ANNAPOLIS — For a second straight year, Maryland lawmakers dismissed domestic violence legislation.
Bills from Prince George’s County representatives Del. Angela Angel and Sen. C. Anthony Muse looked to redefine abuse with the addition of “harassment” and “malicious destruction of property.”
The legislation also urged local school boards implement age-appropriate lessons in health education to explain ways to combat violence, but didn’t make it out of committees in both chambers to even garner a full vote.
“I think a big push for us next year will be to try and get some concrete answers from legislators as to why they seem opposed to these bills,” Prince George’s State’s Attorney spokesman John Erzen said in an email. “We will keep the conversation going. We will keep going to Annapolis to fight for legislation to protect victims and hold accountable those who are committing these crimes.”
On Angel’s bill, the House Judiciary Committee voted unfavorably 19-1, with Del. Pam Queen of Montgomery County the lone supporter.
It marked the second straight year Angel proposed domestic violence legislation that wasn’t approved.
A recent report from the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence said Prince George’s had 32 domestic-related fatalities in fiscal years 2015 and 2016, the most in the state.
However, lawmakers did approve one bill, HB 1163, also known as “Ambers Law,” named after Amber Schinault, 36, who was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 2012.
The law goes into effect Oct. 1 and will allow judges to order defendants to wear an electronic monitoring device called “stay-away alert technology” when released from jail or while on probation.
The bill was sponsored by Del. Aruna Miller (D-District 15) of Montgomery County, but six others helped work on the law, including Angel (D-District 25) of Upper Marlboro.
“[Domestic violence] is claiming our children,” said Angel, 37, a domestic violence advocate and survivor. “It’s taking away the stability of home which affects our ability people to keep jobs. Domestic violence affects so many facets of the social issues we are talking about. This is a bedrock issue that needs to be addressed because it is filtering throughout our society.”
Regarding Angel’s failed legislation, Committee members questioned the vagueness of its definition of harassment, which was defined as “an intentional course of conduct or a series of acts, including written or electronic communication or transmission that continues after a reasonable warning or request to stop by, or behalf of another person.”
For example, could a person who yells at someone for whatever reason be charged with harassment?
“There were just too many questions and too vague on how you can define harassment,” said Del. Susie Proctor (D-District 27A) who represents portions of Prince George’s and Charles counties. “We didn’t want a lot of frivolous things coming forward. I’m sure we will deal with this again.”
In reference to the school board portion of the bill, Del. Jazz Lewis (D-District 24) said there’s a possibility to separate the definitions and school board portions in next year’s session.
“Expanding what is considered domestic violence and also making a curriculum in the schools was pulling a whole bunch together at once,” said Lewis, who was appointed to the Maryland General Assembly in February. “Everyone stands on the side of the person who could be potentially abused, but we want to make sure … that it would be a stronger bill and more clarity giving to the county boards of education.”
Because a House committee voted against the bill, it didn’t move in the Senate.
Muse (D-District 26) of Fort Washington, who co-sponsored a domestic violence bill in the Senate, helped create a domestic violence task force after last year’s death of NeShante Davis and her 2-year-old daughter, Chloe Davis-Green, both of whom were fatally shot by Chloe’s father during a dispute over $600 monthly child support payments.
He said he continues to work on language that would require an accused abuser to not only participate in anger management courses, but also wear an electronic monitor that would signal to law enforcement the person’s location.
“There are other measures we can use that I will examine as we go into the new year,” he said. “We did as much work as we could get done this session.”