A new criminal domestic violence bill was put on a fast-track to the South Carolina House floor on April 26. Bypassing subcommittee, the bill went directly to the full House, something that is rarely done. The House adjourned at 5:30pm without a vote on the bill. Other bills were on the House calendar Tuesday that they say had to take precedence, but lawmakers say they expect to vote on the bill Wednesday. Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Harrison of Columbia says the bill is expected to be approved. Harrison says Charleston Representative John Graham Altman is one of the sponsors. Altman received national attention last week for what he said after an earlier domestic violence bill was killed. He told WIS (a television station) he didn't understand why women go back to men who abuse them. Domestic violence advocates say the new bill looks a lot like the bill they introduced to the full committee, the one that was tabled.
The new bill includes training for judges, and at first glance, advocates say one of the penalties is stiffer than what was originally asked for. The original bill required third time offenders to serve a mandatory minimum of 120 days behind bars. In the new version, a third offence would be a felony, punishable by a minimum of a year in jail. The new bill would also set fines of up to $2500 for first-offense criminal domestic violence. The current penalty is 30 days in jail or a $500 fine. The bill's co-sponsor, Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg) says, "What they have offered and put on the table is making the third offence a felony, which I support. ... I didn't think I could get that much. That's why I didn't include it in my original version. But I'm saying, hey you guys, go for it." One thing Cobb-Hunter and advocates are still sorting through is a section dealing with pretrial intervention. The way the original bill was written, pre-trial intervention is not an option for batterers.
Under the new bill, first offenders would still attend pre-trial intervention, but the program would be 26 weeks instead of around six, and would require offenders to attend batterer intervention programs, previously not required. The bill also makes another big change. In the past, a first-time offender's record would be expunged after three years. In the new bill, that's bumped up to five years all in all.
Advocates say they have never seen so much compliance with what we've been asking for.