Bare breasts could result in long prison sentences

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

CONCORD — To free or not to free the female nipple came before a public hearing Monday morning of the New Hampshire House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee in the form of House Bill 1525-FN.
The bill, which would make exposure of the female nipple a misdemeanor, is sponsored by Belknap County representatives Brian Gallagher, R-Tilton and Sanbornton, Rep. Peter Spanos, R-Laconia and Rep. George Hurt, R-Gilford and Meredith and seeks to criminalize the exposure of the female breast in public with the exception of breastfeeding.
Gallagher and Spanos both said in their testimony that they were responding to a number of constituent complaints in the wake of two women being cited for violating the Gilford Town Beach ordinance on Sept. 6, 2015.
The case against Heidi Lilley of Gilford and Barbara MacKinnon was dismissed by 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division Judge Jim Carroll who said that since it is not illegal in the state criminal code and therefore Gilford's ordinance is unenforceable.
Gallagher is the lead sponsor and he testified that "there are moms and dads who live in New Hampshire with young children, as well as grandparents with grandchildren who struggle with this public conduct and (evolutionary) challenge to family values."
He said that men and women are psychologically and physically different and this goes back to "the beginning of time." Gallagher also said he feared female toplessness would be a trend, a slippery slope that could lead to unintended consequences.
"To allow topless sunbathing creates a precedent," said Spanos during his testimony. He said the goal is not to go back in a time machine but to make people know that it's something "we" don't want to see.
Hurt did not attend.
Members of the committee had a number of questions for Gallagher and Spanos, including what activities topless sunbathing would lead to. Spanos said Europeans have their own way and "New Hampshire has different standards."
"Once the genie is out of the bottle, we can't go back," Spanos said.
Although Laconia and Gilford are two of the few, if any other, municipalities in New Hampshire that have an ordinance preventing toplessness for women, no one from either community was at the hearing to defend their ordinances except Spanos.
There were, however, a number of people, including Lilley, McKinnon and their attorney, Daniel Hynes, who were there to speak against Gallagher's bill.
Hynes told committee members that if they were to recommend this bill for passage they would be "criminalizing being female." He said the only way this is enforceable under the equal protection clause in both federal and state constitutions and the free speech amendments is for the state to make toplessness for men unlawful as well.
When asked by the committee's ranking Democrat Laura Pantelakos, D-Portsmouth, what they should do if a majority of people at the beach don't want topless women there, Hynes responded by saying the First Amendment doesn't address majorities.
Gilles Bissonette of the New Hampshire American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said if going topless at the beach is made a criminal offense, by law a second offense would constitute a Class B felony that can be punishable by up to seven years in jail and the offender would have to register as a sex offender for life.
He said toplessness is considered free speech in that it is conduct that conveys a message, is against gender equality, and is overbroad as there is no harm. He said that amending the criminal code makes female political speech for toplessness a sex offender statute.
When Rep. John Burt, R-Hillborough, asked about Carroll's ruling that banning topless women was constitutional, Bissonette said that while he has the utmost respect for Carroll, in this case he thinks the ruling was wrong.
Others said that banning toplessness for women and not men is hypocritical because the state is contemplating banning something for women only and yet preaching to the Muslim countries in parts of the Middle East that the burka or hijab is discriminatory.
One man testified that he is more offended by people brandishing their weapons in public than he is by topless females at the beach.
Lilley said HB 1525 is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. She said that children don't even notice these things.
"They look and go about their business," she said.
Lilley also said she has heard that women being topless at the beach leads to rape.
"Rape happens," she said, adding that she had been assaulted twice as a young child and both times she had on clothes.
She said rape is about power and urged them not to take women's powers and make them worse.
Others, men and women, said it is discriminatory.
"I have the right to be where a man can be," said Keri Barnes, who said she is a grandmother, a mother, a daughter, a wife and a sister.
Barnes said she had been all over the state and gone topless but the only bad encounter she had was in Gilford. She said she was also abused as a 6-year-old and didn't even have breasts and this was no time to criminalize the female breast.
"We are not lunatics or radicals," she said, noting that the legislators they should not be alarmed by the human form at their ages.
Testimony ended after two hours. When Gallagher was asked if he would consider amending his bill to include men as well as women, he said he would have to think about it.
The committee will meet in an executive session and determine the fate of HB 1525-FN within the next two weeks.

