Legislative Changes

House Bill 1135 Passes Senate Vote 24 – 0 After Amendment Introduced By Senator Stiles

May 15, 2014

I’m pleased to report that the New Hampshire Senate voted 24-0 today to pass House Bill 1135 making it a misdemeanor to drive without a valid license.

Yesterday I received a detailed letter from the Assistant Commissioner Earl Sweeney and Commissioner Barthelmes of the NH Department of Safety.

The $28,000 expense was never an issue. It boiled down to how to classify the offense, either Class A or Class B.

To get it passed, Senator Nancy Stiles (R), the Senate sponsor of the bill, proposed an amendment which clarified ambiguous language. It will define the offense as Class B. This means that no jail time is possible, whereas with a Class A the defendant can be sentenced to as much as one year in a county jail or house of correction, or placed on probation for up to 2 years.

When you read below, much of what you will see is based on conjecture. This is because there were only 5 Senators that participated in the closed door meeting who knew what was going on. I don’t know why they met in executive session, and I don’t know why they didn’t invite the main sponsors to participate. This led to a lot of wasted time and anguish. Open meetings and full transparency are a must!

Since there’s an amendment, the House needs to vote on it again. But that does not seem like it should be a problem. Then it has to be signed by the Governor.

When it’s finally passed, it goes into effect January 1st 2015.

~ Tom Rogers

Open Letter to Members of the New Hampshire State Senate

Pam Wells at Squam Lake in New Hampshire

Pam Wells at Squam Lake in New Hampshire

May 13, 2014

Dear New Hampshire State Senators,

My name is Tom Rogers. On September 21, 2013, in Hampton, NH, a motor vehicle accident killed my wife and her friend Elise Bouchard. The same accident severely injured two others.

At 8:30 in the morning, a nineteen-year-old driver named Darriean Hess crossed into the northbound lane striking a group of four bicyclists who were participating in the Granite State Wheelmen’s Seacoast Century. This is a 100-mile charity ride that follows the coast from Hampton Beach State Park, south to Newburyport, then back north again up into Maine, and finally back to Hampton Beach State Park.

The victims were Pam Wells, my wife of 19 years, her friends Margo Heigh and Elise Bouchard of Danvers, MA, and Uwe Umeyer of Essex, MA.

It is my firm belief that this accident would have been prevented if it had been a misdemeanor to drive without a valid license in NH.

The thing is, Darriean Hess was pulled over just hours earlier for speeding, but when the Hampton police realized she didn’t have a license, they could only give her a summons to appear in court. They then allowed Hess to call a friend who drove Hess away in the car which she had been driving and which belonged to her boyfriend.

In the wake of this tragedy, a bipartisan group of New Hampshire State Representatives put forward House Bill 1135 which seeks to modify the penalties for driving a motor vehicle without a valid driver’s license or with a license that is not appropriate for the vehicle being driven.

In essence, the law would be changed so it would be a misdemeanor. This would allow the police to do a better job of protecting the public.

I came to Concord to testify on behalf of House Bill 1135 in March, and the measure was later approved in the House by a vote of 261-45. The bill then received the same recommendation from the full Senate during a unanimous voice vote on the floor on April 17. At the time, it seemed that all that remained to do was for the governor to sign off on the bill.

But last Tuesday, May 6, the Senate Finance Committee voted 3 to 2 to recommend against passage for the bill, indicating that the expenditure of $28,000 was too much for the State budget to handle.

I would argue that this one-time expense is statistically insignificant, and that there would be no noticeable effect on anyone’s tax bill.

I have attached a press release and fact sheet that I have just distributed. There you will find more details about the accident, as well as a recap of my understanding of the history of the legislation and its anticipated fiscal impacts.

It is my understanding that the full Senate will consider the recommendation of the Senate Finance Committee this coming Thursday, May 15.

I urge you to do the right thing, and allow HB 1135 to become the law. Anything short of passage is unconscionable.

Sincerely,

Tom Rogers
Hamilton, MA

PRESS RELEASE – Distributed 6/13/2014

CONTACT:
Thomas N. Rogers, Jr.
Personal contact info has been excluded for privacy reasons.

