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Legislature Sends Domestic Violence Bill to Governor

August 1, 2014

Bill protects victims and works to prevent future acts of domestic violence

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The Senate and House on Thursday passed final domestic violence legislation, which creates new criminal offenses and elevated penalties, boosts prevention efforts, seeks to empower victims and establishes new employment rights, Senator Karen Spilka announced. Senator Spilka was the lead Senate negotiator on the conference committee working out differences between House and Senate versions of the legislation.

“Too many people in our communities are victims of terrible acts of domestic violence. This bill takes very important steps to improve protections for these victims and increase penalties for perpetrators,” Senator Spilka said. “With these reforms, we are ensuring that victims receive the services, support and compassion they deserve, and we are helping to prevent future cases of violence and abuse.”

This legislation establishes a first offense domestic assault and battery charge. Current law includes penalties for subsequent offenses but fails to include a first offense, making the statute unenforceable.

The bill also creates a specific felony charge of strangulation and suffocation, actions that statistically indicate an abuser is more likely to commit domestic violence related homicide in the future, and establishes increasingly strong penalties when the action results in serious bodily harm or is committed against a pregnant woman.

The bill provides enhanced resources to help balance prevention and punishment. It standardizes records, mandating that they are shared by law enforcement and courts at all levels and across jurisdictions. These provisions ensure that key decision-makers have the most accurate information and access to an offender’s complete history when making decisions that impact a victim’s safety. To protect a victim’s confidentiality and track and identify high-risk cases, the legislation requires that police log entries related to domestic violence are kept in a separate log.

The bill abolishes the antiquated practice of allowing accord and satisfaction, a practice in which parties agree to a private financial settlement. Victims often feel pressure from their abuser to reconcile and are not emotionally able to resist their demands making this provision inappropriate for domestic violence related offenses.

In an effort to consistently improve prevention efforts the legislation establishes enhanced training programs for police, district attorneys and court and medical personnel. It creates Domestic Fatality Review Teams to investigate domestic violence related fatalities and help officials understand any shortcomings present in current protocol.

The bill also includes the following provisions:

  • Delays bail for offenders to provide the victim with time for safety planning and authorizes the revocation of bail in certain cases;
  • Establishes fees for domestic violence offenses. These will be invested in the newly created Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance fund;
  • Broadens court authorization related to custody and support orders;
  • Increases penalties for subsequent restraining order violations to up to 5 years in state prison or up to 2 1/2 in a house of correction. Under current law, penalties are limited to a fine of up to $5,000 or up to 2 1/2 years in a house of correction, or both; and,
  • Requires law enforcement agencies to provide information on batterer’s intervention to defendants when serving them with a Chapter 209A restraining order.

The bill takes steps to help victims recover and continue to make a living by requiring employers with 50 or more employees to allow up to 15 days of leave, with or without pay, to any employee who is a victim of domestic violence or lives with a family member who is a victim of domestic violence. Employees can use the leave to obtain medical attention, counseling, housing, protection orders and other legal assistance. Employers can require employees to provide official documentation to certify that the employee or employee’s family member is a victim of domestic violence. Under this bill, all information about the employee’s leave must be kept confidential. In addition, employees must exhaust all available leave, such as vacation and sick time, before seeking leave established under this bill; however an employer may waive this requirement.

The legislation also promotes innovative approaches such as multi-disciplinary high risk teams and grants program to provide assistance to victims of domestic violence.

The bill now goes to the Governor for his final approval.

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