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New Hampshire advances some police, racial justice reforms

April 22, 2021 GMT

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Nearly a year after George Floyd’s killing, efforts to enact police and racial justice reforms in New Hampshire are moving forward, with some exceptions.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu created a law enforcement accountability commission last summer, and many of its recommendations have been implemented via executive order, including overhauling the state’s police training standards, requiring state troopers to wear body cameras and establishing a public integrity unit within the state’s Department of Justice.

Earlier this month, the Senate approved a bill implementing other recommendations, such as creating a matching fund to pay for police body cameras and requiring agreements between school districts and school resource officers to be made public. But the Senate, which is led by Republicans, removed requirements in the bill to include racial identification information on driver’s licenses and to collect data on the race and ethnicity of those who interact with law enforcement.

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Democrats who argued in favor of the data collection said it would help the state identify systemic racism by police as a step toward eliminating it.

“If Black lives matter, we need to count Black lives,” said Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, who called removing the data collection requirement “a link in the shackles of silence.”

The Republican-led House, meanwhile, rejected a bill that would have banned police from using rubber bullets or tear gas. Supporters said it was aimed at preventing police from using them on peaceful protesters.

Another bill inspired by last summer’s massive demonstrations against racial injustice passed the House and is now in the Senate. It would expand the state’s “stand your ground law” to include motor vehicles, allowing someone to use deadly force to protect themselves in cases in which a felony was committed against them while they were in a vehicle.

Lawmakers said they wanted to give people the legal right to respond with deadly force from their vehicles in a riot after seeing video rioters or angry protesters surrounding cars. But language related to rioting was ultimately removed from the bill after debate about the potential for nonviolent protesters to be shot.

The Legislature also is considering legislation targeting the state’s secret list of police officers whose credibility may be called into question during a trial. The Senate recently took up a compromise supported by police unions, transparency advocates and the state attorney general that would make the list public after a six-month period during which officers could contest their placement on the list by filing lawsuits.

No such compromise has been found on another bill, the so-called “divisive topics” bill. It would ban teaching that the state or U.S. are fundamentally racist or sexist in public schools or state-funded programs.

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“If that’s the assumption we are going to make as a society, then we are never going to get to unity,” said Rep. Keith Ammon, R-New Boston, in introducing the bill.

The bill, which echoes a since-repealed executive order by former President Donald Trump, is included in the House-passed budget but is opposed by Sununu.

Last week, the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association announced its opposition to the bill, saying many businesses recognize the importance of honest and sometimes difficult conversations about race and gender and have implemented diversity training.

“Putting this language into statute would be a black eye for New Hampshire. It would put the national spotlight on the Granite State, and not in a good way,” said Jim Roche, president of the organization that represents more than 400 employers.