their House Reps who voted for the override, especially those Republicans who stood firm against intense pressure from the governor and the party to change their vote. Please find the roll call here.
We’re also asking that you write your pro-repeal Senators – handwritten notes are especially helpful for the Republicans. Please keep your messages nonpartisan and brief. You can find the Senate roll call here – click on individual names in this list to locate their contact information.
The pro-repeal House Republicans who held firm from the March House vote to the Override vote include:
Vincent Paul Migliore
One Republican was excused in March, but voted yea in May: Kevin Verville
We invite everyone to a another public vigil at the State House next Thursday, May 30 starting at 9 AM. The Senate session will begin at 10 AM, and we expect the override to be taken up early in the session.