Legislature(2003 - 2004)
03/11/2004 03:35 PM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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.