Amongst the many legislative measure considered every session by the New Hampshire General Court there are always a couple that catch my eye as being of particular significance to my immigration law clients. This year is no exception; there are two bills likely to be laws by the time this piece runs that will affect the lives of my clients and how they interact with our law office. The first of these is SB 394. The bill is part policy and part technical corrections bill. Most everyone now knows that New Hampshire recognizes same sex marriages -- but did you know that a same sex marriage solemnized in the state becomes null and void if the parties actually reside in a state that doesn’t recognize same sex couples? Senate bill 394 ends this practice of self-defeating our own marriage laws. Upon enactment, such marriages will remain legal in New Hampshire (and federally) while other states can maintain their right not to recognize the validity of the bond. While this bill is not directed towards immigrants -- I can tell you that this issue comes up quite often in the immigration context because legal residence is often a direct result of a marital relationship. We have had clients in the recent past who wished to be married in New Hampshire but who had to be directed to our neighboring New England states to avoid the very problems which SB 394 is designed to solve.
The second bill is also, at least ostensibly, not directed at the immigrant population. HB 1135 will, however, have an impact which falls hardest on the undocumented immigrant community and those in the process of legalizing their immigration status. HB 1135 changes the current law regarding operating a motor vehicle without a valid license. As it stands today, driving without a valid license is a violation of law for which a person must appear in court and, if convicted, must pay a fine. Only if a person is convicted twice within a calendar year will they be guilty of a Misdemeanor and face possible jail time.
Under HB 1135 that changes, for some. I have heard that the law is a response to the tragic deaths of two cyclists in Hampton (and serious injury to others) last year caused by an unlicensed driver. While I support the Legislature’s desire to try to prevent such occurrences I think this bill missed the mark. I don’t know whether HB 1135 would have changed what appears to have happened in the Hampton case, but it will certainly negatively affect my clients. For example, a New Hampshire resident who: merely from inattention, lack of motivation, or for some other reason fails to renew their license for up to a year and is caught driving -- is still only guilty of a violation unless it happens twice in 12 months.
However, a person who never had a New Hampshire license or has one that has expired more than a year would be arrested and could be found guilty of a Misdemeanor and jailed. Immigrants who are undocumented cannot be issued a driver’s license in New Hampshire; and those immigrants who are in the process of obtaining legal status or fighting to keep their status often can go long periods of time without the necessary documentation to obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license. Those are the people who are going to be penalized by the new law -- not persons who have had a license suspended or revoked and, for the most part, not unlicensed US citizens either.
Drew Law Office, PLLC -- Immigration Lawyers Metro Manchester NH (603) 644-3739 or www.immigrationNH.com