As they sort through nearly two dozen domestic-violence initiatives this year, Maryland lawmakers are focusing on improvements to protective orders that they hope would make abuse victims safer.
Ideas include adding another year if the subject of a protective order commits a new offense soon after the expiration of the first order and adding the alleged victim's pets to the stay-away provision.
Cynthia M. Lifson, legislative counsel for the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, said she believes many of the domestic-violence bills have the "votes and momentum" to make it out of a legislative committee that has batted down similar legislation in years past. "I am very, very hopeful and optimistic this year," she said. "We have some powerful advocates this time."
The House Judiciary Committee weighed several of the measures yesterday, along with Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposals to take guns from the subjects of protective orders, that drew the most debate.
Several delegates on the committee, which includes defense attorneys and Republicans sensitive to Second Amendment rights, questioned whether the governor's legislation unfairly targets gun owners.
"I think we focus too much on the instrument, rather than the individual," said Del. Don Dwyer, an Anne Arundel County Republican. Dwyer and Del. Michael Smigiel, a Cecil County Republican, asked why other potentially dangerous instruments, such as bats and knives, shouldn't also be confiscated.
Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who is pushing the governor's protective-order initiatives, signaled a willingness to compromise yesterday, saying the administration was open to amendments to address some of the concerns.
"I have no problem doing that," Brown said, "as long as what we pass is meaningful and doesn't put an unachievable burden on the victim." He said that more than half of the 75 domestic-violence killings last year in Maryland involved a firearm.
"What we're going after is the most lethal weapon," said Brown, a former Democratic delegate who was a member of the Judiciary Committee, and whose cousin was shot to death last summer by an estranged boyfriend.
Under current law, a judge does not have the authority to take guns from the subject of a protective order, even if the alleged victim says one was used to threaten him or her. O'Malley, a Democrat, wants to give judges that discretion in temporary orders and make confiscation of firearms mandatory in final protective orders.
Del. Jolene Ivey, a Prince George's County Democrat, testified about her plan to give judges the option of adding a year to a protective order if the subject commits a new offense within a year of the expiration of an initial order. Judges now may grant a six-month extension before an order expires.
Protective orders are a civil protection meant to put distance between the victim of domestic violence and their abusers. Temporary orders last seven days and are often granted by judges who hear only the accuser's side. Final orders can last a year and are issued only after hearing from both the accuser and the accused.
Some Judiciary Committee members said protective orders should not be viewed as a cure to domestic violence.
Del. Luiz R. S. Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat, urged the advocates to remember "a considerable amount of violence takes place outside the scope of protective orders."
Del. Susan K. McComas, a Harford County Republican, said she thought the governor's bills in particular "give women a false sense of security."
Gun-rights advocates testified against the O'Malley proposals, and the Fraternal Order of Police would like an amendment exempting law enforcement officers. However, several chiefs of police testified in favor of the bills, saying they don't believe officers should be exempted. Most police departments, as a matter of policy, take an officer's service weapon when he or she is the subject of a protective order.
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