Vulnerable Senate Democrat Has Been Long-Time Supporter of Raising Threshold on Felony Theft

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Posted: Dec 09, 2021 6:15 PM
Vulnerable Senate Democrat Has Been Long-Time Supporter of Raising Threshold on Felony Theft

Source: AP Photo/Alex Brandon

The country is reeling from smash-and-grab crime sprees, some of which have even turned deadly, particularly in California. Progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Chicago's Mayor Lori Lightfoot have dismissed concerns. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, during last Thursday's press briefing, blamed the rise on the pandemic. There's also blame with so-called moderate Democrats, though, and has been for decades, specifically when it comes to Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH), a vulnerable Democrat up for re-election in 2022.

In 2009, Hassan was serving in the New Hampshire State Senate, representing the 23rd district. She was a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 205, which raised the threshold of felony theft. John DiStaso highlighted a slew of warnings from retailers in an article for The Union Leader from April 22, 2009.

As DiStaso wrote [emphasis mine]: 

The threshold in New Hampshire would be raised from $500 to $1,750, making it one of the highest Class B thresholds in the country.

Senate Bill 205 would also increase the threshold for Class A felonies from $1,000 to $3,500.

Representatives from JCPenney, the GAP, Macy's, Wal-Mart, CVS Pharmacy and others told members of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee that the current recession is the worst time to make it easier for shoplifters, who often work in organized retail crime groups, to ply their trade without fear of being charged with felonies and face time in prison.

"Organized retail crime groups consider misdemeanors a cost of doing business," James Mansour of Target told the committee.

Passing such a bill during a recession, when retailers are hurting, "is the worst time to be doing something to hurt retailers even more," said Nancy Kyle, president of the Retail Merchants Association of New Hampshire.

The bill, which passed the state Senate on a voice vote on April 8, calls for the first increase in the threshold for felonies in 27 years.

Its sponsor, Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-Exeter, told the House committee the bill "lessens the burden" on law enforcement and the courts and calls for "more proportional punishment" in keeping with the times.

A December 3 report from Michael Corkery and Sapna Maheshwari of The New York Times, "Thefts, Always an Issue for Retailers, Become More Brazen," details how the situation has worsened. Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Association, is quoted as saying, "This level of violence has taken it to a whole new level," and even that "No one has seen this before."

As the report mentioned: 

The rise in thefts comes as punishments for retail theft have been broadly eased over the past decade.

Since 2005, 30 states have increased the dollar threshold for theft offenses, which effectively means that fewer people are going to jail for smaller thefts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. More than half the states now have a felony theft threshold of $1,000 or more.

The theft laws were changed to help reduce incarceration rates across the country, and some studies have found that the lower penalties have not led to more crime. And many of the most brazen crimes committed around Thanksgiving far exceeded the $1,000 threshold.

Still, the thefts are being politicized, with some leaders saying they show the failure of decriminalization efforts. Others worry that the recent crimes could be used as a pretext to ratchet up penalties and incarceration rates again.

The report also called to mind the riots and looting from 2020: 

Some recent robberies — in which large groups rush into a store, overwhelm employees and flee in cars before the police can respond — recall the looting that occurred across the country amid protests after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. At that time, people took advantage of police departments stretched by the protests and ransacked hundreds of stores, including the Macy’s in Herald Square and many smaller retailers, causing millions of dollars in damage.

When it comes to the rioting and looting from last year, Sen. Hassan joined other Democrats in co-sponsoring a concurrent resolution "condemn[ing]" then-President Donald Trump.  

"A concurrent resolution expressing the sense of Congress that the constitutional rights of Americans to peaceably assemble, exercise freedom of speech, and petition the Government for redress of grievances must be respected; that violence and looting are unlawful, unacceptable, and contrary to the purpose of peaceful protests; and that Congress condemns the President of the United States for ordering Federal officers to use gas and rubber bullets against the Americans who were peaceably protesting in Lafayette Square in Washington, DC on the night of June 1, 2020, thereby violating the constitutional rights of those peaceful protestors," the text read. 

Further, during an August 6, 2020, hearing about the Portland protests, Sen. Hassan declared it was "critical that [DHS personnel] take all possible steps to try to de-escalate any confrontations, both to protect themselves and others."

Speaking of trying to "de-escalate any confrontations," a local TV news crew's security guard, Kevin Nishita, was fatally shot during a robbery last month. He died on November 27. 

TW Arrighi, the national press secretary for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), provided a statement for Townhall highlighting how this is a pattern for Hassan. 

"Maggie Hassan's abysmal record on law-and-order isn’t new – it dates back to her days in the New Hampshire state senate. She supported the very policies that have spurred the wave of looting in California and in major cities across the East Coast that is going unpunished. She believes thieves deserve a break, not the small business owners and their employees who are having their livelihoods threatened," he said. "Hassan and her liberal allies’ weak stance on law-and-order has caused our nation’s current crime spree and Granite Staters will hold her accountable."

At one point it seemed possible that Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH) would run against Hassan. Polls with hypothetical matchups even showed him with a lead, but the governor announced last month he would not seek the Senate seat. Instead, he'll be running for re-election.