NH Death Penalty Repeal Bill Likely to Pass in House

There have been death-penalty repeal bills almost every year for the last decade in New Hampshire. (New Hampshire General Court)

There have been death-penalty repeal bills almost every year for the last decade in New Hampshire. (New Hampshire General Court)

CONCORD, N. H. – New Hampshire is the last state in the Northeast to have a death penalty. But on Wednesday, a bill to abolish capital punishment in the Granite State moved one step closer.

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee held an executive session about House Bill 455, which would repeal the death penalty in New Hampshire.

The committee voted 11 to 6 to recommend passage by the House. Committee chair Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Rockingham, who is lead sponsor of the legislation, predicts the House is likely to pass it.

“It’s been pretty clear for the past couple of years that the House has been pretty strongly in favor of repealing the death penalty,” Cushing said.

Last year, a death penalty repeal bill passed both the Republican-controlled New Hampshire House and Senate. But Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed it, and the Senate was two votes shy of overriding that veto.

Sununu said he opposed the bill because he stood with crime victims.

Hannah Cox is the national manager of Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, a nonprofit group that supports the repeal bill. She says her own views about capital punishment changed over time.

“I became opposed to the death penalty a number of years ago, when I first became aware of how ridiculously high the costs were for operating the system, and what that meant for the clearance rate for other crimes, and the burden that these cases placed on the solvency rate for other crimes,” explains Cox.

The issue hits especially close to home for Rep. Cushing, whose father was murdered. He similarly argues that resources spent on the death penalty could be better used solving homicides.

“We have 128 unsolved murder cases in the state of New Hampshire,” Cushing says, “and yet, we seem to be willing to spend millions of dollars to pursue one death penalty case – at a time when, for the family members of the victims of those 128 unsolved murders, they’re waiting for justice and wondering, ‘Where is the prioritization of that?'”

Only one person is on death row in the Granite State, which carried out its last execution in 1939.

While Democrats currently control both the state House and Senate, House Bill 455 has bipartisan support. The House will likely vote on it in March.