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  • Volume 8 | Summer 2007

legislative updates

The following are summaries of new or pending statutes, regulations or other significant policy involving domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and/or stalking that we hope will be useful to practitioners. If you know of legislation that you would like to be included in future newsletters please send them to Rebecca Henry at Rebecca.Henry@americanbar.org.

The National Domestic Violence Volunteer Attorney Network Act (S.1515)

Introduced by Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) and Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) in May 2007, the National Domestic Violence Volunteer Attorney Network Act would harness the skills, enthusiasm and dedication of volunteer lawyers to provide desperately needed legal assistance to domestic violence victims.

There are five components of the bill:

  1. Create a National Domestic Violence Volunteer Attorney Network to be managed by the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence
  2. Connect domestic violence victims with legal assistance via the National Domestic Violence Hotline
  3. Create a pilot program and national rollout of the National Domestic Violence Volunteer Attorney Network and Referral Project
  4. Establish a Domestic Violence Legal Advisory Task Force
  5. Require the Government Accounting Office to study existing legal services available to battered women and report back to Congress within a year.

The ABA strongly supports this key piece of legislation and encourages others to submit letters of support to your Senators requesting them to cosponsor this important bill. Please visit our website to see our letter of support and other information.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Releases U Visa Regulations

Source: NNEVIW

On September 5, 2007, the Department of Homeland Security released interim regulations on the U visa, thus making immigrant crime victims immediately eligible for the U visa. Advocates have been working for seven years for release of these vital regulations to protect the rights of immigrant women who are victims of crime in the United States and who, without the protection of the U visa, are less likely to report the crimes against them.

Created as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act, the U visa is an immigration status available to crime victims who are helpful in the investigation or prosecution of a crime. In order to qualify, an undocumented immigrant must also prove that he or she suffered from physical or mental abuse as a result of the crime. U visas also create a path to lawful permanent residence, which is commonly known as a Green Card. This visa will allow undocumented immigrants to feel safer in coming forward to report and testify about crimes because they will no longer fear deportation, and they will be able to work lawfully. It will improve the effectiveness of law enforcement in investigating and prosecuting crimes, enhancing public safety throughout the country.

Although Congress passed a law in 2000 that recognizes the role immigrants can play in improving public safety, that law has not been enforceable, until now, in the absence of regulations to implement the visa. The Immigrant Women Program of Legal Momentum estimates that 8,000 immigrants and their children have applied for and received interim relief, but many more waited for the regulations. In addition to keeping thousands of crime victims from reporting the crimes, this seven-year delay imposed huge burdens on eligible immigrants who would have, by now, received their Green Cards. In addition to being prevented from leaving the United States to see family, and from receiving critical benefits, they were required to pay annual filing fees to renew work authorization.

A pdf containing the full text of the regulations can be found here. Additional information from the National Network to End Violence Against Immigrant Women can be found in a pdf here.

US House of Representatives: Cruise Ship Safety Resolution

Source: Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network

In 2007, over 12 million Americans will travel on cruise lines. While most simply have a great time, in recent years, the media has reported a number of high profile cases of passengers falling overboard, passengers gone missing and passengers being raped and sexually assaulted. Sadly, many of these cases remain unresolved. Worse yet is many cases go unreported because there is no industry reporting mechanism.

Congress has been holding hearings on this important issue during this session. On September 17, 2007, the House introduced a resolution to formally acknowledge this ongoing problem and to ensure that Americans are informed, aware and safe.

The resolution acknowledges:

  • The lack of federal regulation overseeing crime reporting by the cruise industry;
  • The absence of law enforcement officials on ocean voyages;
  • That without a law enforcement official, cruise officials are essentially responsible for collection and preserving a crime scene;
  • Most cruise ships are registered under the laws of another country;
  • Perpetrators of sexual violence and other violent crimes on cruise ships are rarely brought to justice;
  • Consumers who book a cruise generally do not receive information at the point of sale about their legal rights as a cruise passenger and who to contact for help in the event a crime occurs during their voyage.

And resolves that:

  • Americans who are victims of crime on a cruise ship should have access to justice and necessary steps should be taken to ensure that the perpetrators of such crimes are brought to justice;
  • The cruise industry should provide comprehensive information to passengers about security risks and maintain necessary security personnel on each ship; and
  • Congress should provide oversight to ensure the safety and security of American passengers.

Download the entire Crimes on Cruise Ship Resolution.

Connecticut: Protection of Pets in Domestic Violence Cases

Source: Connecticut Governor’s Office

On June 20, 2007, Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell signed An Act Concerning the Protection of Pets in Domestic Violence Cases ( SB 284) into law. The new law, effective October 1, 2007, permits courts to issue orders of protection for animals owned or kept by victims of family violence, stalking, or harassment. The orders may, at a minimum, prohibit respondents or defendants from injuring or threatening to injure the animals. In family violence cases, the order may be a civil restraining or criminal protective order.

Research shows that pet abuse is a predictor of domestic violence, and paying attention to pet abuse can save human lives. The Governor noted that studies show that up to 71 percent of battered women report their pet was threatened, harmed, or killed by their partners. A national survey found that 85 percent of women's shelters indicated that women seeking safety described incidents of pet abuse in their families.

Delaware: Including Dating Violence and Same-Sex Violence
in Protection Orders

Source: Delaware Governor’s Office

Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner signed legislation that amends the definition of parties considered protected under Delaware’s domestic violence statute. ( SB 57) The bill expands the definition to include victims formerly or currently involved in substantive dating relationships with their abusers.

The previous Delaware law defined victims of domestic violence as former spouses, a man and a woman cohabitating with or without a child of either or both, or a man and a woman living separate and apart with a child in common. The new law expands those parameters to include those holding themselves out as a couple, as well as those involved in a substantive dating relationship.

According to the law’s sponsor, “[This legislation] is the result of the hard work of those very advocates who never gave up on the ideal of providing civil protections to dating couples and same-sex couples that are equal to the protections that we extend to married and live-in couples. This change to Delaware law will make a real difference by saving lives and making victims safer every day.”

Maine: Making Domestic Violence Criminal

Source: Maine Governor’s office

On July 25, 2007, Maine Governor John Baldacci signed An Act to Protect Families and Enhance Public Safety by Making Domestic Violence a Crime ( LD 1627) into law. The law makes domestic violence a Class D crime in Maine, a charge that becomes a Class C crime if the person has prior convictions relating to domestic violence or has a protective order against them issued within the past three years.

Governor Baldacci said that the law will help police keep better track of the violators and assist processing of weapons requests and restrictions. The law will take effect on February 1, 2008.