By Doug Ireland
The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.
It’s a new year and New Hampshire women have a reason to be pleased in 2015.
There are several new laws on the books that seek to improve their lives.
The laws, adopted by the Legislature last session, do everything from bolstering domestic violence regulations to making sure women receive equal pay.
They include the establishment of domestic violence as a crime and the termination of parental rights for men who rape and impregnate women.
The state’s new equal pay law targets employers who discriminate by paying women less than men doing the same job.
The law also cracks down on employers who retaliate against workers who discuss their wages while on the job.
Other laws that took effect New Year’s Day no longer consider adultery a crime in the state and make it illegal to financially exploit someone who is elderly, disabled or not able to care for themselves.
Domestic violence crackdown
Laws that did take effect Thursday are a step in the right direction toward helping women receive the protections they deserve in the 21st century, according to proponents.
“This was certainly a landmark year for domestic violence legislation,” said Amanda Grady Sexton, public policy director for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
She praised state lawmakers for taking action to protect the rights of those victimized by domestic violence.
One of the most significant new laws is Senate Bill 318, most commonly referred to as “Joshua’s Law,” she said.
The law was inspired by a 9-year-old boy killed by his father in a Manchester murder-suicide during a court-supervised visit.
It recognizes domestic violence as a crime in the state for the first time, Grady Sexton said.
Assault cases were often prosecuted in New Hampshire courts without it being fully disclosed they involved domestic violence, she said.
“They were no different than if someone was punched at a bar,” she said. “There was no way to designate the relationship in statistics.”
Fifty percent of homicides and 92 percent of murder-suicides in the state involve domestic violence, Grady Sexton said.
“It was the largest rewrite of the law that we had in two decades,” she said. “We think this bill has the ability to save lives.”
Grady Sexton also praised the adoption of Senate Bill 253, which terminates the parental rights of rapists.
“Rape is the most underreported crime in the state,” Grady Sexton said. “Only 3 percent result in criminal convictions.”
That makes it difficult for rape victims to challenge a man unwilling to relinquish his parental rights, opening the door for further domestic abuse, she said.
Women now have the right to a fact-finding hearing to present their case; previously, the man had to be convicted of rape before a judge could determine if his parental rights should be revoked.
New Hampshire is now the 27th state to adopt such a law, Grady Sexton said.
Among the new law’s supporters is co-sponsor Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry.
Carson said lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, are taking a pro-active approach to protecting the rights of New Hampshire women.
The domestic violence bills passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan were a significant accomplishment last session, Carson said.
“I think they are very important because New Hampshire took a big step forward in recognizing these are serious crimes,” she said. “I’m pleased we were able to pass this legislation.”
Another significant step in improving the lives of New Hampshire women was the adoption of the equal pay law, according to Jennifer Alford-Teaster.
Alford-Teaster was a board member for the New Hampshire Women’s Initiative, which recently became the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation.
NHWI joined the Gender Research Institute of Dartmouth and the Women’s Fund of New Hampshire in studying pay equity in the state.
“Some people are surprised it’s still an issue,” she said.
Their report, released last fall, showed New Hampshire ranked behind many states in ensuring women receive equal pay, she said.
That’s why the new law is a boon for the Granite State, she said.
More than 300 people voiced their opinions on various issue during dozens of “listening sessions” across the state, she said.
“Of the listening sessions we did, equal pay was the No. 1 issue,” Alford-Teaster said.
Ensuring women receive equal pay is a positive step for the state to take, especially since statistics show approximately 40 percent of women are the “bread winners” in households, she said.
“It just doesn’t affect women, it affects families,” Alford-Teaster said.
Adultery no longer a crime
New Hampshire lawmakers also succeeded in ending a centuries-old law that made it a crime to commit adultery. The law had not been enforced in more than a decade, according to the state’s Judicial Branch.
It was a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,200 fine. Twenty other states have laws making adultery a crime.
The law was sponsored by Rep. Timothy, R-Manchester.
“I don’t think there’s any appetite in New Hampshire to use police powers to enforce a marriage,” O’Flaherty told fellow lawmakers.