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.” ••