Domestic violence bill OK'd in Senate

Assembly approves broadened legislation for `peace orders'

April 09, 1999|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

The General Assembly gave final approval yesterday to a new form of civil protection against violence and harassment that goes far beyond the domestic abuse legislation proposed at the outset of the legislative session.

The bill, passed by the Senate yesterday, allows anyone who can show a legitimate reason to fear harm from another person to seek a court order telling that individual to stay away. The legislation creating the "peace orders" goes to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who is expected to sign it.

Activists against domestic violence were elated by the bill's passage, even though it is far different from the legislation they originally supported.

"It can protect many people in addition to the ones we would be serving," said Cynthia Golomb, legislative counsel to the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence.

As introduced, the legislation would have made people who had been involved in dating relationships eligible to seek a protective order. Under current law, such orders are limited to people who are married, have a child together or who live together.

While that legislation attracted wide support, it ran into trouble in the House Judiciary Committee over the difficulty of defining a dating relationship in legal language. The bill appeared on the verge of failing when Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr., a Prince George's Democrat, threw his support behind an effort to rewrite the measure.

The committee's solution was to broaden the bill so that it applies to anyone with good reason to fear harm by another person -- for instance, a homeowner involved in a dispute with a neighbor.

The solution proved broadly acceptable to legislators, passing the House 131-7 and the Senate unanimously.

"It's a fantastic bill the way the Judiciary Committee rewrote it," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., lead sponsor of the original dating-relationship bill.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who co-chairs the governor's Family Violence Council, said she was pleased with the result.

"They've developed a better and more comprehensive bill that avoids the sticky issue of the definition of dating and fills critical gaps in the safety net for victims of domestic violence," she said.

She noted that the bill achieves two of the three main goals of the Family Violence Council for domestic violence legislation this year. Besides protecting people in dating relationships, it also allows people who have recently moved to Maryland after being in an abusive relationship in another state to ask a court for a peace order.

The council failed to achieve its third goal when a Senate committee killed legislation making it easier to seize guns from people being served with protective orders.

The peace orders created in the bill passed yesterday are a hybrid of the modern protective order and the old-fashioned "peace bond," a legal device that fell into disuse decades ago because of disproportionate impact on poor people.

Del. Sharon M. Grosfeld, a Montgomery Democrat, said the peace orders are a better solution than the original proposal.

"It will avoid the potential defense arguments in court about whether the partners are truly in a dating relationship," she said.

The bill would allow a person to seek a peace order by convincing a judge that in the previous 30 days another individual had committed an act giving reason for fear of imminent bodily harm. The order would be good for seven days, when the judge would have to hold a hearing for both sides.

Violators of such orders would be subject to immediate arrest, and could be fined up to $1,000 and imprisoned for 90 days.

Pub Date: 4/09/99

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