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Maryland House committee advances three O’Malley-backed bills on domestic violence

A key committee in the Maryland House of Delegates on Thursday night advanced three bills sought by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) to combat domestic violence, including one that aims to make it easier for victims of abuse to receive a civil protection order.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 18 to 3 for legislation that would lower the standard of proof when seeking such an order from clear and convincing evidence to the preponderance of evidence.

Maryland is the only state in the nation that has the stricter standard. The House panel rejected a similar bill when it last considered the issue in 2010. This year, the Senate has already passed legislation lowering the standard.

“I applaud the Judiciary Committee for taking this important step and aligning Maryland’s standard of proof for peace and protective orders with 49 other states,” Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), who is lobbying for the bill on behalf of the O’Malley administration, said in a statement Thursday night. “This action will protect victims of abuse and make our families and communities safer.”

The House Judiciary Committee also approved a bill Thursday night that will allow judges to impose harsher sentences on abusers who commit acts of violence in the presence of a child.

Brown and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D), who are both running for governor this year, have been pushing slightly different versions of that legislation.

The committee passed the bill preferred by Brown, 21 to 0, but amended it to look more like the bill preferred by Gansler, according to House aides. The bill preferred by Gansler is sponsored by Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-Montgomery), who has worked on the issue for eight years. That bill was also later passed by the committee.

The third O’Malley-backed bill approved by the committee adds assault in the second degree to the list of crimes which can subject an individual to the issuance of a permanent final protective order. As amended by the committee, the bill also lowers the minimum number of years of incarceration before such an order can be issued. It passed 21 to 0.

All three O’Malley-backed bills and the Simmons bill are expected to come before the full House next week.

John Wagner is a political reporter covering the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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