State Legislation

The hard work of advocates across the nation paid off this summer as state lawmakers passed and governors signed several new laws that protect domestic violence victims, their families and, in some states, their pets. These new laws will help make domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking victims safer at work and at home.

On July 1, a law took effect that requires many Florida employers to give domestic violence victims, as well as their family and household members, up to three days of paid or unpaid leave to go to court, seek a protection order, obtain medical or mental health counseling, get services from a victims’ rights organization, or seek housing or legal assistance. An Act Relating to Domestic Violence requires employers with at least 50 workers to provide this leave for employees who have worked there for at least three months. Employers can require employees to use up their vacation and personal time, as well as their sick leave, before taking domestic violence leave. Advocates across the state are applauding the new law.

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski (D) also signed a law that gives unpaid leave to domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking victims if they need the time to secure their homes, seek help from law enforcement or health professionals, or get counseling. The Oregon law applies to employers with at least six workers.

Securing Victims’ Addresses

More states are helping protect victims of violence by protecting their identities and addresses in public documents.

In July, Missouri Governor Matt Blunt (R) signed legislation that shields the identities of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking victims in public records. The state’s victims can use an alternative address so that information is sent to the Secretary of State’s office, and then forwarded to the person’s real home, thereby protecting their location.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (D) signed similar legislation that lets domestic violence victims create a substitute address if their safety is at risk.

Protecting Pets

Connecticut, Maine and Tennessee addressed the intersection of family violence and animal abuse this year.

Connecticut’s new law lets courts issue protective orders for animals whose owners are victims of domestic violence. Governor Jodi Rell (R) said, “By protecting pets, the new law shuts the door on any opportunities for abusers to continue to abuse their victims.”

Tennessee expanded the definition of domestic abuse to include threats and injuries towards pets, extended protection orders to pets, and prevented abusers from getting custody of pets.

Maine’s groundbreaking law allows orders of protection in domestic violence cases to cover pets, and protects “first responders” who come into contact with both people and animals that have been abused.

Enhancing Penalties

Some states clarified and strengthened existing domestic violence legislation this year. Connecticut Governor Rell signed a bill this month that sets tougher penalties for those arrested for family violence and for intentionally violating terms of their release, and establishes new procedures for police officers who intervene in family violence cases.

Maine Governor John Baldacci (D) signed legislation that reclassifies domestic violence crimes. An Act to Protect Families and Enhance Public Safety by Making Domestic Violence a Crime makes domestic violence assault, domestic violence criminal threatening, domestic violence terrorizing, domestic violence stalking and domestic violence reckless conduct class D crimes, punishable by up to a year in prison. Maine’s new law also stipulates that these crimes can become more serious class C crimes if the offenses are committed more than once by the same person, or by someone who was been served with a protection order in the past three years.

In Alaska, Governor Sarah Palin (R) signed legislation enacting tougher sentences, up to the maximum for the offense, for crimes committed on the grounds of a domestic violence shelter. “People who come to domestic violence shelters need to know that they are safe and protected,” she said. “[Victims] need to know that they are not in harm’s way when they come to a shelter.”

Both Connecticut and Florida addressed strangulation this summer. Connecticut created three new crimes of strangulation, to be determined by the severity of the injuries. Florida Governor Charlie Crist (R) signed a law deeming domestic violence battery by strangulation a third-degree felony.

[Browse more features]