Standing up to domestic violence

Since 1987, our nation has observed October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Recent headlines have reminded all of us what a terrible scourge on our society domestic violence continues to be. Domestic violence is a crime that rips apart the very fabric of families. It can afflict every segment of society and knows no economic, ethnic or geographic boundaries.

I have been a strong voice against domestic violence and have worked to enact laws that combat this crime here in New York State. Over the years, several measures have been adopted to help innocent victims, provide police and prosecutors with the tools they need to arrest and convict those who commit such heinous acts, and to increase the penalties imposed on the offenders.

In 2012, a landmark law was enacted which includes several important provisions:

Establishing within the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence a domestic violence fatality review team to examine factors involved in domestic violence homicides and suicides and make recommendations;

Expanding factors courts must consider when determining recognizance or bail for domestic violence crimes. The court must consider and take into account any prior violations of orders of protection and the defendant’s history of use or possession of a firearm;

Prohibiting a person who was served with an order of protection or arrested or charged in the death of a decedent from controlling the person’s remains;

Creating a new crime of aggravated family offense committed when one commits a “specified offense” and has been convicted of one or more such offenses within the immediately preceding five years. Aggravated family offense is a class E felony. The victim does not have to be the same person or member of the same family or household;

Among the crimes considered to be a "specified offense" are the following: assault; menacing; reckless endangerment; stalking; strangulation; manslaughter; murder; sexual misconduct; rape; sexual abuse; unlawful imprisonment; burglary; predatory sexual assault of a child; and harassment;

Increasing the crime of harassment from a violation to a class A misdemeanor, where the defendant and victim are members of the same family or household;

Allowing a victim of domestic violence to request an alternative mailing address, telephone number or other contact information to receive specific health claim and billing information.

While we have strengthened New York State’s domestic violence laws, additional measures are still needed. This year, after passing the senate on previous occasions, two vital bills have passed both houses and will be sent to the governor for his consideration.

Senate bill 5 would prohibit discrimination against domestic violence victims in housing, and, under the provisions of the bill, a violation of this prohibition would be a misdemeanor. The legislation also allows the option of a civil action for a violation of the prohibition.

Senate bill 6 would allow domestic violence victims to electronically file for orders of protection. The legislation creates a pilot program to allow domestic violence victims to seek temporary orders of protection through electronic means rather than having to appear in person. The bill also requires the Office of Court Administration to review and update their policies and services for all crime victims in the courts to make sure that their needs are being met so victims are truly protected.

One additional measure that has passed the senate five consecutive years, but has failed to even be voted on by the state assembly is known as the Domestic Violence Protection Act - Brittany’s Law. The legislation (senate bill 513) would establish a statewide violent felony offender and is intended to increase the safety of all New Yorkers by providing access to the list of convicted violent offenders.

By toughening our laws -- and continuing to increase public awareness -- we will better protect victims of domestic violence, while also bringing perpetrators of this terrible crime to justice.

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