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Gilford, Laconia advance to Division III girls tournament semifinals

Second-seed Gilford and fourth-seeded Laconia advanced to the semifinals of the Division III girls' state tournament by virtue of wins on their home courts Saturday night.
Undefeated Gilford (20-0) knocked off 10th ranked Monadnock 52-40 and will face sixth ranked Fall Mountain (17-3) Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at Southern New Hampshire University.
Laconia (17-3) downed 12th ranked Campbell (11-9) by a 53-39 score Saturday night and will face top-ranked Conant (20-0), the defending division champions, Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at Southern New Hampshire University.
Cassidy Bartlett, a senior point guard, scored 21 points to lead the Golden Eagles past Monadnock. Stevie Orton had nine points along with 13 rebounds and Brooke Beaudet also tallied nine.
The Golden Eagles entered the fourth period with a 32-26 lead and pulled away for the win thanks in part to back-to-back three pointers by Beaudet.
The Sachems led by 21-17 at the half and extended it 39-30 entering the final period. Kailey Nute led all scorers with 16 points, 13 of which came in the third period. Helen Tautkus added 12 and Cali Swormstedt had 9.
The winners on Wednesday will meet at 4 p.m. Saturday for the championship at Southern New Hampshire University.

– Roger Amsden

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Stand Up Laconia explores root causes for drug abuse among the young

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Stand-Up Laconia this week held the second of three workshops in preparation for applying for a federal grant of $125,000 for five years awarded to community coalitions by the Drug-Free Communities Program.
The workshops are part of a process of prioritizing the drugs presenting the most severe risks to young people between the ages of 12 and 18 as well as determining the local conditions that lend them appeal and developing strategies to curb their use.
At the first workshop earlier this month participants chose alcohol, heroin, marijuana and prescription medications as their highest priorities. The grant competition requires that prescription medications be included on the list. The workshop this week was intended to identify the root causes of drug use among the young.
The group ranked the drugs in order of priority based on the results of surveys taken at Laconia High School and other schools in the Lakes Region, which asked students to rate the risk of using different drugs and to report how often they used different drugs. Students at Laconia High School reported that they perceived the risks of smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and abusing prescription medications much greater than smoking marijuana. And while upwards of 80 percent of students said they had never smoked a cigarette or misused a prescription medication, nearly half had drunk alcohol and 60 percent had smoked marijuana.
Mike Persson, who hosted the workshop, said that persistent messages about the dangers to health posed by smoking appear to be have been very effective in reducing smoking among teenagers while there has been very little comparable messaging about the risks associated with marijuana. He suggested that attitudes about marijuana may also be affected by the ongoing debate about decriminalizing or legalizing its use.
Persson said that students appear to appreciate the risks of abusing prescription medications. Although misuse of prescription medications is more prevalent among an older demographic, he pointed out that prescription medications frequently serve as the "gateway" to heroin, which presents a need for education and prevention among the young.
Among the local conditions leading to substance abuse, Persson said the group discussed the the importance of parenting skills and parental involvement and oversight in the lives of young people. At the same time, he said there were suggestions the community could offer more activities to engage the energy and talents of its teenagers.
Persson said in anticipation of the third and final workshop, at which strategies for preventing and reducing substance abuse will be developed, Stand-Up Laconia intends to broaden participation, in particular by including more young people and recovering addicts in the conversation.
The last workshop will be held in March in anticipation of submitting the grant application by March 18.

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