HB1640 House public hearing

The public hearing for this bill was held before the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on 2008-02-05 at 10:30. Laurie, Jeremy, and Mark Warden attended, along with Denis Goddard, Research Director of the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance, and a few other NHLA activists.

Rep. Cynthia Dokmo testified to the committee first, explaining the purpose of HB1640 in detail. Mark Warden was the first member of the public to be called to testify, and he gave detailed testimony as to the money issues with this bill. An excerpt:—

With the latest appropriation out of Congress for [the Byrne Grant] program being slashed by 67%, the amount left for states and municipalities has decreased substantially. And of the money that will continue to come in, we only stand to lose 10% of the amount if we are not in compliance. By my estimation, that forfeited amount will only be about $75,000. Yet the fiscal note on this bill from the department states that these changes will cost over $116,000 the first year, along with additional costs of compliance and personnel ad infinitum.

Spending $116,000 to keep $75,000. Need more be said?

Aparently Rep. Roger Berube thought so, because he asked Mark a series of pointed and rather rude questions as to why Mark was “really” there, implying ulterior motives of some sort.

Next up, Ann Rice from the Attorney General’s office testified, noting in part that their office understands that this legislation will not, in fact, protect children, and that compliance with Adam Walsh is only one of the bill’s purposes. Rep. Jordan Ulery quizzed her on some of the financials, to which she had no particularly decent answers.

Jeremy Olson testified as to the inconsistencies in the bill which will possibly cause the federal government to label New Hampshire noncompliant with Adam Walsh, then explained how the onerous requirements placed upon sex offenders, coupled with keeping all sex offenders registered for life, is most likely unconstitutional under Part I, Article 18 of the New Hampshire Constitution:—

[Art.] 18. [Penalties to be Proportioned to Offenses; True Design of Punishment.] All penalties ought to be proportioned to the nature of the offense. No wise legislature will affix the same punishment to the crimes of theft, forgery, and the like, which they do to those of murder and treason. Where the same undistinguishing severity is exerted against all offenses, the people are led to forget the real distinction in the crimes themselves, and to commit the most flagrant with as little compunction as they do the lightest offenses. For the same reason a multitude of sanguinary laws is both impolitic and unjust. The true design of all punishments being to reform, not to exterminate mankind.

No wise legislature, eh? He also mentioned that, as the registry and its requirements become more and more punitive, it becomes harder and harder to justify the registry as a mere “administrative” process, and thus New Hampshire could soon find itself facing challenges under Article 23:—

[Art.] 23. [Retrospective Laws Prohibited.] Retrospective laws are highly injurious, oppressive, and unjust. No such laws, therefore, should be made, either for the decision of civil causes, or the punishment of offenses.

Rep. Berube, who no doubt swore an oath to defend the Constitution when he took office, was seen shaking his head in disgust during the testimony. Is it any surprise that Rep. Berube’s NHLA Liberty Rating for 2005 and 2006 was D, and in 2007 dropped to F? One begins to wonder what true motives Rep. Berube has for running for office—certainly not doing his sworn duty of defending the Constitution!

Rep. Gene Charron provided further defense of the bill afterward, answering some of the constitutional issues and reiterating the multifarious purposes of HB1640.

Laurie gave the following testimony:—

HB1640 is New Hampshire’s version of the federal Adam Walsh Act. The study committee for classification chose to adopt a statutorily defined system instead of going with true individual classification. Under the proposed bill, my family will be unable to seek full relief from the registration system, even though the Adam Walsh Act allows for it in cases of statutory rape where the ages of the individuals involved are within four years of each other. The bill as proposed is only willing to allow someone to be removed from the public list, instead of complete registration removal—even if he or she no longer poses a continuing threat to public safety.

If this bill passes in its current form, my family will be forced to move to another state that recognizes the difference between sex crimes and the individuals that commit them, and allows for complete removal. We will be political refugees in our own country: something I never thought would be necessary in America. My children are scared and confused when we stop by the police station “so Daddy can have a chat with the police” when we go on vacation. This can no longer be tolerated and I beg you to recognize the collateral damage and unintended victims these laws are leaving in their wake. My children will have to leave their school, their friends and the neighborhood they love. Their grandmothers will no longer live fifteen minutes away and they will no longer have the weekly presence of their Grammy or Nana in their lives.

My husband and I do not wish to leave our New Hampshire roots behind, our families, and our friends. We love New Hampshire and we’d love to stay. But we cannot continue to allow our children to suffer in the state of NH if they do not need to suffer for his sake in another state. I am asking you to make the necessary changes to HB1640 that will allow my family and others like us the hope of staying in New Hampshire, where we belong. I am asking that you meet the mandates of the Adam Walsh Act and allow for a four-year age difference removal—not just from the public list, but from registration completely. Not in fiteen or twenty-five years, but immediately, as the Adam Walsh Act allows.

A woman from Derry testified after Laurie, asking the committee to pass HB1640 because one of the provisions of this bill is to require disclosure on the public registry that an offender murdered their victim in the commission of a sexual assault—a requirement that would have helped the recent situation in Derry where a registered child rapist–murderer, Douglas Simmons, moved into the town. Our position on this element of HB1640 is neutral: We would have no issue with such a requirement being passed as a separate piece of legislation. The purpose of sex-offender registries is to protect communities against the truly dangerous, a label which we have no problem applying to child rapists–murderers.

Denis Goddard of the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance testified in opposition of the bill next, explaining to the committee that there is no such thing as a private database—if sex offenders are kept on any database whatsoever, wherever, that information will eventually be made public through accident or break-in.

After the committee had heard from all scheduled speakers, Ryan Marvin, a private citizen from Deerfield, gave impromptu testimony to the committee reminding them of Rice’s testimony: that this bill will not actually serve to protect children, so why bother?

Afterward, Laurie and Jill Rocky of the State Police, who was there in support of the bill, were interviewed by WMUR.