AG Gansler Urges House Committee to Pass Key Domestic Violence Bill
Legislation sponsored by Del. Luiz Simmons has enthusiastic support from
victims and advocates for tougher domestic violence laws
Baltimore, MD (February 21, 2014) - Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler today renewed his long-held support for legislation that would give judges discretion to enhance by up to five years the sentence imposed on those who commit domestic violence in the presence of a child. The legislation, House Bill 185 - Committing a Crime of Violence in the Presence of a Minor, sponsored by Delegate Luiz Simmons, was to be heard by the House Judiciary Committee, marking the eighth consecutive year that the legislation has come before Maryland lawmakers.
"Our primary goal is to do whatever we can to ensure that children have the best possible chance to grow up healthy and achieve their potential," said Attorney General Gansler, who first backed the proposal in 2006 while serving as Montgomery County State's Attorney. "Studies show that children who witness domestic violence are more likely to fail in school, succumb to drug and alcohol abuse and even repeat the same behavior later in life."
"Attorney General Doug Gansler and I have stood shoulder to shoulder in the fight to protect our children against domestic violence," said Delegate Luiz Simmons. "I hope this is the year the General Assembly will see the value in this legislation and achieve a victory on behalf of all Maryland children."
As the current chair of the Governor's Family Violence Council, Attorney General Gansler has worked with advocates and victims to ensure Maryland laws and resources address the obstacles and challenges that confront domestic abuse victims. This legislation is intended to acknowledge the serious impacts that domestic violence has on its most innocent victims - children.
Under this legislation, Maryland judges would have the discretion to add up to five years incarceration to the sentence of anyone who commits violence in the presence of a minor when "the State's Attorney provides a specified written notice to the defendant and if specified elements have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt."
According to the U.S. Justice Department's National Task Force on Defending Childhood, which is part of the Defending Childhood Initiative, domestic violence puts children at high risk for severe and potentially lifelong problems with physical health, mental health, and school and peer relationships as well as disruptive or even criminal behavior. Such children may suffer uncertainty, fear, grief, anger, shame and attach a sense of betrayal into all of their important relationships for the rest of their lives.
From his days as a federal prosecutor, Attorney General Gansler has been a leading advocate for domestic violence victims. He prosecuted domestic violence cases as an Assistant United States Attorney and his work on those cases provided insight into the complexity of domestic abuse. As Montgomery County State's Attorney, he started the first domestic violence docket in the county's history - designed to specifically handle this unique crime. He also championed the Montgomery County Family Justice Center, a collaboration of public and private social service agencies seeking to provide services to families impacted by domestic violence.
Photos from the press conference and testimony here.