Editorial - New legislation helps victims of domestic violence
One accomplishment of Minnesota's last legislative session that didn't grab a lot of headlines was a measure that will provide more protection for victims of domestic violence.
More people should know about it and those who led the bill through its passage deserve credit for standing up for victims who need more help in their corner.
The 2010 Domestic Violence Omnibus Bill, signed into law by Governor Tim Pawlenty, will take effect August 1. The bill was sponsored by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women and supported by domestic violence survivors and victim advocacy groups.
Susan Keehn, who works with victims of domestic violence through Someplace Safe of Douglas County, said the new measures are needed. "Certainly our current laws are very good in protecting and providing safety," she said. "These additional laws and changes of laws will bring even better protection."
"Domestic violence affects everyone regardless of race, income and education," said Cyndi Cook, MCBW executive director. "No one should live in fear. This legislation is a serious step toward reducing the potential for violent crimes."
Cook added that parents of domestic violence victims and survivors who testified sent a strong message that domestic violence is unacceptable. Among the 16 legislators who authored the bill was Bill Ingebrigtsten, R-Alexandria.
The legislation, according to the MCBW, addresses the following issues:
Stalking. Stalking is one of the leading indicators that an abuser's behavior may become lethal. Fifty-four percent of femicide victims reported stalking to police prior to their murders. This bill strengthens the language of the statute in order to better protect victims of domestic violence. Language has been added to the stalking bill that includes new technologies so that if a person engages in illegal communication through "any available technology," such as the Internet, text messages and assistive devices for the hearing and visually impaired, it can be considered stalking.
Tampering with a witness. The bill creates a misdemeanor level witness tampering offense that involves interference with a crime witness when there are threats, without the need to also prove coercion.
Electronic monitoring. This bill lifts the ban on the use of GPS/electronic monitoring for the protection of victims of domestic violence cases and allows for a pilot project. Now when a stalker sends a clear signal that they will strike again by violating an order of protection, law enforcement will have additional tools to use to stop them.
Orders of protection. The bill provides additional protection at a time when domestic violence victims are most vulnerable by restricting the batterer from a "reasonable area" around the victim's residence or dwelling place.
Domestic Abuse No Contact Orders (DANCOs). The bill clarifies that a DANCO is a criminal court order, not merely a condition of release and that the court can set maximum bail and issue a DANCO.
Bail increases. The bill increases the maximum bail cap on misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor domestic abuse and violation for protection offenses from six times the fine amount to 10 times the fine amount.
The consequences of domestic violence are all too real. According to a MCBW report, 28 Minnesotans were killed as a result of domestic violence in 2009. The "lethality factors" that led to more than half of the killings included the victim's attempt to separate from the batterer, the batterer's history of violence and access to firearms.
While the new law won't instantly quell the violence that pervades too many homes, it empowers the victims of violence with added safeguards and additional layers of protection.
Echo Press editorials are the position of the newspaper's editorial board, which includes Jody Hanson, publisher; Al Edenloff, editor; and news reporter Celeste Beam.