Lawmakers propose steps to curb domestic violence

The state should keep domestic violence shelters open around the clock and require high-risk offenders to wear GPS ankle bracelets when restraining orders do not work, a group of state lawmakers recommend.

“We are really going to change some key things for domestic violence victims,” Rep. Mae Flexer, chairman of the legislature’s bi-partisan domestic violence task force, said Monday.

But it’s not clear if the legislature can afford measures like increased shelter hours in the face of significant budget deficits.

Flexer, Mae

Funding for around the clock shelters has routinely been asked for in previous years but has failed to win support. Currently only two of the state’s 16 shelters are open around the clock, but thanks to federal stimulus money five additional shelters will open 24 hours a day starting in April.

Flexer said spending an additional $3 million annually to have all the shelters open around the clock is “too critical” to ignore, but House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan (D-Meriden) could not guarantee the proposals that cost money could be funded this legislative session.

“We will continue to work on the budget and there will be discussions with the governor and the committees,” he said. “We have to take what we have right now and make it more efficient.”

Flexer said aside from extending shelter hours she believes the state could use the existing resources in place to implement the ideas.

“We were very much cognizant of the state’s fiscal situation when coming up with these recommendations and so there are actually very few that we know at this point will cost additional resources,” the Killingly Democrat said. “We have made a valid effort to provide no-cost, low-cost solutions.”

One solution is to have “high-risk” offenders paying $25 a day for the GPS ankle bracelets to fully fund the program, said Flexer. For those who could not afford the GPS, a reserve fund would be set up to pay for them.

Donovan said of the estimated 50,000 domestic violence victims in the state each year, about 90 people would be considered “high risk.”

The committee also recommended changing the speed in which shelters receive owed revenue from the marriage license surcharge. Current law does not designate a date for distribution of the owed funds and Erika Tindill, executive director for the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, says $10,000 is owed to each shelter.

“That’s real money that shelters could use now,” she said.

CCADV supports all the task force’s recommendations, which mirrored several of their proposals they revealed last month.

The other recommendations – compiled from input from victims, lawmakers and state agency staff – include implementing an already existing curriculum to teach teen dating and domestic violence in the schools and allow victims to provide domestic violence court documents in order to break leases so victims can move where an offender cannot find them.

State Judicial Department records, the report says, should include incidents from the last 10 years and from incidents out of state, versus only including an in-state, five-year history.

Task force Member Rep. Karen Jarmoc (D-Enfield) said it’s unfortunate that so many of the recommendations may be bogged down yet again because of the costs.

“Do I think we will get these things, I am not sure,” she said. “I do know this could really save the state a lot of money in the long run and help people in bad situations.”