State Reps. Gerry Fox, Mae Flexer, Gov. Malloy, and Speaker Donovan at a ceremonial signing of a new law that strengthens the state’s response to domestic violence. (Contributed photo)
House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan (D-Meriden) and State Representatives Mae Flexer (D-Killingly, Plainfield, Sterling) and Gerald Fox III (D-Stamford) joined Governor Dannel P. Malloy at the State Capitol Friday for a ceremonial signing of a new law that strengthens the state’s response to domestic violence in a number of ways.
The new law (Public Act 11-152) was recommended by the Speaker’s Task Force on Domestic Violence created by Speaker Donovan in 2009 and led by Representative Flexer. The task force held a series of meetings and public hearings over the past year to find ways the state could augment domestic violence reforms enacted last year.
“Domestic violence is sometimes seen as a private problem, but it is all of our responsibility to be vigilant, to help victims to seek assistance, to promote prevention, and to advocate for changes that make domestic violence socially unacceptable. This new law goes a long way in doing just that,” said Speaker Donovan.
“We listened to what victims of domestic violence and law enforcement professionals, including prosecutors and judges, said we needed to change. This law sends an unequivocal message that violence against women is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” said Rep. Flexer.
The law expands the ability of victims who have experienced a pattern of threatening or stalking to request a restraining order, and clarifies that people of any age, including teens, can request a restraining order to protect them from a partner who has subjected them to abuse.
It also fixes a contradiction in state law that currently exempts people in dating relationships from arrest when a domestic violence crime is committed, so that police have clear authority to make such arrests.
“Stemming domestic violence is an ongoing challenge and protecting victims during each step of the judicial process is a critical component,” said Rep. Fox, House Chair of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, noting 30 percent of criminal court dockets involve domestic violence. “This year we focused on improving law enforcement and victim services, such as reducing the number of offenders that get quickly released on bond before a cooling off period.”
The task force heard concerns about a lack of timely response from law enforcement to restraining order violations. To improve response time, courts will be authorized to issue a standing post-trial criminal protective order for certain offenses against children, which will promote more timely and lawful arrests of those in violation.
The new law will also improve access to domestic violence services by requiring police officers to provide victims with information about their regional domestic violence program so they can obtain trauma-informed counseling and other emergency services.
It also will allow families of victims of domestic violence to receive restitution like that provided to families of other crime victims. It also requires offenders to surrender their firearms to police or sell them to a federally-licensed firearms dealer if the offender is barred from possessing them due to a restraining or protective order.
The law requires judicial branch staff to disclose to the state Department of Children and Families (DCF) information indicating if a defendant poses a threat to a child. It also permits judicial branch family relations counselors to disclose information about a defendant to pretrial programs to ensure they provide appropriate services and to adult probation officers to ensure appropriate sentencing.
“Not only is this the second new law strengthening our domestic violence laws, but the state budget also included funding that will allow domestic violence shelters to remain open 24 hours a day and seven days a week,” said Rep. Flexer.
This is the second new law enacted to address domestic violence issues this year. Beginning October 1, bail bond agents will be required to charge the full premium and stop the practice of “undercutting.” Undercutting occurs when bail bond agents compete for business by discounting the premium due on a bond and do not charge their clients the statutorily required amount. As a result, defendants post bond at rates lower than what the state requires and are quickly released back into the community, sometimes without any “cooling off” period.
The Task Force was also responsible for introducing and leading passage of a three-part package of reforms during the 2010 session that led to the most sweeping changes to the state’s domestic violence statutes in almost 25 years. Additional information about the task force can be found on its web site at: http://www.housedems.ct.gov/DV.