CONCORD, N.H. -- New Hampshire's House voted Wednesday to give preliminary approval to treating 17-year-olds accused of crimes as juveniles instead of as adults.
The House voted 324-17 to approve the change and send the bill to the Finance Committee for further review before taking a final vote. There was no debate on the bill.
Forty other states and the federal government treat the youths as juveniles. New Hampshire lowered its age from 18 to 17 in 1996 and attempts to raise it have failed over the years.
Supporters argue the teens are still of an age when they can be rehabilitated if sent to the state reformatory instead of prison.
But the state's police chiefs argue the teens should be held accountable.
Raising the age would mean that crimes committed by 17-year-olds no longer would become part of an adult criminal record. Prosecutors would retain the right to ask a judge to certify a 17-year-old as an adult for major crimes.
New Hampshire lowered the age from 18 in 1996 in response to arguments that criminals in Massachusetts were sending 17-year-olds into New Hampshire carrying drugs. If the Massachusetts teens were caught in New Hampshire, they were put through the juvenile system.
In the past decade, the national trend has been to increase the age and send 17-year-olds through the juvenile system, according to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures titled "Trends in Juvenile Justice State Legislation 2001-2011."
Massachusetts is among the states to raise its age recently. Gov. Deval Patrick signed a law in September raising the age to 18. Massachusetts' law change removes the original motivating force behind New Hampshire's 1996 law.
An amendment to the bill made the change effective July 1, 2015, to give lawmakers time to account for any costs associated with the population shift from the prison to reformatory.