I am excited to report that the House and Senate have agreed on a compromise that will hopefully bring more protections for victims of domestic violence and greater accountability for domestic violence perpetrators.
The compromise was incorporated into an amendment to Senate Bill 3 that was approved by the House on May 20. The compromise must still be approved by the Senate before the end of session, on June 4, and then signed by the governor.
Domestic violence is such an important issue that affects so many people in our community and state. I am optimistic the bill will be enacted and when it does, I will be celebrating! It is time to pass the S.C. Domestic Violence Act! By the way, please attend a town hall meeting on domestic violence at 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 4, in the Bennettsville Community Center at 725 N. Marlboro St. Come listen to the stories of others and address your concerns.
It is even monumental that key House and Senate leaders worked so closely together to bring about the compromise. Typically, these compromises come during the conference committee process — not at this earlier point in the legislative process. Until the breakthrough, the two legislative bodies kept insisting on keeping their own versions: S3, which had passed the Senate, and H 3433, which was earlier approved by the House.
The compromise includes some of the best elements of both bills. It keeps provisions in the Senate version that impose stronger penalties for domestic violence offenders and gives victims the ability to seek lifetime orders of protection, while keeping the House bill’s requirement for students to be taught about domestic violence. It bans convicted offenders from possessing guns for the more serious domestic violence crimes.
The compromise, like both prior bills, includes different levels of punishment, based upon the severity of the victim’s injuries and the number of prior convictions the offender has. It also would add stiffer penalties for aggravating circumstances, such as showing “extreme indifference to human life,” using a deadly weapon, committing domestic violence during a robbery, committing domestic violence in front of a minor, or against a pregnant victim, when a protection order is violated, if the offender impedes a victim’s breathing or blocks a victim’s access to a cellphone needed to get help.
Offenders convicted of the felony crime of first-degree criminal domestic violence would face a sentence of imprisonment for up to 10 years and would be prohibited from possessing guns for 10 years. A conviction of second-degree domestic violence, during which the victim suffers “moderate bodily injury,” would be punishable by fines up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.
Domestic violence in the third degree, a misdemeanor, would carry penalties of imprisonment for up to 90 days and/or fines up to $2,500, Judges could decide if the abusers would lose their gun rights. First-time offenders would be eligible for a domestic violence intervention program designed to treat batterers.
Other provisions of the compromise include:
• The establishment of a Domestic Violence Advisory Committee, consisting of state agency heads and others, who would study domestic violence per county, recommend changes to the law and submit an annual report to the governor and General Assembly.
• A requirement that the subject of domestic violence would have to be incorporated into comprehensive health classes for students in grades 6-8 — beginning with the 2016-17 school year.
• A provision that a person could seek a permanent restraining order, rather than having to keep going before a judge annually to face the offender. Violations of the permanent order would be a felony criminal offense, punishable by up to five years in prison.
A bill (S 47) requiring state and local law enforcement to wear body cameras (while on duty) has been going back and forth from the House to the Senate, and vice versa. On May 13, the House amended, unanimously approved the legislation and sent it to the Senate, and on May 20, the Senate amended the House amendment and returned it to the House. We are waiting for a final vote on this bill.
A measure (S 426) to expand mental health courts across the state is expected to be sent to the governor soon. Nonviolent mentally ill offenders referred to these courts could be diverted to treatment programs rather than serve time in jail. If the offender failed to complete the program, his or her sentence would be reinstated. It has passed the House and Senate.
As a final note, I hope you will attend the Marlboro County Fishing Rodeo at 1410 Redhill Road in Bennettsville, 8 a.m. -1 p.m. on Saturday, June 6. For more information, call 843-661-4766. The rodeo is geared toward youths 15 and under, but they must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Thank you for the trust that you have placed in me. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, you can reach me in Columbia at 803-212-6896, or email@example.com. My mailing address is The Honorable Patricia “Pat” Henegan, 333A Blatt, P.O. Box 11867, Columbia, SC 29211.
On Mondays and Fridays, you can reach me at 843-479-7838. You may also call 843-479-5622 to set up an appointment to meet me on Mondays or Fridays at my Bennettsville office at the Office of Veterans Affairs in the D.D. McColl House, 300 W. Main St., at the corner of Cheraw and Main streets.
My local mailing address is Rep. Pat Henegan, P.O. Box 41, Bennettsville, SC 29512.