New Hampshire’s Senate Debate Reveals a Surprising Point of Agreement
For the second time in as many weeks, one of the most important pieces of House leadership legislation that might be making its way through the state legislature failed to make the news cycle. Despite having an unusually high profile with the House, this particular bill came up short in the Senate, where senators made it clear they simply did not see much value to be gained from supporting it.
That is certainly not the case for the legislation that aims to change the legal definition of a criminal offense from a misdemeanor to a felony. At its core, this bill would make a great deal of sense. Currently, under a law called the Felony Offender Disposition Act, the legislature defines felonies as misdemeanor offenses. Not only does that allow a district attorney to file felony charges even though a criminal case is already pending, but it also encourages prosecutors to prosecute the lower-level defendants involved.
Yet over the past couple of years, lawmakers have introduced similar legislation that seeks to modify that definition to change from a misdemeanor to a felony or from a felony to a misdemeanor. In both cases, the proposed measure is aimed at dealing with the growing number of drug offenders who have been charged with misdemeanors that are then brought to trial as felonies in a state where the law clearly defines the offense as a felony and where the prosecutor is given the discretion to choose the felony charge.
But despite what looks like a bipartisan consensus on this important issue, the version of the bill that received a hearing in the Senate has gone down to defeat in a vote of 27 to 29. As is often the case, the failure of a bill in the House does not mean that its supporters will not try again.
House leadership’s proposed measure, which was originally introduced by Reps. Peter G. Walsh of Manchester and Peter H. Clark of Concord, would do away with the current definition of a felony. Currently, a misdemeanor crime