Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Common Ground

This is a bit belated as I only just came across this write-up by Renny Cushing that was published last month on the "Death Penalty is" debate site, about the Crime Victims Equality Act. We posted news about the bill when it was initially passed and also had a story about it in the MVFHR newsletter, but it's good to see it covered elsewhere too, and this piece includes the valuable point that such legislation can attract support form both pro- and anti-death penalty lawmakers.

Last year I sponsored legislation (House Bill 370) to prohibit discrimination against victims of crime based upon their position on the death penalty.

The bill was inspired by my experience working with other survivors of homicide victims, including some who found they experienced a loss of standing and recognition of rights as crime victims under the law when they spoke out against or acted in opposition to the death penalty for the person who murdered their loved ones. The idea for a Crime Victims Equality Act was first put forth as a policy recommendation in "Dignity Denied: The Experience of Murder Victims' Family Members Who Oppose the Death Penalty" a report Susannah Sheffer and I wrote a few years ago. New Hampshire was the fourth state to consider such victims legislation, and the first state where it became law.

The legislation amended New Hampshire's existing "Rights of Crime Victims" law by adding the new guarantee of the right of equality for all survivors of homicide victims. It is the first law in the nation to formally acknowledge that family members of murder victims have differences of opinion on capital punishment, and gives equal respect under the law to that diversity to ensure that whether one supports or opposes or is unsure or neutral on the death penalty, they will still enjoy all rights and support they are entitled to as crime victims. During the course of legislative hearings on the bill the measure was publicly supported by victims of crime and victims advocates, and both pro-death penalty and anti-death penalty lawmakers found common ground to vote for the bill. The bill was signed by Governor John Lynch, a death penalty supporter and became effective as the law of New Hampshire in October 6, 2009.

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