Guest column by Sen. Emily Ann Cain
Last week marked the beginning of the second session of the 126th Legislature. The second session is known as the short session because the Legislature is expected to adjourn in April, instead of June. There are fewer bills for lawmakers to consider during the short session.
I am sponsoring two bills this session, and this week I want to tell you about one I introduced to further my work to reduce domestic violence and assist survivors.
Over the past three years, we have taken major steps as a state to improve the way we respond to the escalation of domestic violence in Maine. I am proud to have been a leader on these initiatives, but there is still work to be done.
Each year, we continue to witness the devastation caused by domestic violence within our families and communities. Last year, Maine police reported more than 5,500 incidents of domestic violence and nearly half of the homicides in Maine were domestic violence related. There are simply too many horrible examples to share, and watching the nightly news and reading the daily newspapers shows us the problem first hand.
Attorney General Janet Mills notes that even when domestic violence does not end in death or serious injury, it extracts a tremendous cost on our children and our communities. Children who grow up in homes with domestic violence are often distracted and can have learning and behavioral problems. Domestic violence impacts people of all backgrounds, and we must do everything we can to stop the escalation of domestic violence in our communities.
This session, my bill focuses on making sure the laws we have passed work as intended. The components in this bill are all improvements to existing laws that are working fairly well. These improvements are badly needed to increase safety for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as to allow the policy, and the coordinated community response to domestic violence, to work the way the Legislature intended when we passed laws in prior sessions.
My bill will clarify how law enforcement, judicial, and community groups share information so they can plan the most effective response when domestic violence occurs. By coordinating their knowledge and efforts, we can better determine the risk for domestic violence and plan for the safety of victims and their families.
My bill also enacts some changes to the bail system to increase safety for survivors of domestic violence. The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when the survivor is leaving. In 2012, the Legislature made some important changes to the bail code related to domestic violence. Some of the changes in bail procedures inadvertently allowed offenders who are detained in jail to call and terrorize their victims before a no contact order can be put in place. My bill closes this loophole.
My bill also strengthens the Address Confidentiality Program, a program run by the Secretary of State to protect survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking by providing a confidential address. The bill clarifies that once a person is certified as a participant in the Address Confidentiality Program, that person’s contact information may not be used or disclosed unless approved by the Secretary of State under the circumstances set forth in the program.
The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee held a public hearing on my bill on Monday. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, Attorney General Janet Mills, and representatives from the Maine Women’s Lobby, the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, and the Maine State Police all testified in support of the bill. The committee will hold a work session on the bill later this session and I will keep you updated on its progress.