CONCORD — Three comprehensive omnibus bills, have been officially signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu in what has been an unprecedented and remarkable year for survivor-centered, and trauma-informed legislation. The passage of these bills is of particular importance as the state strives to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, which has profoundly impacted the experiences of survivors throughout New Hampshire.
“We are thrilled to see the passage of these bills into law and are grateful for the leadership of Gov. Sununu as well as for the work of N.H. state legislators, survivors, and allies who saw this legislation through to the finish line during this truly unpredictable session.” said Amanda Grady Sexton, director of public affairs for the N.H. Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence. “This legislation could not be timelier. Expanding vital protections, services, and support, especially amidst this global pandemic, will improve the lives of survivors, who are under incredible pressure and danger due to the fallout of COVID-19.”
Through HB705, survivors of sexual assault and incest will no longer be restricted to arbitrary timeframes when it comes to seeking justice and bringing forth a civil claim, as the bill eliminates the civil statute of limitations. The bill also updates New Hampshire’s sexual assault statute by making it illegal for a spouse to sexually assault their partner and ensures that all individuals are protected against sexual violence under the law.
The legislation also updates the statutory Victim Bill of Rights for the first time since 2010, which will now provide statutory rights to the victims of a misdemeanor sexual assault, increase the total recovery amount a survivor can receive under the Victims’ Compensation Fund, and establish a committee to study the needs of crime victims.
Additionally, the bill bans the sale of so called “Do-It-Yourself” rape test kits, preventing companies from selling misleading products to survivors, and protecting their right to free medical care after an assault, as well as free evidence collection should they choose. This aligns with the best practices established by Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners and the protocols established by the Department of Justice to ensure that survivors of sexual assault receive a certain standard of care and have access to critical services and support networks.
Lastly, the bill will establish laws to address sexual assault on college campuses that are aimed at strengthening support and resources for survivors, including offering confidential advising services; preventing victims from being punished for reporting a case of sexual violence; collecting accurate data about sexual violence prevalence on college campuses; and increasing evidence-based training on prevention and response for students and staff.
The passage of HB1645 will help prevent and deter domestic violence by extending the waiting period for violent offenders to petition for annulment of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense. This will ensure that convicted perpetrators are not allowed to quickly erase their criminal histories, as those histories are indicative of a pattern of abuse and can show the lethality risk for victims, their children, and the public at large.
Finally, HB1240 closes the so-called “Howie Leung” loophole, preventing any adults in position of authority from abusing the youth in their care. This bill also creates an additional revenue stream for the Domestic Violence Prevention Program, helping crisis centers provide critical, life-saving care across New Hampshire.