Last week, a package of bills I supported to improve New York State’s system for curbing domestic violence passed the Assembly.
Domestic violence remains a major issue in our state, with 450,000 incidents of domestic violence reported each year.i This package would make new support services available to the victims of domestic violence and would establish education programs geared at identifying those in need of some help. Other provisions include requiring any individual issued an order of protection relating to certain domestic violence incidents to give up his or her firearms license and protecting victims from housing or employment discrimination.
Since coming to the Assembly in 2006, I have made domestic violence a top priority. I authored the Strangulation Law in 2010, which fundamentally changed how the crime is prosecuted in New York State (Ch. 405 of 2010). Before the law, the penalty for strangulation was equivalent to a motor-vehicle violation. Since it was enacted, thousands have been convicted on felony and misdemeanor charges, many of those in cases directly linked with domestic violence.
In that same vein, I sponsored a piece of legislation in this year’s package of bills that would establish the felony crime of aggravated family offense when a person has committed a specified domestic violence offense and has been convicted of one or more domestic violence offenses within the past five years (A.1986-B). This would give our law enforcement officials another tool to go after violent offenders and further protect affected families from continued harm.
I also have sponsored seven additional bills on this issue. Some seek to improve education and prevention, while others add to the tools available for victims as they attempt to restart their lives and law enforcement in prosecuting domestic violence offenders. The legislation includes:
- establishing the crimes of domestic abuse in the first, second and third degree and a judicial program that would help rehabilitate offenders (A.3458);
- establishing a statewide domestic violence forensic examiner program based on the Forensic Medical Unit at the Family Justice Center of Erie County, called “invaluable” by the Erie County District Attorney office for increasing plea bargains and conviction rates and the only unit in the state dedicated specifically to domestic violence (A.9669);
- allowing witnesses and victims of domestic violence to testify through closed-circuit television at trials, thus removing the fear of physically confronting the abuser and making it easier to come forward and testify (A.3676); and
- providing financial protection to victims of domestic violence forced to flee their homes and jobs by granting them the ability to collect unemployment insurance (A.4404).
Unlike many crimes, the domestic violence victim has a close and personal relationship with the perpetrator. The package of legislation passed by the Assembly reflects not only the physical pain, but the emotional trauma and financial hardships that are often part of domestic violence cases. I will continue to advocate for legislation on domestic violence issues, so that we can be sure New York State is doing all it can to help both the victims of domestic violence and the law enforcement officers who are working to convict these violent offenders.