Why call for passage of New Hampshire’s House Bill 1135-FN?
Because making it a misdemeanor in New Hampshire
to drive without a valid license can save lives

On September 21, 2013, a loophole in New Hampshire law allowed an unlicensed driver to get back on the road after being stopped by police. On September 21, 2013, that unlicensed driver drove a vehicle into four bicyclists, killing two and injuring the other two – changing lives forever. Now, if New Hampshire’s House Bill 1135-FN is passed by the state’s senate, the state will close that loophole and make the state safer for all.

Hamilton, MA, May 13, 2014 — New Hampshire House Bill 1135-FN seeks to modify the penalties for driving a motor vehicle without a valid driver’s license, or with a license that is not appropriate for the vehicle being driven.

On Thursday, May 15, the New Hampshire Senate will meet and discuss the Senate Finance Committee’s recommendation that House Bill 1135-FN not be passed. This recommendation will either be approved, which would effectively kill the bill, or not be approved which would pave the way for New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan to sign the bill into law.

Lives are at stake.

Right now, if one is caught driving in New Hampshire without a valid license, the most the police can do is issue a summons to appear in court. House Bill 1135-FN, as amended by the state’s house of representatives, seeks to change the existing state law and make it a misdemeanor to drive without a valid license.

Why is a Massachusetts resident urging passage of this bill?

Because back in September, a terrible accident happened in Hampton, New Hampshire.

At around 8:30 in the morning on Saturday, September 21, a 19-year-old named Darriean Hess struck four bicyclists who were participating in the Granite State Wheelmen’s Seacoast Century. This 100-mile charity ride follows the coast from Hampton Beach State Park, south to Newburyport, then back north again up into Maine, and finally back to Hampton Beach State Park.

The victims were Pam Wells, mywifeof19years, her friends Margo Heigh and Elise Bouchard of Danvers, MA, and Uwe Umeyer of Essex, MA.

Margo was in the lead, and it appears she was the only one who had any warning, perhaps for just a split second, of the impending crash. She was badly beat up but will be OK. Uwe Umeyer was severely injured but has made a good recovery. Elise Bouchard and my wife Pam Wells were killed.

As if dealing with the accident were not enough, the survivors and their relatives soon learned that Darriean Hess had been pulled over by the Hampton police for speeding at 12:45 AM that same morning. Hess was going 59 in a 30-mile per hour zone, on the same stretch of road as the accident.

Police learned that Hess did not have a license. She was alone, driving her boyfriend’s car.

The police gave Hess a summons to appear in court for speeding and driving without a license. Also the police allowed Hess to call a friend in order to drive the vehicle away. Hess called Cindy Sheppard, who had recently been arrested and was awaiting trial for drug-related charges.

Sheppard took Hess to Sheppard’s home. Reports indicate that when Hess left Sheppard’s home later that same morning, Hess was under the influence of Fentanyl, Klonopin and Percocet. A little before 8:30, Hess got back in the same car and headed south again on the same stretch of road, sped over the bridge and crashed into my wife’s group of bicyclists.

Had driving without a valid license been a misdemeanor last September, the officer who pulled Hess over would have had the right to arrest her if she had appeared to be a risk to public safety. The officer would then have looked up Hess’s records and might have concluded that Hess should be taken to the police station for booking.

If House Bill 1135-FN had been in effect last September, the Hampton police would have arrested Darriean Hess, or at minimum impounded the car and thus gotten Hess off the streets. Had this happened, my wife and Elise Bouchard might still be alive today.

If House Bill 1135-FN is signed into law, more lives may be spared.

Since its creation last fall, House Bill 1135-FN has come a long way. The state’s House of Representatives voted unanimously to pass the bill. The state’s Senate Transportation Committee recommended passage of the bill and the state’s full senate made the same recommendation, during a unanimous voice vote on April 17, 2014.

So what’s the roadblock? On May 6, the Senate Finance Committee passed a motion, put forward by Senator Chuck Morse, recommending the bill not be passed. Thus, the bill now goes back to the full senate for another vote.

