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N.H. House passes bill that would make significant changes to bail reform law

Emily Corwin

House members have passed a bill criminal justice reform advocates say would roll back New Hampshire’s current bail reform law.

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Lawmakers passed HB 1476 with a vote of 199-134 on Tuesday. The bill would mandate the pretrial detention of anyone arrested who has already been released on personal recognizance, or no cash, bail. It would mandate the pretrial detention of any individual charged with a felony or Class A misdemeanor if they are on release for any other offense at the time of arrest.

It would also require judges to order the pretrial detention of any individual charged with a third Class B misdemeanor offense. Those convicted of Class B misdemeanors are most often fined, and they do not face jail time.

Under the current law, judges and bail commissioners can hold a person they determine is dangerous without bail. Otherwise, they are supposed to consider what a person could reasonably afford before setting bail.

Rep. Linda Harriott-Gathright says the changes proposed in this bill would disproportionately harm Black people.

“Because Black people are disproportionately arrested, they will also be disproportionately incarcerated under this legislation’s mandatory incarceration regime,” said the Nashua Democrat.

She and other opponents of the bill say it would also disproportionately affect people without housing and people struggling with addiction.

Law enforcement officials have been calling for changes to the state’s bail reform law since it first went into effect in 2018. Bill sponsor Rep. Ross Berry, R-Manchester, says the intent is not to overturn bail reform.

“You have to be arrested three times for a Class B misdemeanor before this kicks in,” said Berry.

Another bill in the New Hampshire legislature, SB 294, also proposes significant changes to the state’s bail reform law. HB 1476 will move to the Senate for consideration.

Mary McIntyre is a senior producer at NHPR.

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