The 2014 session has been incredibly busy for our Public Policy Department, which has been working on several bills that will improve the safety of New Hampshire's citizens and put increased protections in place for survivors.
Senate Bill 318, or Joshua's Law, named for eight year old Joshua Savyon, who was murdered by his father during a supervised visitation visit in August, establishes the crime of domestic violence. Currently, a person that abuses their partner in their home is charged with the same crime as a person that gets into a bar fight with a stranger: “simple assault”. Unfortunately, statistics tell us that violence between intimate partners is much more likely to escalate, and too often proves fatal. Joshua’s Law reorganizes all of the crimes currently used to charge abusers under a new crime of “Domestic Violence”. This will help improve the way that law enforcement and the justice system respond to and track instances of domestic violence. Joshua's mother, Becky Ranes, told her story of incredible loss for the first time at the Senate hearing for this bill, and has shown unbelievable strength and determination in her efforts to help pass this law as part of her son’s legacy. You can see Becky being recognized by Governor Hassan for her advocacy during the State of the State address and media coverage about Joshua's law here. Joshua’s Law passed the Senate in a unanimous roll call vote and will next cross over to the House.
New Hampshire is poised to improve its human trafficking statute with Senate Bill 317. In a recent study by the Polaris Project, the national authority on human trafficking legislation, NH was ranked second-to-worst state in the nation for victim protections for trafficking survivors. This bill brings NH in line with the recommendations of the Polaris Project for best practices in response to trafficking. Former child sex trafficking victim and now author and advocate Holly Austin Smith came to New Hampshire to testify on behalf of the bill. SB 317 passed the Senate unanimously and will next cross over to the House.
It is hard to imagine that a woman who became pregnant as a result of rape, chose to carry her pregnancy to term and raise her child on her own, would ever have to fight her rapist in court for custody of her child. Unfortunately, that is precisely what is happening in courtroom battles across the country, with several states not explicitly providing for termination of parental rights in instances of rape. Without this statutory language, judges often have no choice but to grant rapists access, including unsupervised visitation and shared custody, to rapists. With Senate Bill 253, New Hampshire can ensure that rape victims and their children are protected. Shauna Prewitt, a Chicago-based attorney, author, advocate, and rape survivor, testified at the hearing for SB 253 before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Shauna is considered to be the national expert on this subject: after becoming pregnant as a result of rape her senior year of college, Shauna chose to keep and raise her child, believing the worst was behind her. Unfortunately, her nightmare was far from over. Her rapist sued her for full custody of her daughter, and was only dissuaded from doing so when Shauna agreed not to testify against him in the ongoing rape case. Rape victims should not have to choose between safety for themselves and their children and seeking justice. SB 253 has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and is headed to the Senate floor for a full vote.
NHCADSV's Public Policy team Amanda and Jessica are hard at work on many other bills this session. To get regular updates, email Public Policy Coordinator Jessica Eskeland to ask for the legislative e-newsletter.