The New Hampshire Senate Finance Committee came up with an estimated cost of $28,000, needed for the initial implementation of the bill if it were signed into law. The only cost following the initial implementation would relate to enforcement. As likely passing the bill would not lead to New Hampshire needing any additional law enforcement personnel, the cost in years following the law’s initial implementation would be negligible.

The costs, for the State of New Hampshire, incurred in the aftermath of accidents such as the one on September 21, 2013, which killed Pam Wells and Elise Bouchard and injured two other persons, are far greater than $28,000. (See details on the attached fact sheet.) The state’s overall 2014 budget is over 7 billion dollars. The expenditure of $28,000 is an increase of four ten-thousandths of a percentage of the state’s budget. How can the state let $28,000 stand in the way of saving lives?

Please help call for the New Hampshire Senate to pass House Bill 1135-FN. Anything short of its passage is unconscionable.

FACT SHEET AND CALL TO ACTION – Distributed 6/13/2014

CONTACT:
Thomas N. Rogers, Jr.
Personal contact info has been excluded for privacy reasons.

New Hampshire’s House Bill 1135-FN,
seeking to make it a misdemeanor in New Hampshire to drive without a valid license,
can save lives – for very little money.
Please call for its passage

The Legislation

House Bill 1135-FN, an act relative to penalties for driving without a license, modifies the penalties for driving a motor vehicle without a valid driver’s license or with a license that is not appropriate for the vehicle being driven.

Find the full version of House Bill 1135 on the NH General Court website at www.gencourt.state.nh.us/legislation/2014/HB1135.html.

History of the Legislation

Soon after a motor vehicle accident which killed two bicyclists and injured two others in Hampton, NH, on September 21, 2013, a bipartisan group of New Hampshire state representatives filed House Bill 1135.

The lead sponsor is State Representative Renny Cushing who lives in Hampton. The other sponsors are Rep. Muns, Rock 21; Rep. Shurtleff, Merr 11; Rep. Andrews-Ahearn, Rock 37; Rep. F. Rice, Rock 21; Rep. Emerick, Rock 21; Rep. Charron, Rock 4; and Sen. Stiles, Dist 24.

On March 6, 2014, Tom Rogers, whose wife Pam Wells was killed in the accident, traveled to Concord, NH, with his two children and a friend and testified before the House Criminal Justice Committee in favor of the State of New Hampshire changing its rules regarding penalties for driving a motor vehicle without a valid driver’s license. Jamie Sullivan, the chief of police from Hampton also testified, as did Rep. Cushing who pointed out that the state’s current penalties for driving without a valid license amounted to a major loophole in the law, which should be changed.

On March 25, after debate, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 261-45 to pass HB1135. The bill then headed to the New Hampshire Senate.

In early April, the Senate Transportation Committee recommended passage of the bill. The bill then received the same recommendation from the full Senate during a unanimous voice vote on April 17.

The bill was then turned over to the Senate Finance Committee because the committee reviews matters with a fiscal impact. This was widely seen as a formality, as the cost to implement the proposed law had been found to be insignificant.To quote the State’s document titled “HB 1135-FN – AS AMENDED BY NH HOUSE”:

The Department of Safety, Judicial Branch, Judicial Council, and New Hampshire Association of Counties state this bill, as amended by the House (Amendment #2014-0272h), will have an indeterminable impact on state revenues, and state and county expenditures in FY 2015 and each year thereafter. There will be no impact on county and local revenue, or local expenditures. (www.gencourt.state.nh.us/legislation/2014/HB1135.html)

On, May 6, the Senate Finance Committee met in executive session and voted on the bill. Invitations to the meeting were not extended to the bipartisan group of representatives that sponsored the bill.

The Senate Finance Committee came up with an anticipated cost of $28,000, for initial implementation of the proposed rule changes. Perhaps on that basis alone, Senator Chuck Morse made a motion that recommended the bill not pass.

A vote of that Senate Finance Committee was taken, and the motion passed with a vote of 3 to 2, with one member absent. On the Republican side, Senators Chuck Morse, Jeanie Forrester and Bob Odell voted in favor of the recommendation, while Democratic Senators Lou D’Allesandro and Sylvia Larsen voted against it.

