Three bills endorsed to extend abuse-victim protection

Laws would include dating relationships, allow seizing guns

January 29, 1999|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

A broad coalition of public officials and women's rights advocates urged the General Assembly yesterday to "save lives" by increasing the legal protections for victims of domestic violence.

Joined at a news conference by lawmakers and victims of abuse, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. endorsed bills to expand Maryland's domestic violence laws to cover people who are dating and to allow police to seize firearms from suspected abusers.

"We can stop this violence, we can hold abusers accountable and we can save lives," said Townsend, who spoke against a backdrop of cutout figures representing women who were killed by husbands or domestic partners.

The three bills endorsed by the Glendening administration and the attorney general's Family Violence Council would:

Allow a judge to issue a protective order on behalf of a victim of abuse in a dating relationship. Maryland law allows such orders -- usually telling one of the partners to stay away from the other -- only in cases of marriage or other live-in arrangement.

Give judges issuing protective orders the power to authorize police to seize firearms temporarily from suspected abusers. The judge would have to find that the gun had been used or was likely to be used against the victim.

Extend protective orders to victims who come to Maryland to escape an abusive relationship with someone in another state. Under current law, Maryland judges cannot issue a protective order if the abuse occurred in another state.

Curran said that while Maryland has made progress toughening its protections against domestic violence, "people are still dying."

He said 79 people died in Maryland in fiscal 1997 in domestic violence homicides -- 48 involving firearms. He added that 40 people were killed in the past three years by people they were dating.

The bill extending legal protection to victims in such relationships has high-level support. In the House, Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. signed on as the lead sponsor, noting that 24 states have such laws. In the Senate, the bill is co-sponsored by 10 of the 11 members of the committee that will consider it.

Taylor said 25 percent of the women seeking protection at the House of Ruth, a Baltimore shelter for victims of domestic abuse, do not qualify for protective orders under Maryland law.

"These victims are every bit as entitled to our protection as people who are in married or live-in lifestyles," the Cumberland Democrat said.

The bill received support from a woman who fell through the domestic abuse safety net.

A tearful Betty Gordon of Baltimore described how she was stabbed, and her 9-month-old baby kidnapped, by a man whom she had been dating. The incident happened after a judge rejected her request for a protective order because she had not lived with the man.

"I could have lost my son. I could have lost my life," said Gordon, who said her attacker was convicted and given a 12-year sentence.

Lawmakers said the most difficult of the three bills to pass will be the one authorizing firearms seizures.

"This is controversial because some people see the word `gun' and say the [National Rifle Association] will automatically be against them," said Del. Ann Marie Doory, a Baltimore Democrat who is sponsoring the bill.

Doory introduced Baltimore police Officer Kate Wood, whose daughter, Francseea Y. Batts, was killed in 1997 by an estranged boyfriend after he was served with a protective order.

Batts had told the officers who served the order that the ex-boyfriend had a gun and that she was afraid he would shoot her. But police lacked the authority to search for and seize the gun, which the abuser used to kill her in front of her children.

"The law should have been long ago that when you serve an ex parte order, the gun should be removed," Wood said.

Pub Date: 1/29/99

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