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N.H. House committee hears testimony on domestic violence bill

By KATHLEEN RONAYNE Monitor staff
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
(Published in print: Wednesday, April 16, 2014)

Creating a crime of domestic violence in New Hampshire will allow police officers, judges and community advocates to better help victims and gather information about perpetrators, supporters of a bill known as “Joshua’s Law” told a House committee yesterday.

“I have seen repeat offenders come back, and it is an ever-increasing violent crime,” Hillsborough County Attorney Patricia LaFrance said. “By calling these crimes what they really are, this will allow for interventions that could be an essential part of safety for victims and families.”

In response to questions from two lawmakers, supporters also said the bill would not prohibit a new class of people from purchasing guns. Federal law prohibits people with qualifying misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from buying and owning guns. But without an existing crime of domestic violence, state reporting into the federal background checks system is not streamlined, Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice said. In addition to creating better protections for victims, this bill could keep people from unnecessarily being placed on the firearms ban list, she said.

The bill, called Joshua’s Law in honor of the 9-year- old boy shot by his father in Manchester last year, passed the Senate unanimously in February. If passed, it would allow for 17 existing crimes to be prosecuted under a new domestic violence statute if a domestic or intimate relationship exists between the defendant and victim. The police and prosecutors would still have the discretion to choose whether to charge and prosecute crimes as domestic violence.

Fifty percent of homicides and 92 percent of murder-suicides in New Hampshire are related to domestic violence, according to 2012 statistics from the Governor’s Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Republican Reps. Kyle Tasker of Nottingham, Mark Warden of Manchester and Steve Vaillancourt of Manchester asked several questions aimed at assessing whether the bill was necessary. New Hampshire is one of 15 states that does not have a crime of domestic violence, and supporters said that without one, the state is falling behind on domestic violence protections.

Becky Ranes, the mother of 9-year-old Joshua Savyon, also testified in support of the bill, holding a picture of Joshua in front of her and wearing a pin with a photo of him. Joshua was shot and killed in a murder-suicide by his father, Muni Savyon, at a Manchester YWCA last fall. Ranes and other bill supporters said yesterday they didn’t know whether the bill would have saved Joshua’s life, but that it could save the lives of others. Sayvon had threatened to kill Ranes and Joshua, and was charged with criminal threatening. If this bill had already been passed, he likely would have been charged with domestic violence.

“We lived each day with fear,” Ranes said. “It is so painful and unnerving to watch your child be granted regular access to someone who has threatened to kill him.”

The Legislature is also working on a bill that would require metal detectors at all licensed visitation centers in the state. The YWCA where Joshua was shot had hand-held metal detectors, but were not used the day Savyon entered the facility.

Under the bill heard yesterday, crimes such as simple assault, criminal threatening, stalking and sexual assault that are committed against a spouse, intimate partner or household member, including a child, could be prosecuted as domestic violence. The bill does not create any new crimes, but instead allows all of these crimes to be labeled as domestic violence.

Supporters said it could better prepare police officers who respond to the crimes and judges who determine bail and sentencing. It also doesn’t change civil laws that allow victims to pursue protective orders.

Classifying offenses as domestic violence will also allow for better collection of statistics and an understanding of when and where abuses are occurring, supporters said.

“Without an accurate snapshot of the scope of the problem, we cannot adequately respond to it,” said Amanda Grady Sexton, director of public policy for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will vote on the bill Tuesday then send it to the House floor.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)