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New Hampshire archives

January 31, 2008

Lawmakers: Public urination shouldn't lead to sex offender status

KINGSTON - Starting next year, urinating in public could land you on the sex offender registry.

But two state lawmakers are trying to make sure that doesn't happen.

"People who are caught in a situation of public urination, as part of the complaint they're charged with indecent exposure," said Rep. David Welch, R-Kingston.

This year, that isn't a problem. But starting next year, when New Hampshire complies with a new federal law, anyone convicted of two indecent exposure charges within three years will have to register as a sex offender.

Welch and Rep. Stephen Shurtleff, D-Penacook, think that's wrong.

"I know there are many homeless people in New Hampshire," Shurtleff said. "There are older people with medical conditions ... and also young people may have too much to drink in a bar."

While there should be a law against public urination, he said, the penalty should fit the crime.

Sex offenders must live with numerous restrictions: they're not allowed to live near schools, they often can't coach youth sports, and they're not allowed to stay in homeless shelters, Shurtleff said.

Beyond that, a number of people have been forced, at one time or another, to relieve themselves outdoors, Welch said.

"I don't think it's a major crime wave," he said. "I think what happens is, in most cases, these things happen if the individual might have a medical reason, he just can't help himself; hunters, there's no bathroom in the woods."

That's why the two lawmakers have offered a different law - one that prohibits public urination. Violating the law would result in a violation - a fine that wouldn't leave a permanent criminal record.

Shurtleff had originally recommended a Class B misdemeanor charge, which would leave a permanent criminal record. But he said Welch convinced him the violation charge is preferable.

The issue came up when the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 was passed. A federal law, the Child Protection Act means states will have to start treating indecent exposure cases differently.

Shurtleff is on the committee tasked with aligning the new federal requirements with their New Hampshire law. When he realized that public urination - which is typically punished by a fine - could land someone on a sex offender registry, he proposed a bill to change that rule, House Bill 1294. He expects the bill to be taken up sometime next week.

Kingston police Chief Donald Briggs said these charges are pretty rare, anyway.

"We have a few incidents a year referencing indecent exposure," he said, but doubted there are more than two or three instances over a 12-month period.

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