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Bill that would roll back bail reform retained by lawmakers

By: - May 19, 2021 5:27 pm
A picture of a gavel and 100 dollar bills on a fancy table

The bill would have created a new range of situations in which courts could deny bail to a person who has been arrested. (Getty Images)

Lawmakers shelved a set of proposed changes to New Hampshire’s bail system Wednesday, kicking a complicated policy debate into 2022.

Voting 12-9, a bipartisan group of lawmakers on the House Criminal Justice Committee moved to retain a bill that would have walked back some steps the state has taken toward bail reform.

That bill, Senate Bill 92, would have created a new range of situations in which courts could deny bail to a person who has been arrested. Recently, laws passed by the Legislature have pared back the ability of judges to broadly deny bail; new bail reform legislation has required that courts implement a careful balancing test of how dangerous a person is to the public before denying bail. 

But SB 92 would create a rebuttable presumption that a person charged with homicide, assault, domestic violence, kidnapping, stalking, trafficking, robbery, possessing child abuse photos, or committing a crime while armed is dangerous to the public. Under the bill, a person arrested for any of those offenses must remain in jail for up to 72 hours ahead of their arraignment. 

The changes have been pushed for by some lawmakers who say that the bail reform laws passed in 2019 were too sweeping and could result in violent offenders being released prematurely.

But on Wednesday, Democrats and others on the Criminal Justice Committee pushed back against the bill, which they said needed more time. And they took issue with an amendment offered by Rep. Daryl Abbas, a Salem Republican and the committee chairman, that would have denied the ability for a defendant of the named charges to see a bail commissioner. 

By retaining the bill, the House committee can hold onto it to allow further work and discussion. But the body must act upon it by January, according to House rules.

Wednesday’s debate was often heated. Some, like Rep. Nicole Klein-Knight, said the proposed reforms would keep people in jail who could be innocent, simply as a matter of process. 

“What really troubles me is an overnight stay,” Klein Knight, a Manchester Democrat, said. “Or a whole holiday stay just because we don’t have the judges or the time to book people properly.” 

Rep. Jennifer Rhodes, a Winchester Republican, argued that the defendants of the crimes listed in the amendment were not worth giving special treatment. 

“It’s very easy to stand there and say that you’re protecting these people, but you’re not, you’re not protecting these people,” she said of the defendants. “You’re riding this justice horse, and you’re getting nowhere. What if it’s your child who was held down, who was raped to death.” 

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel.