Bill to allow misconduct lawsuits against police officers falls short in New Hampshire House

By Christian Wade | The Center Square

The New Hampshire House of Representatives has rejected a proposal that would have allowed police officers to be sued for misconduct.

House Bill 11 would limit the “qualified immunity” protecting law enforcement officers and municipal employees from facing civil lawsuits alleging the use of excessive force and other misconduct.

The measure was rejected 184-178 during a House session on Friday, a vote that went mostly along party lines with Republicans largely opposed to the changes.

City of Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Motorcycle unit for the city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire

New Hampshire Democrats, social justice groups and others filed the proposal in response to nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by Minneapolis police officers during a routine stop last year.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Paul Berch, D-Westmoreland, called the measure a “victims rights bill” that would improve police transparency and accountability.

“It is a government accountability bill,” Berch said in remarks ahead of the vote. “It is a bill that guarantees that the citizens of our state have a right to go to state court for redress of harms done to them by the government, promptly and without delay.”

The conservative Americans for Prosperity-New Hampshire, which joined with progressive groups to support the measure, lamented its rejection, saying in a statement that the changes “would have opened an avenue to allow justice for victims and strengthened our state constitution.”

“Unfortunately, Granite Staters will continue to face the same broken status quo that fails to hold government officials accountable when they violate someone’s constitutional rights,” said Ross Connolly, the group’s deputy director.

“It is wrong government officials can use ignorance of the law as an excuse for willful violations of a person’s civil rights and we hope the Legislature can continue to work on this important issue next session,” he added.

The measure was opposed by the New Hampshire Police Association and the New Hampshire Municipal Association.

In a letter to lawmakers, more than a dozen New Hampshire mayors expressed their opposition to the proposal saying it would drive up their costs with frivolous lawsuits.

“Removing these important immunities, as well as the limits on claims, unnecessarily results in the state and municipalities being exposed to far greater liability with far greater risks of high-cost settlements and judgments,” the mayors wrote. “These costs would ultimately be borne by New Hampshire citizens and taxpayers.”

Image courtesy of City of Portsmouth, New Hampshire