CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The Republican-led New Hampshire House debated two bills Thursday inspired by last summer’s massive demonstrations against racial injustice, rejecting one that would have banned police from using rubber bullets or tear gas and approving another that would expand the state’s “stand your ground” law to include motor vehicles.
Under current law, someone can use deadly force to protect themselves and their family during the commission of a felony inside their homes. The bill sent to the Senate would expand that law to cases in which a felony was committed against a person in a vehicle.
As originally proposed, it also would have said “or in the commission of a riot” against someone in a car, and supporters made references to video footage of protests around the country last summer.
“New Hampshire law already protects residents who must defend themselves against the threat of an unlawful force while on their own property,” said Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown. “This bill will simply extend that common sense protection to individuals who are defending their family or others, including in a vehicle.”
Republican lawmakers in other states also have responded to last summer’s protests with legislation to crack down on demonstrators, proposing increased penalties for demonstrators who run onto highways and legal immunity for drivers who hit them. Rep. Ray Newman, D-Nashua, called the New Hampshire bill an “unacceptable and dangerous expansion” of the current law.
“Think about road rage,” he said. “We have seen too many too many times in other states, where people feel they can be the judge, jury and executioner for what they perceive to be a felony crime and only later find out they’ve been charged with murder.”
The rejected bill would have banned law enforcement from using rubber bullets or tear gas, and supporters said it was aimed at prevent police from using them on peaceful protestors. Police opposed the bill, saying such tools are important though rarely used — most often in standoff situations when someone is barricaded in a home.
Leaders in the state’s Black Lives Matter movement testified in favor of the bill, and Rep. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem, said he believed their concerns were sincere. But he said the bill was unnecessary because state law already makes it illegal for police to fire rubber bullets into a crowd of peaceful protesters.
“Although some other states may need to review their laws to ensure that peaceful protesters are not victimized by a police officer’s irresponsible use of nondeadly force, to New Hampshire’s credit, New Hampshire has been very responsible in being ahead of the game and addressing this in its laws already,” he said.
Thursday marked the second day of the 400-member House meeting at a Bedford sports complex to allow for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. On Wednesday, most of the Democrats walked out in protest when Republicans moved to vote on an anti-abortion bill ahead of schedule, leading to a chaotic scene with lawmakers locked in, and out, of the building.
House Speaker Sherm Packard, R-Londonderry, opened Thursday's session by shaking hands with Democratic Leader Renny Cushing and urging lawmakers to keep partisan friction in check.
“Mistakes were made — if they were mistakes — must never happen again," he said.