New Hampshire Senate Passes Death Penalty Repeal With Veto-Proof Majority


Repeal advocates hold signs in front of New Hampshire State House ahead of Senate vote to repeal the death penalty. (David Lane/Union Leader)

A bipartisan bill to abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire passed the state Senate on Thursday with enough votes (17-6) to override a veto.

The bill revokes the existing capital punishment statute and replaces it with a penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“State-sanctioned killing is cruel, ineffective and inherently flawed,” said Senator Martha Hennessey (D-Hanover). “In committee we heard tragic, heart-wrenching testimony from those whose loved ones were murdered. Many testified that state killings do nothing to honor the lives of their loved ones.”

Senator Ruth Ward (R-Stoddard) spoke briefly before voting on Thursday. Her father was killed when she was seven. “He never saw us grow up,” she said. “My mother forgave whoever it was, and I will vote in favor of this bill.”

The same bill passed the state House of Representatives on March 3, also with a veto-proof supermajority (279-88).

Sponsored by seven Democrats and six Republicans across both houses of the state legislature, this is the third death penalty repeal passed by New Hampshire lawmakers. In 2000 and 2018, the bills were vetoed. An attempt to override Governor Chris Sununu’s veto last year fell two votes short in the Senate.

The governor has promised to veto this bill, but both chambers have the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto.

Once signed by the House Speaker, Senate President, and Secretary of State, the bill will be delivered to the governor, who has five business days to veto, sign, or let the bill become law without a signature. The New Hampshire Union Leader reports that a vote to override a veto could take place later this month or next.

The repeal bill does not apply retroactively to Michael Addison, the only person currently sentenced to death in New Hampshire. The state has not executed anyone since 1939 and presently has no execution protocol in place.

If the bill becomes law, New Hampshire will be the 21st state to abolish capital punishment and the ninth in the past 15 years. Bills to restrict or repeal the death penalty have been introduced in at least 18 states this year, half of them with significant Republican sponsorship or support.

State Senator John Reagan, a Republican who long believed the death penalty was important to public safety, said during the senate debate that he now favors repeal because “the more and more experience I had with government, I concluded that the general incompetency of government didn’t make them the right people to decide life and death.”