Brown proposes package of initiatives to curb domestic violence in Maryland

October 29, 2013

Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown on Tuesday announced a package of initiatives to curb domestic violence, including the statewide expansion of hospital-based assistance programs and easing the standard of proof to get a protective order.

The Democratic gubernatorial hopeful also proposed requiring cellphone carriers to allow domestic violence victims to separate, without penalty, from their partner’s contracts, as well as additional funding for other programs.

The proposals, presented at a news conference in Columbia, were the latest policy initiatives from a candidate whose early campaign focused on highlighting prominent Democrats who have endorsed his 2014 bid to succeed Gov. Martin O’Malley (D). Aides to Brown, who recently detailed a pre-kindergarten education plan, say he will roll out many more proposals as the campaign moves forward.

One of Brown’s rivals, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D), has also put a spotlight on domestic violence initiatives. Early this summer, before officially declaring his candidacy, Gansler visited the Montgomery County Family Justice Center, an organization partly funded and supported by the county that provides an array of services for victims of abuse. Gansler, who helped launch the center as the Montgomery County state’s attorney, held it up as a model for the state.

On Tuesday, the Gansler campaign sought to discredit Brown’s credentials on the issue, citing a bill on sentencing rules that Brown had previously supported but chose not to sponsor in 2003, when he was a delegate from Prince George’s County.

Brown was quoted at the time as saying that while in his first year as vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he didn’t want to be pitted against the committee’s chairman on the bill. The chairman opposed the legislation, which placed limitations on a judge’s authority to reconsider sentences — a move Brown had argued would help domestic violence victims.

“He traded buddying up to the chairman over protecting the victims of domestic violence,” Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Prince George’s), Gansler’s running mate, said in a statement Tuesday. “The women and families of Maryland will not let him get away with standing here today to pontificate about domestic violence when his past shows he abused our trust on this issue.”

Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore), a Brown supporter, later said she found it “deeply troubling that the attorney general’s campaign would use this issue to score cheap political points.”

The June primary for governor also includes Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery).

At the event in Columbia, Brown argued that he and O’Malley have made significant progress combatting domestic violence since first being elected in 2006. Since then, he said, the number of assaults related to domestic violence each year have declined nearly 20 percent. But Brown said more remains to be done.

In recent years, the number of community hospitals in Maryland with domestic violence assessment, referral and assistance programs have grown to eight. Brown said Tuesday he wants to put similar programs in all 46 community hospitals across the state.

A significant percentage of women who are later murdered by their partners have visited a hospital within a couple of years of being killed, studies suggest.

Existing hospital-based programs are funded through a combination of public and private funds. Brown said he would boost state spending by up to $5 million to facilitate the expansion statewide.

Among his other proposals:

— Create a $5 million “innovation” fund to assist local programs targeting domestic violence and sexual assault; and boost state spending by another $5 million on existing rape crisis centers and other programs.

— Change the standard required to get a final protective order against an abusive partner from “clear and convincing evidence” to a “preponderance of evidence”;

— Impose additional penalties on people who commit acts of domestic violence in front of children;

— Expand those eligible to obtain protective orders to include people in dating and sexual relationships who are not married, living together or formerly married;

— Enact minimum training standards for police regarding domestic violence.

— Require that intimate partner violence screening be part of electronic health records in hospitals.

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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