N.H. Lawmakers Hope Bill Will Clear Up Confusion Surrounding Bail Reform

May 7, 2019

Credit JOE GRATZ / FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS

NHPR has been looking at criminal justice reform in New Hampshire and its effect on policing across the state.

Bail reform went into effect in New Hampshire in September. Since then, many police officials have been frustrated causing tension between law enforcement and reform advocates. This led lawmakers to revisit the issue with a new bill, SB 314.

Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, the sponsor of that bill.

(Related story: N.H. Law Enforcement Officials Frustrated With Bail Reform)

(Below is a partial transcript from the NHPR interview.)

There was bipartisan support overwhelmingly for [bail reform], but law enforcement in particular, has said there have been issues with it. What have you been hearing and what was the impetus for this new legislation?

So what we did do is create a commission to review how [bail reform is] being rolled out [and] how it's being implemented. And I think what we heard from some in law enforcement is that they did not train their folks on the ground about the new tools that were available to them. And then there were some concerns from law enforcement about how some judges were implementing the new law.

So the commission made a series of recommendations. Those recommendations are embodied in SB 314. SB 314 then got a overwhelming vote of support in the Senate and got a unanimous bipartisan vote out of committee recently. So as SB 314 was going through the process, we reconvened the different advocates and stakeholders, including the chiefs of police and came to a reasonable resolution and compromise that continues to further the goals of bail reform, which is child protection, protecting the public safety, protecting property tax payers and protecting individual liberties. And I believe that [SB 314] does that.

There's been some high profile cases of offenders being released over and over again. How will SB 314 address some of those concerns and how will it address the concerns that you've been hearing?

[SB 314] specifically has a number of recommendations, including a text messaging service to make sure that we actually notify folks and remind folks of their court hearings so that they're aware of it. And for those folks that are aware but for whatever reason intentionally may miss a court hearing, there's some additional penalties put into [SB 314] to deal with that.

It's important to note the issue of alleged incidents of offenders being released. You're not actually being released because you haven't been convicted. You're actually arrested. So what needs to happen, and what hasn't happened in many cases, is law enforcement has not trained people on the ground to go to the hearing and actually show the person's a danger to themselves or others. SB 314 makes it very clear that all relevant factors associated with the issue of a dangerousness determination shall be considered by the judge.