This week, the Senate Finance Committee will hear public testimony on HB 1 and HB 2, the state’s budget bills. Like many states, the state budget process is about much more than how much money goes where. It is also a way for legislators and the Governor to advance legislation that hit roadblocks when it was on its own or had not been previously considered. It was just two years ago that New Hampshire passed its first modern abortion ban (the 24-week ban), and the vehicle for that was the state budget (HB 2).
Fortunately, while we have seen HB 2 used to pass harmful legislation (e.g. the abortion ban) and this year’s version has a few troubling additions, this session HB 2 also includes a few positive additions.
Here are some key civil liberties issues that Senate Finance will consider when they meet on Tuesday:
- Support notification for immigration checkpoints: This would require state, county, or municipal law enforcement to provide the public with up to 24 hours’ notice when they find out that a federal agency intends to conduct an immigration checkpoint. This notice requirement would be similar to the advanced notice that is provided for sobriety checkpoints, which, as the Attorney General has noted, is important to “minimize motorist surprise, apprehension and inconvenience.” Unfortunately, history has already taught us what these immigration checkpoints are really about – using immigration as an excuse to expand government surveillance and policing near the border. A few years back a New Hampshire court found these checkpoints were used to circumvent the New Hampshire Constitution to go Granite Staters for low-level drug possession. Take action now!
- Support improvements to New Hampshire’s bail system: Ever since New Hampshire reformed its bail system in 2018 to be more equitable and less tied to wealth, opponents of reform have fought to roll back reforms. One argument against the new, more equitable bail system, is that defendants who are released on bail could be committing crimes in other jurisdictions while awaiting trial. This section of the budget provides the funds necessary for the Department of Safety to create a real time bail tracking system which would provide courts with information on whether a defendant is on release for offenses in other parts of the state. This would also help protect against the one-size-fits all needless incarceration approaches championed by some. Take action now!
- Oppose unnecessary funding for prison expansion: The House removed $40 million of the proposed $50 million “deposit” on the construction of a new prison from HB 2. This is good news, and we urge Senate members to oppose any effort to reinstate the money. While there are serious and horrific physical conditions of confinement that need separate and immediate action, we must not allow this to serve as justification for the construction of a possibly up to half-a-billion-dollar facility without a clear understanding of the future of incarceration in NH, including how we can continue to reduce our need for incarceration while increasing community safety. Take action now!
- Oppose unnecessary funding for increased policing at the northern border: The House removed a proposed $1.4 million originally included in the budget to establish a “Northern Border Alliance Program'', and we urge the Senate to oppose any efforts to add this back into the budget. The stated goal was to address an increase in unauthorized border crossings, but there is no data to support that such crossings are even happening, let alone increasing. Unfortunately, this is really about increasing police power and surveillance. Take action now!
While the budget is the big issue up this week, on Tuesday we will also be in front of the Senate Judiciary committee to urge the Committee members to pass HB 287, which would remove drug testing equipment, including fentanyl test strips, from the definition of drug paraphernalia. Under current law, the possession with intent to distribute lifesaving drug testing equipment is an unclassified misdemeanor and punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of $2,000. Drug testing kits are a data-driven approach to saving lives and reducing harm in New Hampshire. Email your state Senator and urge them to support this legislation!
Our legislators are accountable to the people, and your voice can make a difference. Thank you for taking action!
Want to learn more about the ACLU of New Hampshire’s 2023 legislative priorities? Check out our legislative page here.