New bills will protect domestic violence victims

Late last month, state Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-170th dist.) in­tro­duced five bills that call for more pro­tec­tions for vic­tims of do­mest­ic vi­ol­ence in Pennsylvania. 

“This is a massive prob­lem in our so­ci­ety,” Boyle said. “Here in Pennsylvania, lit­er­ally every day, a wo­man is ser­i­ously harmed, even killed, as a res­ult of do­mest­ic vi­ol­ence.”

Boyle made the com­ments at a news con­fer­ence at the Laurel House, a shel­ter for vic­tims of do­mest­ic ab­use, in Nor­ris­town.

The le­gis­la­tion calls for in­creased pri­vacy for vic­tims seek­ing a Pro­tec­tion From Ab­use or­der, an­nu­al train­ing for loc­al and state-level law en­force­ment and au­thor­iz­a­tion for courts to or­der GPS mon­it­or­ing for some of­fend­ers.

“These are com­mon­sense, rev­en­ue-neut­ral bills that will not cost a dol­lar,” Boyle said.

House Bills 1978 and 1977, re­spect­ively, call for in­creased pri­vacy for do­mest­ic vi­ol­ence vic­tims and al­tern­at­ive means for of­fend­ers to be served with a PFA.

Ac­cord­ing to Boyle, a per­son served with a PFA can counter-sue and gain ac­cess to a vic­tim’s per­son­al in­form­a­tion, mak­ing is “easi­er for a stalk­er to do his stalk­ing.” His bill will al­low a court to or­der that in­form­a­tion to re­main private.

“Right now, our leg­al sys­tem works in such a way that the at­tack­er … can ma­nip­u­late the sys­tem so they can get the ad­dress and So­cial Se­cur­ity num­ber of their vic­tims,” Boyle ex­plained.

House BIll 1977 will al­low courts to serve a per­son with a PFA via cer­ti­fied mail. Law en­force­ment can use the post of­fice, vet­er­ans’ of­fice or IRS doc­u­ments to de­term­ine a val­id ad­dress, or run an an­nounce­ment in a pub­lic­a­tion to serve as no­tice. 

Cur­rently, the courts can use only cer­ti­fied mail after a vic­tim has tried them­selves to serve the PFA three times.

“At­tor­neys … cited nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions where people at­tempt­ing to serve PFAs were ac­tu­ally killed. This simple le­gis­la­tion will as­sure that this will not hap­pen,” Boyle ex­plained. 

To as­sist law en­force­ment, Bills 1974 and 1975 call for “a small amount” of an­nu­al man­dat­ory train­ing at state and loc­al levels for po­lice. “If you talk to any cop, they will tell you … the call they most hate get­ting is a do­mest­ic vi­ol­ence situ­ation,” said Boyle, cit­ing the “dif­fer­ent nature” and “dif­fi­cult” cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing these situ­ations. 

The most po­ten­tially con­tro­ver­sial piece of le­gis­la­tion, ad­mit­ted Boyle, is House Bill 1976. If passed, it can or­der an of­fend­er be equipped with a pass­ive GPS track­ing device. Law en­force­ment could view re­cords of an of­fend­er’s where­abouts only un­der court or­der if a vic­tim re­ports that the of­fend­er has vi­ol­ated the terms of a PFA.

“This is not big broth­er mon­it­or­ing,” Boyle as­sured.

Rather, it re­moves the “onus” from the vic­tim to prove a vi­ol­a­tion.

“This could po­ten­tially save lives,” he said.

An of­fend­er would need a his­tory of vi­ol­at­ing such or­ders, or present “a sub­stan­tial risk of in­flict­ing ab­use” to re­quire one, he ad­ded, not­ing that 22 oth­er states already ap­proved sim­il­ar meas­ures.

The of­fend­er would pay a one-time fee between $100 and $150 for the device, most likely an ankle brace­let, and no fur­ther costs would be levied on the vic­tim, of­fend­er or courts.

The bills were in­tro­duced on Jan. 24, and Boyle, who is seek­ing the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­a­tion in the 13th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict, said he is con­fid­ent they will be signed in­to law with little, if any, op­pos­i­tion. 

“Even though there’s much par­tis­an­ship in gov­ern­ment today,” he said, “there is no di­vi­sion when it comes to com­munity, vic­tim or law en­force­ment safety.” ••

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