In the earlier vote of the full Senate, all the senators had voted unanimously to pass the bill. As the Senate Finance Committee made its recommendation in executive session, it is not clear why the bill had become a partisan issue within the committee.

On Thursday, May 15, the New Hampshire Senate will meet and discuss the state’s Senate Finance Committee’s recommendation that House Bill 1135-FN not be passed. This recommendation will either be approved, which would effectively kill the bill, or not be approved which would pave the way for New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan to sign the bill into law.

Analysis of the Legislation’s Anticipated Financial Impacts

The current overall budget of the State of New Hampshire is over 7 billion dollars. The anticipated expenditure of $28,000 would increase the state’s budget four ten-thousandths of a percent point.

In terms of the New Hampshire state budget, $28,000 is statistically insignificant. There would be no noticeable effect on anyone’s tax bill.

$28,000 would be a one-time expense, once the legislation is passed and written into the books. There would be no continuing cost to the State of New Hampshire, other than enforcement.

The cost to the State and the town of Hampton from the motor vehicle accident on September 21, 2013, is significantly more than the $28,000 that it would cost to enact the law. Here is a recap of existing and expected costs relating to the accident:

  • There was the initial response by Hampton police, and an extensive investigation.
  • The state police were involved.
  • The two bodies had to be transported to Concord for autopsies.
  • There was the cost of two autopsies by the State medical examiner, and subsequent follow-up reports to the victims’ families, the county attorney’s office, insurance companies, etc.
  • The Rockingham County Attorney’s Office is preparing for a five-day trial, currently scheduled for November 17, 2014. They have been working on this case since October 2013, and have/will involve multiple experts to testify, all of which are paid for their time.
  • If the motorist Darriean Hess, the driver who caused the accident and killed two persons and injured two others, is incarcerated, the State will pay for that incarceration for anywhere from 10 to 40+ years.

Hess’s incarceration could cost the State of New Hampshire much more than $28,000.

In fiscal 2010, the New Hampshire Department of Corrections spent $80.3 million in prison expenses (www.vera.org/files/price-of-prisons-new-hampshire-fact-sheet.pdf).

The State incarcerates 2,114 people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Hampshire_Department_of_Corrections).

Therefore, the State appears to be spending an average of $37,985 per inmate.

  • Ten years would cost the State in excess of $400,000.
  • Twenty years would cost the State in excess of $800,000.
  • Forty years would cost the State in excess of $1,600,000.

These figures do not include inflation.

If House Bill 1135-FN had been in effect last September, the Hampton police would have arrested Darriean Hess, or at minimum impounded the car she had been driving. Had this happened, all the above costs would have been avoided.

HB1135 could also save New Hampshire money in another way. New Hampshire depends on tourism and caters to people from Massachusetts and other states who own second homes, or rent summer homes, in New Hampshire. Surely the State of New Hampshire wants to make the state safe for its tourists as well as its residents. Surely New Hampshire cares about its reputation at home and abroad.

Lori Uhmeyer (her husband Uwe was severely injured in the accident on September 21, 2013) put it best in her recent letter to Rep. Cushing in support of this legislation. Although she was born in New Hampshire, and loves to visit often, Lori Uhmeyer said:

I must admit that I am now very uncomfortable, anxious, and nervous when in a car in NH. “Live Free or Die” has a whole new meaning now.

CALL TO ACTION:

Thanks to an accident caused by a driver without a valid driver’s license, two talented women are dead.

Two talented friends have been injured, and both were out of work for months.

Two children have lost their mother. A husband has lost his mate of over 24 years.

Two sets of parents have lost their daughters. Brothers in two families have lost their sisters.

The reputation of the Granite State Wheelmen is strained after 40 years of operating the Seacoast Century Ride with hardly anything more serious than a broken bone.

The reputation of New Hampshire faces a test due to the state not having already made it a misdemeanor to drive without a valid driver’s license.

Please join in urging the New Hampshire Senate to vote down the recommendation of the Senate Finance Committee, and thus allow House Bill 1135 to become law.

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