The 2011 General Assembly session ended on July 1. This session was full of activity as the RICADV fought to preserve our remaining state funding for the services provided by our six member agencies while simultaneously pursuing a powerful legislative agenda aimed at protecting the lives of Rhode Island victims of domestic violence.
While the session ended with the RICADV and its member agencies facing a 10% cut in state funding, our legislative agenda received broad-based support resulting in successful passage of a bill to make cyberstalking a domestic violence crime and the House and Senate passage of legislation to make strangulation assaults a felony.
Court Advocacy and Children Who Witness Programs Face Decreased Funding
Rhode Island human service agencies have been deeply impacted during these difficult economic times by significant funding cuts, specifically cuts to the state Community Service Grants. For the RICADV’s six member agencies, these cuts have meant a 60% loss in funding since 2006 to two major programs: the Court Advocacy Program and Children Who Witness Program.
This year funding continued to decline, as the General Assembly cut the funding for these programs by an additional 10%. This means that our Court Advocacy Program, which last year saw a rise of 7% in domestic violence criminal cases and almost 5% in restraining orders, will face additional loss.
This news was unfortunate, as the RICADV and its member agencies may be forced to make adjustments in programs in order to absorb this additional funding decline.
RICADV Legislative Agenda: Protecting Lives
Last year, Rhode Island saw the loss of 13 lives to domestic violence, the highest ever on record. When the General Assembly session opened in January, the RICADV launched a legislative platform designed to strengthen Rhode Island laws by providing the criminal justice system with further tools to prevent relationships from escalating to this level of violence.
In late May 2011, the Rhode Island General Assembly enacted RICADV’s first legislative priority, a bill which adds the charge of Cyberstalking to the Domestic Violence Prevention Act.
The passage of this bill (H.5264-Coderre /S.334-Goodwin) allows a charge of cyberstalking or cyberharassment to be prosecuted as a domestic violence offense, which affords a victim of domestic violence enhanced protections including an automatic no-contact order issued upon arrest and the assistance of a victim advocate. The use of technology in abusive relationships to intimate and threaten is increasing rapidly. The enactment of this law will ensure that Rhode Island domestic violence laws keep up with this increase.
After passing the Senate unanimously and the House by a vote of 67-1, Governor Chaffee signed this bill into law on June 15, 2011.
The RICADV would like to thank the General Assembly leadership and supporters and to extend a special thanks to our longstanding champions on domestic violence issues, Senator Maryellen Goodwin and House Speaker Pro Tempore Elaine Coderre for their sponsorship of this legislation.
To read more about the Cyberstalking Bill:
Cyberstalking fact sheet
The second 2011 RICADV legislative priority was a bill to make an assault where the victim is strangled a felony. Unfortunately this bill was not enacted into law this session.
This legislation (H.5087-DaSilva /S.217-DeVall) addresses one of the top domestic violence lethality factors, as strangulation assaults are a sign of increasing violence in a relationship. A domestic violence victim who has been strangled at some point in the relationship is nine times more likely to be killed. Despite their lethal nature, Rhode Island law currently charges these offenses as misdemeanor simple assaults.
The Rhode Island Senate passed the Senate version unanimously and the House of Representatives passed the House version by a vote of 59-11. Unfortunately, the General Assembly did not pass reconciliation language before the close of the 2011 session, so that the bill did not become a law this year.
Enactment would be an important step toward decreasing the number of domestic violence fatalities in Rhode Island. Looking forward, the RICADV will build off of this year’s success in the House and Senate and place this legislation as a top priority next year in an effort to turn this bill into law.
To read more about the Strangulation Bill:
Strangulation fact sheet
The final bill in the RICADV’s “Protecting Lives” campaign would clarify provisions in the Domestic Violence Prevention Act by calling for enhanced penalties for repeat domestic violence petty misdemeanor charges. This bill did not pass this year.
This bill (H.5261-Coderre /S.70-Crowley) aims to capture the domestic violence cycle of abuse by holding abusers accountable for their repeat actions and threatening behavior. Domestic disorderly conduct, the most prevalent domestic violence petty misdemeanor, was the second most common charge last year with over 2,000 charges, a 13% increase from 2009. This increase has been consistent and the number of charges has doubled in the last five years.
The Clarification Bill was heard successfully in both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees and had heavy support in both chambers. Passage of this bill is an important step toward strengthening the Rhode Island domestic violence laws. Looking forward, this legislation will continue to be a priority and the RICADV plans to work with our allies over the summer and fall to build on the existing support in the General Assembly for this bill.
To read more about the Clarification Bill:
Clarification fact sheet
Looking Forward to 2012—Safety for Children
Since the release of its report Safety for Children in 2010, the RICADV and its taskforce of survivors, SOAR, have been working on the report’s recommendations to make the Rhode Island custody and visitation system safer for victims of domestic violence and their children.
One of the recommendations in the report is to recommend changes to the Rhode Island General Laws to create clear custody standards and guidelines to be followed in domestic violence cases.
The RICADV plans to form a committee to address this recommendation. This committee will be made up of members of the court and legal community, advocates, and experts in the field of domestic violence and child custody.