Banner Year for Victims' Services Legislation

Landmark session for victims’ protections legislation comes to a close

June 4, 2014

(Concord, NH) As the NH legislative session comes to a close, those working on behalf of victims of crime are reflecting on what has been a landmark session for passing comprehensive legislation that strengthens protections for victims and their children here in the Granite State. “We have never seen a session during which so many significant victims’ protections bills have passed—oftentimes with unanimous support in both bodies.” said Amanda Grady Sexton, NHCADSV Director of Public Policy. “In doing so, the Legislature is not only sending a strong message to victims and their children that they are committed to protecting them, they are also raising social awareness and shining a bright light on the issues that victims and their children face every day. For this, and their diligent service, we applaud the NH Senate and House of Representatives.

SB 318, Joshua’s Law

After passing with unanimous support in the Senate, the House voted to pass SB 318 on a vote of 325 to 3. SB 318 establishes the crime of domestic violence by taking charges that are commonly used in domestic violence related cases and reorganizes them under one crime of “Domestic Violence”. This important distinction in statute will allow our justice system, child protection agencies, law enforcement, and advocates to more effectively coordinate community responses to assist victims of domestic violence and their children and hold abusers accountable. Becky Ranes, Joshua Savyon’s mother, was on hand for the vote, as she was in the Senate. Ms. Ranes testified before the House and Senate, urging them to pass this bill, and has been lauded by Governor Hassan for her tireless advocacy efforts on behalf of victims of domestic violence across the state—a labor of love, according to Ranes, to keep her son’s memory alive: “I am so grateful to the NH Legislature for making Joshua’s Law a priority. The support and encouragement has been overwhelming, and I’m proud to be making a difference for those suffering in silence.”

Next steps: After passing with unanimous support in the Senate, the House voted to pass SB 318 on a vote of 325 to 3. The bill was signed into law in a private ceremony in the Governor's Office with Becky Ranes on hand. A celebration for the bill's passage is anticipated for late July, at which we hope to see all stakeholders and supporters. Information will be forthcoming. The bill will take effect January 1, 2015.

In addition to Joshua’s Law, the Legislature passed the following bills:

SB 317, relative to trafficking in persons

After being passed unanimously in the Senate, SB 317 also passed unanimously in the House—an almost unheard of distinction for a piece of legislation. This bill represents an important update to our existing human trafficking statute. NH was one of the first states in the nation to criminalize human trafficking. Since then, we have fallen behind, and been rated as the second-to-worst state in the nation for trafficking victims’ protections. This law will give prosecutors the tools they need to successfully prosecute individuals who traffic children, women and men in sex and labor trafficking. Specifically, this law enhances the criminal penalty for sex trafficking of minors.  It recognizes that children are unable to consent to sex acts by protecting child victims of sex trafficking from criminal prosecution or juvenile delinquency proceedings. The bill also provides protections to victims testifying in court against their trafficker, making it easier for prosecutors to call victims as witnesses for trial. This bill provides victims of trafficking who have been wrongly convicted of a crime to petition to vacate their conviction. The bill also allows a victim of human trafficking to sue his or her trafficker within ten years of the trafficking for damages caused by the trafficking.  This bill allows a victim of human trafficking who has been tattooed with an identifying mark to use funds from the NH Victims Compensation Fund to remove the tattoo. 

This bill is critical to strengthening NH trafficking laws and will help prosecutors convict traffickers for their heinous acts and provide victims the resources and protection they need to begin to rebuild their lives. Child sex trafficking survivors Holly Austin Smith and Margeaux Gray gave voices to the plight of human trafficking victims before the Senate and House, respectively. Their strength and courage in sharing their stories highlighted the fact that human trafficking is not just an urban problem; it is an international epidemic, and NH is not immune. In February 2014, two men were arrested in a hotel in Salem, New Hampshire for sex trafficking a 14-year-old girl from Massachusetts. Now is the time to update our human trafficking statute so that NH is not a safe haven for traffickers.

Next steps: SB 317 was amended in the House to remove the mandatory minimum of a 10-year prison sentence for convicted traffickers. The Senate concurred with this amendment, and the bill is now headed to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law. The bill will be effective 90 days after being signed.

