The House of Delegates passed a package of bills seeking to curb domestic violence Thursday, including three sponsored by Gov. Martin O'Malley.
The administration bills would lower the standard of proof for a victim of domestic violence to obtain a protective order from a court, expand the circumstances under which judges can issue permanent orders to stay away from a victim and allow an extra penalty of up to five years when an abuser commits a domestic violence crime in the presence of children.
Versions of the bills have passed the Senate, though each chamber must pass the other's legislation in identical form before passage becomes final.
After the House vote, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown joined legislators and advocates at a press conference hailing the passage and declaring "we're a step closer to making our state safer."
Lowering the burden of proof to get a protective order has been a years-long struggle, Brown and others said. When that bill is signed into law, Maryland will join 49 other states in allowing a judge to issue a protective order based on a "preponderance" or majority of evidence that abuse has occurred. Maryland law now requires "clear and convincing" evidence, a much higher standard, which advocates say has prevented judges from issuing orders in hundreds of cases a year.