ANNAPOLIS -- Concerned about the rights of men accused of beating their wives or girlfriends, the House Judiciary Committee yesterday weakened a Schaefer administration bill that would give battered women more potential remedies in court.
After weeks of struggling, the panel approved a score of amendments narrowing the scope of the legislation. No one on either side of the issue was happy with the result.
The bill, which already passed the Senate, would still enable battered women to seek civil protection orders requiring abusers to leave their home for up to six months. The measure also enables wives to seek temporary financial support for themselves and their children.
But the delegates voted to limit the number of unmarried women who could seek relief under the bill by requiring that applicants have lived with an abuser for 90 days during the previous year. Delegates also weakened enforcement procedures and prevented women from renewing the protection order beyond six months. Many other states permit orders of up to one year.
Without those amendments, several delegates said, women could try to obtain more relief than they're entitled to receive, after even minor disagreements.
"They could take your house, your car and your kids," said Committee Chairman John S. Arnick, D-Baltimore County.
"When I started practicing law, men didn't have a chance in a domestic court and the judges were men," he added.
A male committee member said privately that "some of the men have a philosophical problem with the bill."
District Court judges currently use civil protection orders to temporarily separate warring parties in a domestic dispute. Under current law, a judge could force an abuser to move out of a shared home for only 30 days, with no provision for financial support.
Neither side emerged from the two-hour meeting yesterday feeling very happy, despite a 20-2 vote for the amended bill.
Some supporters voted reluctantly for the measure because they thought a weakened bill was better than none at all.
Some opponents voted reluctantly for the measure because they didn't want to appear insensitive to the problem of domestic violence.
The Schaefer administration will try to remove some of the
amendments it finds most objectionable once the bill passes the full House and heads to a House-Senate conference committee to work out differences, said David S. Iannucci, the governor's chief lobbyist.