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Lawmakers Revisit Protective Orders for Vulnerable Adults

N.H. State House
Allegra Boverman for NHPR

New Hampshire lawmakers are revisiting legislation aimed at protecting vulnerable adults from abuse, exploitation and neglect.

The Legislature made financial exploitation of vulnerable adults a crime in 2014 and followed up with legislation this year creating a new type of protective order to allow victims to stop such abuse while a criminal case goes forward.

But Republican Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed the bill in July, in part over concerns that protections available to domestic violence victims would be reduced. He and other critics said victims might mistakenly apply for the new protective order instead of the existing domestic violence restraining order, which includes additional protections such as awarding custody of children.

Both House and Senate lawmakers have been working on new versions of the legislation, and Sununu said this week he is backing a bill drafted by Republican Sen. Jeb Bradley. The new bill removes a provision from the vetoed one that would have allowed police to confiscate guns and other deadly weapons from those accused of abuse, exploitation or neglect.

The bill also includes language clarifying that the new protective order is not intended for victims of domestic violence. That language had been proposed last year by the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

"If a victim of domestic violence were to obtain the wrong order, there could be lethal consequences for them and their children," Amanda Grady Sexton, the coalition's public affairs director, wrote in an email. "As these laws are being considered it will be important to remember that most victims who are in danger walk into a courthouse alone. With that in mind the Coalition will work to ensure that any new laws are crafted in a way that are clear and straightforward to victims who do not have access to a lawyer."

Sununu said in a statement that he looks forward to working with Democrats, Republicans and all stakeholders to pass the legislation.

"I have long believed one of the foremost responsibilities of government is to protect those who cannot protect themselves," he said.

New Hampshire Legal Assistance, a nonprofit organization that provides civil legal services to low-income residents, supported the vetoed bill. Dawn McKinney, the group's policy director, said she is pleased that Sununu and lawmakers are prioritizing the protection of vulnerable adults.

"We will continue to work tirelessly to get protections in place for those who are abused, neglected and exploited," she said.

-- Holly Ramer, Associated Press

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