Legislature(2003 - 2004)

03/11/2004 03:35 PM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
           SB 308-DOMESTIC VIOLENCE PROTECTIVE ORDERS                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY  STEVENS announced SB  308 to be up  for consideration                                                               
and then recognized Senator French.                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR HOLLIS  FRENCH, sponsor of  SB 308, stated that  the bill                                                               
extends  the length  of  a long-term  protective  order from  six                                                               
months  to  one  year.  This  is to  give  longer  protection  to                                                               
petitioners who  are seeking protection  from an abuser  and also                                                               
to relieve the  court system of the need for  repeat hearings. He                                                               
continued:                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
     Right  now just  five  states  have long-term  domestic                                                                    
     violence  protective orders  that have  a shorter  time                                                                    
     period  than  Alaska.  Three have  the  same  six-month                                                                    
     maximum period  and the 40 other  states have increased                                                                    
     the length of  time to a year and beyond.  In this bill                                                                    
     we  would set  the  time  frame at  one  year. It's  an                                                                    
     incremental step and I think  it's a reasonable balance                                                                    
     between an order  that never ends and an  order that is                                                                    
     too short of a duration.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
     For those  of us who have  worked in the area,  the big                                                                    
     difference  between the  two types  of orders  - an  ex                                                                    
     parte  order and  a long-term  order  - is  that an  ex                                                                    
     parte  order can  be gotten  without ever  hearing from                                                                    
     the  respondent. An  ex parte  order is  the order  you                                                                    
     hear  about when  someone  says 'She  ran  down to  the                                                                    
     court house  and got  an order and  I never  knew about                                                                    
     it.'                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
     [The long-term]  order is not  that Mr.  Chairman. This                                                                    
     type of order  has to take place with  formal notice of                                                                    
     the hearing to the  respondent and give that individual                                                                    
     every opportunity  to show up  in front of a  judge and                                                                    
     have  his or  her day  in court.  I think  that is  the                                                                    
     chief  protection  for folks  who  think  they are  not                                                                    
     being  treated  fairly by  the  system.  That they  are                                                                    
     going to get their day  in court under this hearing, no                                                                    
     matter what.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
     This  is  a  big  area,   but  it  is  a  fairly  small                                                                    
     adjustment to the law.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY  STEVENS noted that  it's difficult to  quantify court                                                               
savings  and costs,  but  he  would like  to  hear the  Senator's                                                               
comments on the fiscal note.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR FRENCH  said he  hasn't had the  opportunity to  speak to                                                               
Ms. Wilson  [deputy director,  Public Defender  Agency] regarding                                                               
her view of the fiscal note,  but he questions the fiscal note in                                                               
this respect:                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
     Her analysis,  I believe, assumes  that all  orders are                                                                    
     violated at  a regular rate throughout  the duration of                                                                    
     the order.  ... I  would contest that  and I  would say                                                                    
     that most  orders are violated  fairly soon  after they                                                                    
     are issued  because that is,  in the cycle  of domestic                                                                    
     violence,  the most  dangerous  time.  ... That's  when                                                                    
     tempers are  running high  and I  would assert  that as                                                                    
     time goes on those violations drop off. ...                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
     I would  assert that  the price of  this bill  would go                                                                    
     down over  time and  really wouldn't produce  much more                                                                    
     of a burden on the public defender's office.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY STEVENS then asked  the Senator to speak to decreasing                                                               
the need for repeat court proceedings.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR FRENCH  said they  spoke with  the Division  of Statewide                                                               
Services  with the  Department  of Public  Safety  and they  have                                                               
indicated  that this  is likely  the same  as many  areas of  the                                                               
criminal law. Most  people that have a brush with  the law aren't                                                               
seen but  once. They  get themselves  straightened out  and don't                                                               
have future  problems. In fact,  of the 28,000  domestic violence                                                               
restraining order  reports that have been  filed, 22,000 appeared                                                               
just once.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Nonetheless, you have to realize  that some people absorb lots of                                                               
resources. For instance,  one petitioner had to  file seven long-                                                               
term orders  and two ex  parte orders  over a three  and one-half                                                               
year  period to  continue to  get the  court's protection  from a                                                               
difficult person.  In another case,  a respondent had  19 entries                                                               
in the registry filed by two related individuals.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  BERT   STEDMAN  said  he  wasn't   concerned  about  the                                                               
extension  of  time, but  he  did  have  some concern  about  how                                                               
effective restraining  orders really are  and the false  sense of                                                               
protection  they  might   give  to  a  woman   with  children  in                                                               
particular. He asked the Senator for a comment.                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR FRENCH  said that is  an issue  of great concern  to both                                                               
sides and  he is personally aware  of cases that were  brought to                                                               
trial  "where exhibit  1  in  the case  was  the bloody  domestic                                                               
violence restraining order  that the woman had with  her when she                                                               
was killed by her former spouse."  In a very real sense it's just                                                               
a  piece  of  paper,  but   people  from  the  domestic  violence                                                               
community say  that restraining orders  do work. This  is because                                                               
the restraining  order provides the  ability to go to  the police                                                               
to  make them  enforce  the  order. It  provides  police help  in                                                               
separating the  household and in establishing  the initial buffer                                                               
of safety. "It  is no real way a physical  barrier to anyone, but                                                               
it sets  up a  psychological barrier. While  you can't  stop some                                                               
