New laws target domestic violence

In 2008, there were over 20,000 incidents of domestic violence that resulted in arrest.

This number does not begin to count or capture the stories of the victims whose struggles go unreported. Barely a week goes by without yet another horrific story about domestic violence in our communities.

We need to put a stop to this terrible crime.

The state has an obligation to prevent family violence and ensure that victims of domestic violence are receiving the help they need. Law enforcement, service providers, and educators need the tools that will empower them against the horrible crime of family and teen dating violence.

That’s why the General Assembly passed changes to domestic violence laws that are the most sweeping reforms in Connecticut in the past 25 years. Many of the changes will take effect next week, on July 1. It is about time.

Last fall, when we convened a bipartisan legislative task force to study this issue, we understood the need for protective action. We met with dozens of advocates, survivors, law enforcement officers, service providers and state agency staff working on the front lines of these issues to comprehend the depth of that need. Their input helped shape the package of recommendations aimed at making meaningful changes to the systems in place to aid victims.

The three-part legislative package we passed takes a comprehensive approach in dealing with family violence in the areas of the judicial and criminal justice systems, housing and human services issues, and education matters.

Among the most significant advances are funding to increase staffing to keep shelters open for victims and their families 24 hours a day and seven days a week, the creation of a pilot program for electronic GPS monitoring for the highest risk domestic violence offenders, and the creation of three additional domestic violence court dockets.

The legislation also improves enforcement of protective orders; enhances information sharing in family violence cases among appropriate state agencies; permits prosecutors to consider older and out of state crimes for persistent family violence offenders; and implements employment protections for family violence victims.

It was startling to learn that about 30 percent of criminal court dockets involve domestic violence. Understanding that, it was important to enhance the tools of the legal system, particularly in the area of protective orders, to reducing the incidence of domestic violence.

Other changes include a requirement that funding from the state’s marriage license surcharge is adequately distributed to domestic violence programs in a timely manner; safeguards for survivors who need to terminate their housing leases to protect their safety; and the addition of teen dating and domestic violence education to educational staff training programs.

We believed a thorough approach to the problems of domestic violence was warranted, and so we introduced legislation dealing with education, services for survivors, and issues related to the judicial and criminal justice system. We realized early on that not one simple change can be made to improve what in practice ends up being a wide-ranging system that needs to function together. The resulting package of legislation reflects that belief.

We are proud that the Connecticut General Assembly stood tall in voicing its support for the victims of domestic violence. We owe them and their families nothing less.

Speaker of the House Christopher G. Donovan (D-Meriden) created and state Representative Mae Flexer (D-Killingly, Plainfield and Sterling) chaired the legislative Task Force on Domestic Violence.

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