SB 253, relative to termination of parental rights

This bill allows victims to terminate the parental rights of rapists who impregnate them. Under current NH law, the court may grant a petition to terminate parental rights, only upon a criminal rape conviction or guilty plea to rape. Unfortunately, rape is the most underreported violent crime in America, and in NH, a mere 3% of rapes ever result in a conviction. Significantly, the bill adds a mechanism for a fact-finding hearing for these proceedings and removes the requirement of a criminal rape conviction or guilty plea before the court can terminate. Under this bill, the court shall grant a petition to terminate if a) it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the child’s birth was the result of their mother having been raped, and b) if it is in the best interest of the child to terminate parental rights.

Next steps: SB 253 is now headed to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law, and will become effective January 1, 2015.

SB 205, relative to the use of metal detection devices at supervised visitation centers and establishing a commission to study supervised visitation centers

This bill is the result of the Attorney General’s ad hoc committee to study supervised visitation centers, which was created in the wake of the Joshua Savyon tragedy at a supervised visitation center in August of 2013.

SB 205 does two significant things to enhance security measures at supervised visitation centers. First, it allows judges, when ordering supervised visitation with particularly dangerous abusers, to order that visitation only take place at a facility equipped with metal detectors and trained security personnel on-site. Second, it establishes a multidisciplinary commission to study supervised visitation centers. The commission will be charged with studying the availability of supervised visitation centers and services throughout the state and identifying the extent to which there is unmet need; reviewing the criteria used by the courts and DCYF when determining whether supervised visitation should be required in a case and, when it is required, when it is no longer necessary; current policies and procedures; and whether supervised visitation centers should be licensed.

Next steps: SB 205 was amended in the House to remove the member of the Guardian Ad Litem Board from the commission membership. The Senate concurred with this amendment, and the bill is was signed into law by the Governor on June 14th, at which point the bill became effective.

SB 348, establishing a commission to study sexual abuse prevention education in elementary and secondary schools

This bill establishes a multidisciplinary commission to study the issue of sexual abuse prevention education in elementary and secondary schools. The commission is charged with studying current practices and legislation in other jurisdictions regarding this education, including the activities and practices of state and local agencies and community organizations. Further, they will identify model-based curricula for sexual abuse prevention education; make recommendations for utilizing trained professionals to implement these curricula; identify opportunities for collaboration among stakeholders; and identify potential funding needs and sources to support increased sexual abuse prevention education in schools.  

Next steps: SB 348 was signed into law by the Governor on June 16th, at which point the bill became effective.

SB 390, prohibiting discrimination against employees who are victims of domestic violence and establishing a committee to study the protection of employees from domestic violence

This bill prohibits employers from discriminating against employees who are victims of domestic violence. Specifically, it prohibits employers from refusing to hire an otherwise qualified individual on the basis of the candidate being a victim of domestic violence, harassment, sexual assault, or stalking. The bill further prohibits firing, threatening to fire, demoting, suspending, discriminating, or retaliating against an individual based on their status as a victim. Any employer who engages in such activity will be subject to a civil penalty to be imposed by the Commissioner of the Department of Labor. Additionally, the bill establishes a committee to study how state laws, rules, and employment practices may be used to protect employees who are victims of domestic violence.

Next steps: SB 390 is headed to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law. The section of SB 390 dealing with prohibited conduct by an employer and the penalties therein will be effective 60 days after passage. The section that creates the study commission will be effective upon passage.

HB 1410, including household and domesticated animals under the domestic violence protection statute

This bill adds animal cruelty to the definition of “abuse” under the domestic violence relief statute, and it allows a judge to grant the petitioner of a domestic violence protective order exclusive care, custody, or control of any animal owned, possessed, leased, kept, or held by the victim, the abuser, or a minor child in the household, and further allows a judge to order the abuser stay away from the pet in both temporary and final domestic violence protective orders.

Next steps: HB 1410 is headed to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law, at which point it will be effective upon passage.

 

For more information, please contact Amanda Grady Sexton at 603-548-9377 or email Amanda@nhcadsv.org

Read an in depth review of the Coalition's Public Policy efforts and victim services legislation for the 2014 Legislative Session.

To receive Coalition legislative alerts or our Public Policy focused e-newsletter Around the State House, email Jessica Eskeland, Public Policy Coordinator at jessica@nhcadsv.org.

 

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