Three dangerous bills go down. But our prime bill almost made it.

By Chris Dornin

We had a strong presence at the Statehouse this term, building on the good work of Laurie Peterson, who founded CURSOR and served as the first New Hampshire coordinator for the national organization, Reforming Sex Offender Laws. Laurie stepped down because her job hours and responsibility increased, she has to travel a lot now, she has a family, and she’s going to law school. Our cause needs future attorneys like her who understand the witch hunt against sex offenders.

A dozen of our advocates persuaded the House to kill two residency restriction bills against people listed on the state sex offender website. One would have banned this group from living within 25 miles from their victim or from any relative of the victim. That‘s a good example of the mindless vindictiveness behind every sex offender bill in about the last two decades. The bill had no grandfathering clause for folks with established homesteads to hang onto. It would have driven most of New Hampshire’s ex-offenders to Maine or Vermont. Nor could a sex offender near parole have gotten the parole board to release them. How could somebody behind bars ever locate the victim, not to mention their grandparents, nieces, kids and brothers? An inmate is prohibited from contacting his victim.

The other extremely hostile bill would have excluded the same electronic scarlet letter wearers from living in most towns. They could not have resided within 2,000 feet of a school or daycare program. Lawmakers were aware a lower court last year struck down the Dover sex offender ordinance with a 2,000-foot perimeter from such places. It violated the plaintiff’s basic property rights.

A bill to encourage active notice when a sex offender moves into a neighborhood died on the Senate floor after sailing through the House. Two of the Senate co-sponsors turned against their own piece of legislation after hearing our side of the issue. They understood the bill would have fomented vigilantism by spurring towns to compete with each to give the harshest welcome to an unwanted new family.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. David Boutin (R-Hooksett), filed the bill last fall right after a Hooksett man on the registry was charged with molesting his niece. Police later dropped the case, but a local vigilante website against the accused man, Joel Dutton, and his family still carries death threats. The bill sponsor testified about the heinous crime that prompted his legislation as if it actually happened. That blunder cost him his bill.

Unfortunately, our legislation to ban residency restrictions altogether died in the Senate. It won a huge majority in the House and left its senate committee with 5-0 support. Democratic leaders made the decision behind closed doors to table it as being too controversial in an election year. We hope this year’s improvised coalition against residency restrictions will give the same bill strong legs next time. Opponents of such restrictions included the Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Child and Family Services, the Manchester Police and the Department of Safety.

The governor has signed a bill we worked hard for, the justice reinvestment act. It allows nonviolent inmates to parole sooner than now and lets everyone leave prison at least nine months before their maximum term expires. The bill vastly improves parole supervision too. The savings on prison costs will divert to community programs to prevent recidivism and crime by rehabilitating parolees. For now all sex offenders are still arbitrarily defined as violent offenders. We’ll be working to change that definition.

The governor has signed a bill to bar registered sex offenders from ever contacting their victims. Our side won an amendment to let the offender approach a victim within the family to discuss inheritance or custody matters.

We supported a new law to study the parole board. Many lawmakers accurately suspect this benighted and powerful agency is out of step with reducing prison costs. Our side needs to testify at the upcoming hearings and workshops on an issue vital to an intelligent criminal justice system.

Lawmakers killed a bill to evaluate the public danger posed by everyone on the public registry. There was strong bipartisan support for the concept, but nobody knew where to find $4 million or so to assess the 2,700 people already on the burgeoning roster.

A House bill to let folks on the registry file petitions to get off died early in the legislative session. The idea was too radical.

The governor has signed a feel-good bill to make folks on the registry report to the police their cars, boats, snowmobiles and planes, say where they are kept and divulge the license numbers. The offenders don’t have to display neon pink plates yet.

This summer the House will study the public sex offender registry in depth and the cost of complying with the federal Adam Walsh Act, a deeply flawed law mandating these registries in every state. Many of the reps have reservations about what is devolved into a highly punitive shaming roster. According to a solid body of research, the list does nothing to protect children and may paradoxically endanger them the same way residency restrictions do- by making a lot of them jobless, divorced and homeless. Our people will need to speak up at the meetings of the study commission this summer and fall. Stay tuned for the schedule.