Domestic violence bills are endorsed House speaker asks zero-tolerance policy on spousal abuse

'Send a strong message'

Assembly leaders make package a session priority

February 12, 1997|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Urging legislators to adopt a policy of "zero tolerance" toward domestic abuse, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. made a personal plea yesterday for passage of a package of bills intended to protect victims of violence in the home.

Taylor testified before the House Judiciary Committee in Annapolis on a topic that has been page-one news for much of the past week.

"We must send a strong message," he said. "The message must be heard by offenders, victims, law enforcement, the courts and all the citizens of Maryland. That message is zero tolerance for domestic abuse."

The standing-room-only crowd in the hearing room was testimony to the level of interest in the subject in the wake of Baltimore County Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger Sr.'s Jan. 31 decision to expunge the conviction of a local pawnbroker in the beating of his estranged wife. On Monday, the judge reversed his order and disqualified himself from presiding over similar cases.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said the Bollinger case underscores the need for a coordinated effort to fight domestic abuse. In that incident, the judge initially changed the battery conviction of Charles H. Weiner to probation before judgment after hearing a plea that the stigma of a criminal record might have kept him out of a country club.

Appearing with Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., her co-chairman on Maryland's Family Violence Council, Townsend urged the committee to support the package.

"We can interrupt the cycle of violence that leads some to do unto their wives as their fathers did unto their mothers," Townsend said.

She praised Taylor and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller for putting the issue on their leadership agendas. Such an endorsement by the two presiding officers gives the bills an excellent chance of passage.

Taylor noted that the night before, legislators witnessed a candlelight vigil honoring the memory of 79 men, women and children killed in episodes of domestic violence.

"Let me say that there are still too many of us who fail to truly understand the seriousness of domestic violence," the speaker said.

Among other provisions, the bills would:

Extend the maximum length of a court's protective order against an abuser from 200 days to 18 months. The legislation also would clarify that protective orders telling an abuser to say out of a residence also apply to the yard.

Eliminate the one-year waiting period for a decree of absolute divorce in cases of marital abuse.

Raise the monthly supervisory fee paid by probationers from $25 to $40 and earmark the added revenue to fund a family violence unit in the Division of Parole and Probation.

Explicitly authorize law enforcement officers to retrieve medicine and medical devices from the home of a domestic violence victim who has fled her abuser.

Rachel Wohl, project director of the Family Violence Council, said that in hearings around the state, council members heard repeated tales of abusers withholding medicine when an officer arrived to collect belongings.

"The batterers are not saying, 'It's not hers.' They're saying, 'She can't have it, I paid for it,' " said Wohl, who called such behavior "a control issue."

Legislators questioned whether new legislation was needed, citing a statute that lets officers help victims pick up their "personal effects."

But Col. David B. Mitchell, superintendent of the state police, said officers need clarification of the current rules.

Pub Date: 2/12/97

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