Domestic violence bill resurrected

General Assembly 2009

March 12, 2009|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,

Maryland lawmakers reversed course yesterday on a controversial domestic violence records proposal that they had rejected a day earlier.

Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat, spearheaded the effort to revive his plan to allow subjects of protective orders to have their records expunged.

Under the proposal, records would be cleared if a judge denies an order after hearing from both the petitioner and respondent or if the accuser does not come to court.

On Tuesday, the bill died on the House of Delegates floor by five votes. Yesterday, it was resurrected when delegates voted to reconsider it and send it back to a committee for amendments. A similar measure on the Senate side, co-sponsored by President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat, is scheduled for a hearing this afternoon.

Simmons called the proposal "a matter of fairness," saying that when a judge has not determined that a person committed abuse, he or she "should not have to live with that taint." He said protective orders can be misused in divorce proceedings or if falsely filed out of malice. Yet the accused person's record remains available to the public and can be viewed by potential employers and landlords.

The state makes provisions for expungement of criminal records but has no mechanism for civil records such as protective orders.

Opponents, including the head of the Women's Caucus and domestic violence prevention experts, say the problem of dishonestly filed protective orders has been overstated and that alleged victims of abuse have many reasons to not follow through on protective orders - including intimidation.

Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration, which is pushing two measures to confiscate guns when protective orders are granted, also is concerned about the expungement proposal.

"We would have serious reservations about this legislation, given the psychology involved with domestic violence cases," said Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for O'Malley.

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