The standard of proof for a victim of domestic violence to obtain a protective order in Maryland would be lower under legislation passed by the General Assembly on Monday night.
The Senate on Monday consented to passing House Bill 307, which would lower the standard of proof for a victim of domestic violence to obtain a final peace or protective order from "clear and convincing evidence" to a "preponderance of evidence."
The Senate also consented to passing House Bill 309, which will make it easier for domestic violence victims to obtain a final permanent protective order by including second degree assault to a list of crimes for which final orders can be obtained.
Both bills were introduced earlier this year as part of Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration's three-bill package to expand protections for victims of domestic violence.
House Bill 307 was considered to be the most significant of the package because Maryland is the only state that requires "clear and convincing" evidence before a court may issue a protective order. Most others allow orders to be issued with less evidence.
The Senate in February voted unanimously to pass versions of its own versions of the two bills.
House Bill 307 was passed by the House and Senate without amendments.
The House of Delegates voted 120-15 to pass House Bill 307. Some who didn't favor the bill said they fear lowering the standard of proof may cause some being unnecessarily removed from their homes.
Two Anne Arundel delegates, Don Dwyer, R-Pasadena, and Tony McConkey, R-Severna Park, were among 15 who voted against the measure.
But opponents' arguments were overcome as supporters continued to note Maryland's status as the only state in the nation to require "clear and convincing evidence."
A 2012 report from the Department of Legislative Services said 29 states either specify in law or have established in court their standard is a "preponderance of the evidence." The report said 13 states have unspecified standards that allow the use of the court's discretion. Seven states and Washington, D.C., require findings of "reasonable cause," "sufficient grounds" or "good cause," the DLS report said.
Meanwhile, House Bill 309 passed unanimously in the House and a similar bill passed unanimously in the Senate.
One change made by the measure adds second degree assault to a list of crimes for which a final permanent protective order can be obtained. The Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence said on its website that change was "significant" because "many domestic violence perpetrators are convicted of second degree assault."
The measure also alters the language in Maryland law to require an abuser only be sentenced to at least five years in prison before the victim can obtain a permanent final protective order. Under current law, an abuser must actually serve five years before a victim can get a final order.
Once signed, House bills 307 and 309 will be set to take effect on Oct. 1.
A third bill introduced as part of the O'Malley administration's package, House Bill 306, has yet to be passed by the General Assembly.
House Bill 306 would give courts the ability to impose an enhanced penalty of up to five years for crimes of domestic violence committed in the presence of a minor.