Bills target domestic violence
Over the past 10 years, more than 1,600 people have died in domestic violence-related incidents in Pennsylvania.
On Tuesday, state senators and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence stepped up to defend victims of abuse.
The coalition and senators unveiled four pieces of proposed legislation aimed at curbing domestic violence and better protecting its victims by strengthening the state’s Protection from Abuse Act.
The bills were introduced in Harrisburg by Sens. Camera C. Bartolotta, R-Beaver/Washington/Greene counties; Thomas H. Killion, R-Chester/Delaware;Thomas J. McGarrigle, R-Chester/Delaware; andRandy Vulakovich, R-Allegheny.
“Every day, victims of domestic abuse are seeking protection from abusers. Yet we continue to experience a senseless loss of life,” Killion said. “These bills are intended to strengthen our Protection From Abuse Act to provide greater safety for victims and communities.”
Last year, Pennsylvania helped more than 89,000 victims of domestic violence, he said.
The proposals embrace the recommendations of the bipartisan Joint State Government Commission staff study on protection orders in the state, and aligns with the coalition’s priorities of victims, their children and the community safer.
The numbers of deaths highlight the need for firearms restrictions contained in one bill.
According to the coalition, of the 102 people killed last year in domestic violence incidents in Pennsylvania, 56 percent of the victims were shot, according to the 2016 Fatality Report released March 15 by the coalition.
“For the sixth straight year, firearms accounted for more than half of all fatalities,” the report states.
In addition, two police officers died responding to domestic violence incidents.
The coalition worked with Killion to draft SB 501, which, among other provisions, would require convicted abusers/defendants subject to active protection orders to promptly surrender firearms and other weapons.
It also would make it tougher for abusers to get weapons once they have been turned in by ensuring they are turned over to law enforcement or licensed firearms dealers.
The measure also would require abusers subject to lifetime gun prohibition to relinquish firearms within 24 hours following a conviction for specified domestic violence crimes.
Bartolotta introduced Tierne’s Law, SB 449, which would clarify that district judges may use a risk assessment tool to determine whether a defendant poses a danger to a victim when setting bail in domestic violence cases.
“My bill is based on one simple premise — the more information we make available to judges, the better the chances they can protect victims who are still in danger,” Bartolotta said. “That adds up to more assaults prevented, and more lives saved.”
The bill is named in honor of Tierne Ewing, a Washington County resident who was kidnapped and murdered by her estranged husband in August 2016.
McGarrigle’s bill, SB 502, would allow the court to extend the terms of an existing order or issue a new order in certain circumstances.
“My bill recognizes that just because an abuser has been incarcerated doesn’t mean the threat has ended,” he said.
Some abusers will again target their victims upon release.
“A victim of abuse is left with no recourse in this situation is a victim who has not received justice,” McGarrigle said.
Vulakovich, who worked 27 years in law enforcement, said “Protection From Abuse Orders can literally be the difference between life or death for abuse victims.”
His bill, SB 500, would make protection available to a victim; and that someone would go with the victim to her or his home before or while the petition and orders are being served.
The news conference Tuesday also included remarks from Ellen Kramer, Deputy Director for the Coalition, and from Tom Gross of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association.