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Gun issue surfaces in domestic violence bill

Josey1Josey1 Member Posts: 15,758
edited January 2002 in General Discussion
Gun issue surfaces in domestic violence bill By GREGORY KESICH, Portland Press Herald WriterCopyright c 2002 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc. E-mail this story to a friend A battle plan in the fight against domestic violence received near universal support at a public hearing Tuesday, but few expect it to become law without major revisions.As drafted by the Commission to Study Domestic Violence, the bill calls for a dozen new state employees and is considered by some lawmakers to be too expensive in a year when the state is cutting programs.
It also contains a controversial provision that would allow judges to seize handguns from people under temporary protection from abuse orders. A similar measure was soundly defeated last year. Opponents say the bill has not changed enough to win their support."It would be a major disservice if everything in this report is lost for this one controversial item," said Sen. Michael McAlevey, R-Waterboro. He is a co-chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee, which has jurisdiction over any bill that would result from the commission's work.As the Legislature reviews the plan, police experts say that domestic violence is Maine's biggest crime problem, absorbing the largest share of their resources and resulting in the most serious cases they face. While all other crime dropped 12 percent in 2000, the last year for which statistics are available, domestic violence reports increased in Maine by 6.7 percent. It is the leading cause of murder in Maine, resulting in half of the state's homicides.Two years ago, Gov. Angus King called domestic violence "public enemy number one" in his state of the state address. This year he renewed his call for action, citing the legislation on protection from abuse orders as a way to fight domestic violence.But King has also proposed cutting a $1.8 million increase for domestic violence programs from next year's budget, attracting criticism from some lawmakers, including McAlevey. "The governor talks tough about domestic violence, but why is he cutting the budget?" he asked.The commission studied domestic violence for two years, and sought advice from experts in and outside the legal systemAmong the recommendations are:Hiring six dedicated investigators who would work with prosecutors to help build stronger domestic violence cases.Hiring six dedicated probation officers who would work with people convicted of domestic violence crimes. Providing more training and instructions for bail commissioners when they set conditions for release of people arrested for crimes of domestic violence.The report also has provisions which would not be expensive or controversial. For instance, it would require police departments to inform victims of domestic abuse when their abuser is released from jail.But much of the discussion Tuesday focused on the protection order issue, which had the support of police, prosecutors and advocates for domestic violence victims. Under state law, a judge can take firearms away from someone who is under a permanent protection order, but not a temporary order, which is issued on the basis of a victim's complaint. Since the person under the order doesn't have a chance to defend himself before the temporary order is issued, gun rights' advocates claim it violates constitutional protections.Sen. Neria Douglas, D-Auburn, a co-chairwoman of the study commission, said that the first hours after a victim tries to leave an abusive relationship are the most dangerous and judges should be given the power to take weapons away from people who threaten to use them. A person under a temporary order can demand a hearing before a judge within 48 hours. If he doesn't demand one sooner, the hearing must be held within three weeks.The proponents ask the wrong question, said George Smith, executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, who led the lobbying effort against a similar bill last year."The constitution doesn't care whether it's two weeks or 20 minutes. If it's such an urgent problem, we ought to be working on speeding up those hearings," Smith said.Gregory Kesich can be contacted at 791-6336 or at: [email protected]
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