- Associated Press - Thursday, March 12, 2015

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - New Hampshire Senators joined the House on Thursday in supporting efforts to create fetal homicide laws, which would allow charges to be brought for the death of a fetus in certain cases, excluding abortion or other medical procedures.

Thirty eight states have some type of fetal homicide law. The version passed by the Senate, largely along party lines, applies to the death of a fetus that has reached the stage of viability - when it can live outside the womb.

A House version passed Wednesday applies the law to fetuses past eight weeks of development. The two chambers will likely attempt to reconcile the bills before sending them to Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. Her office said she would listen to all points of view on an issue she said was complex and involves legal, scientific and moral considerations.

Supporters of the bill say it gives appropriate justice to families who lose an unborn child in cases of car crashes, assaults or other criminal actions. But opponents say it could lead the state down a path toward limiting abortion rights by recognizing fetal “personhood.”

Democratic Sen. David Pierce of Lebanon introduced an amendment that would have increased penalties for homicides involving a mother and fetus but would not have allowed for homicide charges when only the fetus is killed.

“Make no mistake, these enhanced penalties are severe,” Pierce said.

Republican Sen. Regina Birdsell of Hampstead said the bill should not be considered favoring either side in the abortion debate and is not an attempt to undermine abortion rights.

“This bill supports pregnant women and their unborn children from those who would do harm to them,” she said.

Among other legislative action taken Thursday:

- House members voted to repeal the state law allowing for a 25-foot protest buffer zone around facilities that provide abortions. The law went into effect last year but has not been enacted due to a U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring a similar Massachusetts law unconstitutional.

- The House tabled a bill that would have made obtaining public records under the state’s Right to Know law more expensive. Public bodies and agencies can now charge for the cost of printing records requests, but the bill would have allowed them to charge for labor costs associated with the requests as well. It is unlikely to come back this session. Senators also tabled a bill that would explicitly include the governor’s office under the Right to Know law. The chamber is likely to take up the bill during a future session and may amend it to also include legislative leaders.

- Senators voted 16-8 to ensure roughly $7 million in rate increases for nursing homes and home care facilities cannot be used for other purposes, as the Department of Health and Human Services is planning to do to help balance its budget.

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