The problems that arise from domestic violence cover a wide range of issues -- and fall under many different state laws. One of the dilemmas that has long vexed people working to curtail the frequency and the effects of violence within the home is the question of legislative strategy.
Is it better to go for small steps each session, the piecemeal improvements that can address small areas of the problem, or hope to build political momentum for a larger-scale reform that would touch all the bases?
This year in Annapolis, the hope among many people concerned about domestic violence was that the General Assembly would do a little of both. It didn't.
The provisions that now appear headed for passage are worth celebrating -- in part because they bring Maryland law into compliance with federal regulations governing future federal funding for domestic violence programs. These changes include such things as eliminating fees for people who petition the court for an order of protection and making arrest mandatory for domestic violence offenders who violate the terms of a protective order.
But another key item failed -- a resolution calling for the creation of a task force to study ways of improving the legal system's response to family violence and its ability to deal with it in a timely, effective manner. Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.,who had championed the idea and hoped to co-chair the panel, may go ahead with the exploration anyway. We hope they do.
Sooner or later, Maryland needs to take a comprehensive look at domestic violence, its criminal, civil and family law, as well as an effort to see the logical and legal links between the state's approach to family violence and its response to other issues like child or elder abuse. Too often, these issues have been viewed as separate and distinct problems when, in fact, a coordinated approach would likely be more effective, as well as more cost-effective.
The problems surrounding domestic violence are getting increased attention throughout the country. Legislative approval of a task force would have been welcome, but lack of it doesn't need to stop this worthy project.