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Read our latest newsletter: February 2017.

Domestic violence groups rally for more money

By Allison DeAngelis
Daily News Correspondent

BOSTON - Some 30 groups, including Framingham organizations Wayside Youth and Family Support Network and Voices Against Violence, came to the State House Thursday to push for legislation ranging from employment leave for violence victims, to making a felony of assault by strangulation and choking.

The lobbying effort, an annual event, sought to highlight the lack of progress the Legislature has made on more than 30 pieces of legislation dealing with both long- standing and new domestic violence issues.
Advocates also objected that state funding for domestic violence and sexual assault programs has yet to reach pre-recession levels.

In fiscal year 2009 the budget for domestic violence support services was $23.5 million. Five years later, funding is at $22.75 million.

The budget requested by Jane Doe, Inc. and local organizations would top 2009 levels, restoring core services such as legal and hospital advocates.

"There were widespread cuts, given the economic downturn. For a couple of years, we have just been trying to get back to 2009 levels. We’re asking for a little more this year because those 2009 dollars don’t purchase the same level of services," said Maureen Gallagher, policy director for Jane Doe Inc.

Wayside representative Mary-Kaitlyn Hilton said the cuts have forced organizations like hers to suspend programs and cut jobs.

Nearly 350 people were turned away from shelters because of a lack of beds each day last year, according to representatives from Voices Against Violence.

"We want to reduce that number," said Caitlin LeMay, a case manager at Voices Against Violence. "It’s incredibly hard for a survivor of domestic violence or sexual assault to reach out for help. It takes a lot of strength and courage, so if someone makes that phone call, we want to be on the other end and say 'yes.'"

The event also highlighted the fact that only a handful of bills were approved by this week’s so-called Joint Rule 10 deadline, which requires legislative committees to offer reports on the various proposals.

Legislation that isn’t reported favorably from committees by the deadline (March 19 this year) generally don’t progress any further.

One of the few bills to get a nod from the Legislature before the deadline was a proposal from Rep. Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston, that would establish crimes such as arson of a dwelling, drugging for sex, violating restraining orders, as aggravating factors during the prosecution of domestic violence.

A 2008 law created harsher penalties for domestic violence if it was a second offense. However, the nature of the first offense wasn’t specified in previous legislation.

"Effectively, the second offense has never been able to be used, because you could never get a first offense," Dykema said.

Additionally, a Senate bill enhancing protection for domestic violence victims passed last October.

While some domestic violence bills have emerged from the legislative shuffle, dozens of bills targeting legal, law enforcement and employment issues have stalled in the slow-moving legislative process.

Various MetroWest legislators sponsored domestic violence bills this session that have either been given an extended deadline or will likely never emerge from committee.

Sens. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, and James Eldridge, D-Acton, and Rep. Alice Peisch, D-Wellesley, filed bills targeting bail conditions for domestic violence charges, confidentiality and other items.

Gallagher said several of the bills were filed in past sessions. A bill giving victims the ability to take employment leave, for example, has been introduced in three or four sessions.

"It is a challenge. There’s been support from the employers, so I’m not sure why that hasn’t gone through. I’m not sure about specific opposition from legislators, but I think a lot of bigger issues can overshadow it," Gallagher said.

Allison DeAngelis writes for the Boston University Statehouse Program.



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