Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, along with the state Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, held a hearing Jan. 28 to discuss specific bills aimed at increasing protection for domestic violence victims.

Brown said he and his team of lawmakers, domestic violence and sexual assault advocates created a package of legislation that would ultimately curb domestic violence in the Maryland area.

“Over the last seven years, we’ve worked together to reduce domestic assaults by 20 percent, but it’s not enough until we can say that all Marylanders are safe from domestic violence,” Lt. Governor Anthony G. Brown said at the news conference. “By working together to pass legislation that makes it easier for victims to obtain final peace and protective orders, we will create a safer environment for all Marylanders. Additionally, by increasing penalties for abusers who commit acts of domestic violence in the presence of kids, we’ll send a strong message that the safety of our children is always our top priority.”

From July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012, there were 49 individuals in Maryland who died as a result of domestic violence, the lowest year for domestic violence related deaths ever recorded in the state.

Tracy Brown, executive director of the Women’s Law Center of Maryland, told the AFRO that her group “served almost 800 victims last year—2013—in our projects that represent people in the protective orders.” However, she said many victims still go without assistance.

Senate Bill 333 would modify the standard of proof required when a victim seeks to obtain a final peace order or a final protective order from “clear and convincing evidence” to “a preponderance of the evidence.” Currently, Maryland is the only state in the nation that uses the higher standard of proof for final protective orders.

Senate Bill 334 aims to amend current law and protect victims by adding second degree assault to the list of crimes for which a person can obtain a permanent final protective order, It would also require that an abuser only be sentenced to at least five years in prison, rather than actually serving five years in prison, before their victim can obtain a permanent final protective order.

Senate Bill 337 seeks to break the cycle of domestic violence by taking a targeted approach to crimes committed in the presence of a minor. In order to both discourage this behavior and hold abusers accountable, the legislation would give courts the ability to impose an enhanced penalty of up to five years, in addition to any other sentence, for crimes of violence that are both domestic and committed in the presence of a minor.

“We think it’s really important to use the resources that available to get as much protection as possible,” Tracy Brown said. “We go to court for them—with them—and advocate for them to get protection.”

“There are certainly things that can be done to improve bills,” she said. “There are laws in place that are helpful but as advocates we can continue to strengthen them to get more protection for people.”

Brown claimed that, in the time since he became active on the issue, Maryland has seen a 20 percent decrease in domestic violence assaults and a 32 percent decrease in the number of women and children that have died from domestic violence.

Blair Adams

AFRO Staff Writer