NH House considers Good Sam proposal
By Min Kyung Jeon
Published on Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Dartmouth slang may soon become New Hampshire slang if a bill proposed by former State Rep. Jennifer Coffey, R-Andover, becomes law.
The New Hampshire House of Representatives is debating whether to implement a Good Samaritan law that would grant civil and criminal immunity to those who call 911 for drug or alcohol-related emergencies, according to bill supporter State Rep. Joel Winters, D-Manchester.
Like the College’s current Good Samaritan policy, the proposed law would extend immunity to both the victim and caller. Winters predicts that the bill has a “50 percent chance” of passing this year.
The proposed act went before the House Judiciary Committee last Tuesday, and the committee will make an “up or down” recommendation for the passage of the bill on Wednesday.
“If the committee likes the bill, there is a high probability that the whole House will pass it,” State Rep. Bernard Benn, D-Hanover, said.
The bill has gained support from both Democrats and Republicans on the committee.
“It seemed like common sense that if people need medical attention, they should be able to get it without being concerned about legal consequences,” Winters said.
Coffey found inspiration for the bill in a June 2012 article in Governing magazine that discussed similar 911 bills enacted in a number of other states. Eight states already have laws similar to the one proposed for New Hampshire, including Illinois, Florida, Washington and Colorado.
Under the proposed act, a drug dealer who provides drugs that lead to an overdose and then calls 911 to aid the victim would be immune from any liability, according to Benn.
Some members of the committee are reluctant to lend support to the bill in its current form. Benn said that although he agrees with the bill’s basic principle, he sees flaws in the proposed legislation.
“I appreciate the fact that the bill is trying to increase the likelihood that people call 911 in medical emergencies,” Benn said. “But the problem is that the bill is offering immunity to virtually everyone.”
The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police have also voiced disapproval with the measure on the same grounds, according to the Valley News.
“It’s rather frustrating to me that the police are more concerned about arresting people with drugs than they are about saving those people’s lives,” Coffey said.
House representatives disagree over whether the positive results of the bill would outweigh the negative factors, including Rep. Lynette Peterson, R-Merrimack, who believes it would protect too many people and discourage accountability.
“I do think that the bill would benefit the people who need the calls done for them,” Peterson said. “But unfortunately, the cons outweigh the pros for me.”
On the other hand, Winters believes that saving lives is worth offering protection to those who break the law.
“Some people worry that the bill would protect drug users from prosecution,” he said. “But that seems like a very reasonable trade-off to saving human lives.”
Death from drug overdose in New Hampshire has been on the rise. Between 2002 and 2010, the number of drug-related overdose deaths more than doubled to 174 from 80, according to a report by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.
This trend indicates that the state “needs to try a different approach to help people with addiction issues," Coffey said.
Safety and Security director Harry Kinne said that he does not believe the bill would affect the College’s Good Sam policy or the Dartmouth community, because the school’s policy only pertains to Dartmouth students.
The Good Sam policy has benefited Dartmouth because it encourages to call for help without fear of disciplinary consequences. Its alcohol education component has also helped students, but Kinne said he did not know if lawmakers are considering a similar measure.
The proposed law could have a number of unintended repercussions, Hanover Police Department chief Nicholas Giaccone said. For instance, a drunk driver who had called 911 after killing a passenger in an accident would be exonerated for manslaughter.
The increase in drinking that may result from the bill could become a burden on other members of the public, Giaccone said.
As proposed, the bill would negate Weldy v. Kingston, a New Hampshire Supreme Court decision that ruled that police have the duty to arrest any underage person drinking or in contact with alcohol in anticipation of later incidents.
“Quite honestly, the bill would mean less arrests and paperwork for the police,” Giaccone said. “But on the other hand, the police could spend an inordinate amount of time investigating a case to determine whether the Good Samaritan policy would apply or not.”
Under the proposed act, underage students hospitalized for misusing drugs or alcohol would not have to face the consequences of breaking the law.
“It’s just like a revolving door — taking the same people back and forth week after week,” Giaccone said.
John Biberman ’13 said that the proposed law is relevant to Dartmouth students because it helps emphasize harm reduction. The law could improve Dartmouth students’ relationship with Hanover Police, as students would be more willing to call the police for medical emergencies.
The bill may affect Greek houses less than individual students because Greek organizations already have rules governing their relationships with the police, Biberman said.
Biberman is a former member of The Dartmouth staff.
Michael Li ’16 said he does not believe that the bill would affect students as much as it would affect others in New Hampshire, because students deal mainly with Safety and Security.