determined aggressors, it seems to  work very well with the broad                                                               
base of rational  people who are going through a  violent time in                                                               
their relationship."                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  STEDMAN noted  that a  woman  in Ketchikan  had such  an                                                               
order  recently and  her 24-month-old  baby is  now deceased.  He                                                               
said,  "So  I think  we  do  have some  issues  that  need to  be                                                               
addressed in this  area..." He encouraged Senator  French to look                                                               
into this  area further to  provide additional  statutory support                                                               
to affected mothers  and their children. "It really  upsets me to                                                               
find that some  of these orders are ignored,  especially if there                                                               
are children  involved." It's egregious  for a  civilized society                                                               
to tolerate such a thing in any form, he said.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR FRENCH responded to say  that those concerns are right on                                                               
target and SB 308 is just  one piece of the puzzle. "An efficient                                                               
911 system helps every community,  swift response from the police                                                               
and  certain  prosecution  on violations  that  sometime  seem  a                                                               
little  picayune." He  described  it as  a  bubble of  protection                                                               
around the  woman. It  protects her from  not just  violence, but                                                               
from  the communications  that sometimes  lead  to violence.  The                                                               
restraining  order doesn't  say call  when you're  nice, it  says                                                               
don't call. Anything  that can be done to  strengthen that bubble                                                               
of protection is a step in the right direction.                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  GUESS  agreed that  Senator  Stedman  is on  target  and                                                               
Senator  French's response  is  correct.  "We don't  ...prosecute                                                               
violations  of  these  orders  enough."  It  can  be  a  constant                                                               
struggle,  but there  are  ways and  she  thought everyone  could                                                               
probably agree on that.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
She commented  that she  too was having  trouble with  the fiscal                                                               
note. Certainly it  costs the state money when  a petitioner goes                                                               
to court at  the end of a six-month period  and files for another                                                               
six month  restraining order,  but that  is already  happening in                                                               
the cases  in which continued  protection is necessary.  If there                                                               
isn't a  problem, the individual probably  doesn't refile. That's                                                               
probably the  case now and is  unlikely to change. "So  for those                                                               
cases there's not going to be any increase in cost."                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  FRENCH stated  that he  sees the  situation in  much the                                                               
same  way.   Someone  who  is   still  having  problems   in  the                                                               
relationship after a  period of 5.5 months is going  to have that                                                               
order extended.  If the order  is then violated, it  would likely                                                               
have been  violated regardless of  whether it  was for a  year or                                                               
six months. "I'm  certain there will be some  increased burden on                                                               
the  system.  I wouldn't  say  there  wouldn't  be, but  I  think                                                               
doubling is just sort of taking a snap judgment."                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  GARY STEVENS  advised that  they  would try  to reach  Ms.                                                               
Wilson  who prepared  the fiscal  note to  see whether  she could                                                               
shed some light on the situation.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
LAUREE HUGANON,  Alaska Network on  Domestic Violence  and Sexual                                                               
Assault,  expressed support  for the  bill. Anytime  there is  an                                                               
opportunity  to  decrease  batterers'  access  to  victims,  it's                                                               
important to  do so. "Extending  this order  is one less  time at                                                               
least that she would  have to go to court and  be in the presence                                                               
of the  person that  is abusing her.  Often times  repeated court                                                               
appearances are often  used as a way to coerce  or further try to                                                               
control the victims."                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
Separation  doesn't  always end  the  violence  and although  the                                                               
restraining order may  be just a piece of paper,  it is a barrier                                                               
that  carries consequences  if it  is violated.  There are  seven                                                               
provisions of protective orders that  if violated can result in a                                                               
class A misdemeanor.  The penalty for a physical  assault must be                                                               
at least 20 days in jail if there is a conviction.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
MS.  HUGANON  reported that  there  were  about 6,000  protective                                                               
order  filings  in FY  03.  A  little  over  half were  filed  in                                                               
Anchorage,  about 200  in Ketchikan,  and  more than  80 were  in                                                               
Kodiak, which shows that the problem is statewide.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
CAREN  ROBINSON, Alaska  Women's Lobby  representative, spoke  in                                                               
support of SB  308. She said it's amazing to  her that it's taken                                                               
20 years to get the restraining  order laws to the point they are                                                               
today. She  said, "Believe it or  not back then we  were fighting                                                               
to just to  get anyone to believe that it  was important to allow                                                               
a person  who was being victimized  in a family situation  to get                                                               
any kind of protection." The change is refreshing.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
MS. ROBINSON  emphasized the need  for the continuum  of services                                                               
and said she  was concerned about the shelter  network in Alaska.                                                               
According to the recent information,  there could be a $1 million                                                               
budgetary deficit  for shelters this  fiscal year. She  asked the                                                               
committee to contact the Department  of Public Safety and get the                                                               
information they need because shelters  across the state would be                                                               
affected. Keep in mind that  women typically go to shelters first                                                               
to get the information they need to go court in the first place.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY STEVENS  noted that there was no one  on line from the                                                               
public  defender  agency.  There  were  no  further  comments  or                                                               
questions.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  STEDMAN   remarked  that  he  would   like  the  Finance                                                               
Committee to double check the accuracy of the fiscal note.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR GUESS  made a motion to  move SB 308 from  committee with                                                               
individual  recommendations  and  "attached  questionable  fiscal                                                               
note." There being no objection, it was so ordered.                                                                             

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