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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Gov. Hassan says she will sign Joshua’s Law, named after murdered Amherst boy

Victims and advocates against domestic violence celebrated an overwhelming trifecta of legislative success Wednesday, led by a bill honoring a murdered 9-year-old Amherst boy.

Gov. Maggie Hassan confirmed she will sign the bill into law that combines all abuse crimes under a domestic violence statute. ...

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Victims and advocates against domestic violence celebrated an overwhelming trifecta of legislative success Wednesday, led by a bill honoring a murdered 9-year-old Amherst boy.

Gov. Maggie Hassan confirmed she will sign the bill into law that combines all abuse crimes under a domestic violence statute.

The House passed it 325-3.

The House of Representatives also adopted bills to beef up the state’s ban on human trafficking and a third to make it easier for a victim of rape to terminate the parental rights of the attacker.

Those two measures have to return to the state Senate to consider changes made to them, but both are on track to reach Hassan and become law as well.

“This is a landmark day in New Hampshire for victims of crime,” said Amanda Grady Sexton, director of public policy for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

“We are heartened to see that New Hampshire lawmakers have dedicated so much time this session to prioritizing the legal rights of victims of abuse.”

The domestic violence rewrite will be named after Joshua Savyon. His mother, Becky Ranes, became a crusader for this legislation, and Hassan praised her as a model for citizen advocacy.

Joshua Savyon, was killed by his father, Muni Savyon, during a court-
ordered supervised visit last August at a Manchester YWCA center.

Muni Savyon, who turned the gun on himself, was under a domestic violence protective order because he had threatened to kill Joshua and Joshua’s mother.

“Although we will never be able to relieve the pain caused by the tragic murder of Joshua Savyon, enacting this bill in his memory will help countless families and communities,” Hassan said in a statement.

“I thank Joshua’s mother, Becky Ranes, for her inspiring strength and her efforts to make us all safer, as well as Senator Soucy and legislators from both parties for working to pass Joshua’s Law.

“I look forward to signing this critical public safety measure into law.”

New Hampshire has been one of 15 states in the country without a domestic violence law. This will not change the criminal charges or the legal threshold for criminal conduct, but will make it easier to track how prevalent abuse is.

“We struggle with capturing the full scope of the problem, because we have no way of maintaining this data,” said Rep. Shannon Chandley, D-Amherst.

“Domestic violence is a crime mostly suffered in silence, behind closed doors – and as we have seen so many times, it almost always escalates.

“It is time to call domestic violence what it is.”

Joshua’s Law is supported by chiefs of police, county attorneys and sheriffs, the attorney general, and domestic violence advocates across the state.

Deputy General Ann Rice noted that domestic violence is involved in half the homicides committed in New Hampshire and 92 percent of the murder-suicides.

Advocates say creating this new crime would increase due process rights for the accused and retain discretion for law enforcement.

The language in the bill mirrors the federal domestic violence law and requires prosecutors to prove the incident involves family or household members or those in an intimate relationship.

The proposed changes to New Hampshire’s ban on human trafficking are an update to a 2009 law, which would increase the criminal penalties for actions against minors.

The Senate opted for a state prison term of no less than 10 years; the House-passed bill would change that to a range of seven to 30 years.

“Human trafficking is that third most lucrative criminal enterprise after drugs and arms dealing,” said Rep. Robert Renny Cushing, D-Hampton.

“It happens here in New England, here in the state of New Hampshire.”

Cushing reminded that a Litchfield couple was convicted for engaging in human trafficking in 2003 and there have been more recent prosecutions in Salem and in northern Massachusetts.

The House passed it, 325-0.

Nashua Democratic State Sen. Bette Lasky wrote the bill that makes it easier for a rape victim to block their attacker from gaining custody of a child.

New Hampshire is one of 15 states that requires a rapist be convicted to end the rights to see custody of a child conceived during the crime.

But according to a 2007 survey, only 3 percent of those charged with sexual assault are convicted.

The bill was amended so as not to take away the discretion judges now have to determine whether not granting custody is in the best interest of the child.

A lawyer for the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union said the bill needs to assure judges continue to have discretion to give a rapist some rights such as in a statutory case when the male is 18 and the minor girl is 15.

“What makes it difficult if you take discretion away from the court, it’s difficult,” said Gilles Bissonnette.

“I do think that actually creates serious concerns.”

The amended bill affects those who have either been convicted of rape or judged after a non-trial hearing to have committed the act “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Lasky’s original bill would have set a lower threshold for the victim to reach that the rape happened “by clear and convincing evidence.”

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).