The Maryland Senate passed one of the governor's proposals to combat domestic violence Thursday, sending to the House a bill that would make it easier for assault victims to obtain permanent court orders telling their abusers to stay away.
Meeting despite the snow, senators approved the measure that would add second-degree assault to the list of crimes that can trigger a protective order. There was no debate or dissent.
A similar measure is scheduled for a hearing in the House next week.
Witnesses told a Senate committee last month that domestic violence victims have a hard time obtaining permanent protective orders because second-degree assault is not among the crimes for which perpetrators can be slapped with a lifetime ban on contacting the subject of the order.
"When it's permanent, we don't have to keep trekking back to court," said Cynthia M. Lifson, legislative counsel for the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence.
According to testimony, second-degree assault is the most common criminal charge in domestic violence cases. To win a conviction on that charge in many cases, prosecutors must prove a physical injury to the victim.
Currently, permanent orders are available only in cases where the abuser has been convicted of such offenses as attempted murder, first-degree assault, rape and other sex crimes. First-degree assault is one that causes a "serious physical injury," including ones that involve a risk of death or prolonged disability.
The bill also would allow a permanent order in cases in which the offender has been sentenced to a term of five years or more and has served at least a year. The law now requires that the person have actually served five years.
Lifson said the offenders who are sentenced to five years or more for assault are typically those who have inflicted grievous injuries requiring medical attention. Typical cases include broken bones, serious bruising, cuts and attempted strangulation, she said.
The Senate also passed a bill, sponsored by Sen. Norman Stone, a Baltimore County Democrat, making it easier for prosecutors to seek the maximum sentence for repeat violators of protective orders. The maximum sentence for a second or subsequent violation is a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
The second-degree assault bill is the second sponsored by Gov. Martin O'Malley against domestic violence to win early passage in the Senate. Last week senators unanimously approved a measure that would lower the burden of proof for victims of domestic violence to obtain a protective order.
Maryland is now the only state requiring "clear and convincing" proof of abuse. The other states require that the abuse be proven by a preponderance of the evidence — the standard in most civil cases. If the House concurs, Maryland would switch to that standard.
Still pending in the Senate is a measure to allow judges to impose an additional penalty when domestic abuse occurs in the presence of a child.
In other action, the Senate passed a bill that would outlaw so-called "rape by proxy" — in which someone posts information about another person advertising that they would welcome being sexually assaulted. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat, would set a maximum penalty of 20 years and a $25,000 fine for violations.
The legislation was prompted in part by a case in Prince George's County in which a woman's ex-husband posted ads on a website and sent messages through social media in which the man posed as his ex-wife and invited people to go to her house and fulfill what was described as her rape fantasy.
According to Frosh and his co-sponsor, Del. Kathleen Dumais, also a Montgomery Democrat, more than 50 strangers showed up at the woman's house over a two-week period expecting to have violent sex with her or her children.
While the Senate held a session Thursday, most of its committee hearings were canceled because of the snow. A Finance Committee hearing on O'Malley's proposal to raise the minimum wage was postponed until noon Monday.