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  • LGBT Domestic Violence
  • Volume 11 | Summer 2008

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.

Judiciary Committee Passes Bill to Create DV Attorney Network

U.S. Representative Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) has introduced the Crime Victims Employment Leave Act (H.R. 5845) to expand the Family and Medical Leave Act to give victims of violent crime and domestic violence leave to attend court proceedings.

The Crime Victims Employment Leave Act would amend the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 to entitle an eligible employee to up to 12 workweeks of leave during any 12-month period to attend court proceedings relating to the prosecution of a person for a violent crime (including domestic violence) committed against the employee or his or her spouse, parent, son, daughter, or other next of kin. Arizona, Colorado and Maine have such laws in place, but the new legislation would afford the same unpaid leave to people in every state.

(Source: Family Violence Prevention Fund NewsFlash, 6/4/08 and WashingtonWatch.com)

I-VAWA Introduced in House of Representatives

On April 30, 2008, the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) introduced the International Violence Act Women Act (I-VAWA- HR 5927). Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Jim Marshall (D-GA) and Christopher Shays (R-CT) are the House co-sponsors of the bill.  I-VAWA authorizes more than $200 million annually in foreign assistance for international programs that prevent violence, support health programs and survivor services, encourage legal accountability, and promote access to economic opportunity and education.

The legislation was (S.2279) was introduced in the Senate last year by the bipartisan leadership team of Joseph Biden (D-DE) and Richard Lugar (R-IN). More than 150 U.S.-based experts, including 40 women’s groups overseas, gave advice on the bill.  It is currently supported by more than 60 human rights, women’s, humanitarian, development and faith-based organizations.

Among its provisions, the bill seeks to develop strategies in countries around the world for United States-based programs to address violence against women and girls. For example, the bill would create the first high level U.S. State Department office working explicitly on violence against women. Further, the bill calls for funding to support local efforts to reform practices and change social attitudes that condone violence against women and girls, better address violence in humanitarian assistance programs, and train lawyers and police on how to deal with domestic violence.

States Receiving VAWA Funds Required to Pay for “Jane Doe” Rape Kits

Beginning in 2009, states receiving funds under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) will be required to pay for “Jane Doe Rape Kits.” A “Jane Doe Rape Kit” is a name for the forensic evidence collected in a sexual assault exam for a victim who chooses to remain anonymous.

The Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act, 42 U.S.C. §3796gg-4d, now provides that states may not require a victim to participate in the criminal justice system or cooperate with law enforcement in order to be provided with a forensic medical exam, reimbursed for charges incurred by such an exam, or both. Prior to VAWA 2005, states were required to ensure that such exams were free of charge, but could condition the availability of such exams on the victim’s cooperation with law enforcement. These kits allow rape victims to undergo emergency room forensic rape exams, with the evidence kept on file in case the victim decides to file charges later.  The new program is designed to remove the obstacle to prosecution that occurs when victims are too traumatized to come forward until it is too late to collect physical evidence.

For more information, visit the Office of Violence Against Women’s website for a fact sheet [ http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/docs/faq-arfe052308.pdf] on the recent changes instituted by VAWA 2005:.

Maine Amends Animal Welfare Act to Include Neglect and Domestic Violence as Crimes Against Animals

On April 25, 2008, Maine Gov. John Baldacci signed LD 2171 which amends the state’s Animal Welfare Act to include neglect and domestic violence as crimes against animals. The new law includes prohibitions against assault, criminal threatening, reckless conduct and terrorizing an animal in a domestic violence situation.

California Exempts DV Victims from Incarceration for Refusing to Testify in Court

On July 2, 2008, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed SB 1356 which protects victims of domestic violence from the threat of incarceration when they refuse to testify against their abusers in court.  The new law provides victims of domestic violence with the same protections provided to victims of sexual assault in the California Penal Code.

For more information, click here.

New York Gives Full Protection of DV Laws to Dating Partners

New York recently passed legislation that expands access family courts to unrelated persons, including teens, dating partners, and same sex couples. The legislation will give unrelated persons the right to obtain civil protective orders, seek mandatory arrest of abusers, track orders of protection on the state registry, extend orders of protection in aggravating circumstances, and seek increased penalties for violation of orders of protection.

Prior to this legislation (Bill A11707), New York had one of the narrowest domestic violence laws in the country, allowing for civil protection orders only against spouses or former spouses, blood relations or the other parent of an abused person’s child. The only recourse for these victims was to go through the criminal justice system, a process that often took an emotional and financial toll on the victims. 

Florida Governor Signs Barwick-Ruschak Act to Expand Domestic Violence Laws

On July 2, 2008, Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed the Barwick-Ruschak Act (HB 313), a bill that expands Florida’s domestic violence laws to cover dating relationships. The bill, introduced by Representative Kurt Kelly (R-Oscala), is named after Tiffany Barwick and Michael Ruschak, two university students killed last year by Barwick’s former boyfriend Andrew Allred.  Barwick reportedly tried to get help from law enforcement to no avail.  The new law will give law enforcement officers more latitude in dealing with cases of dating violence, allowing officers to make warrantless arrests in such cases if there is probable cause. The Barwick-Ruschak Act will also provide assistance to victims of dating violence, including medical treatment and information about dating violence centers.

(Source: Associated Press 2008)

New Missouri Law Targets Cyberbullying

Missouri Governor Matt Blunt recently signed a bill aimed at targeting internet cyberbulllying. The bill expands the state’s existing harassment laws to include telephone and electronic communication.  The law was inspired by 13-year old Megan Meier, who killed herself in 2006 after receiving unkind messages on MySpace from a fictitious person.  Her adult neighbor, Lori Drew, has been accused of making a fake profile and using it to harass Megan.

The law makes it a felony for adults to stalk or harass on the Internet or make credible threats against a victim or his or her family. Those convicted could face up to four years in prison.  Persons under 21 years of age who are found harassing on the internet will be charged with a misdemeanor offense.

(Source: St. Louis Post Dispatch)