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Md. legislature sends bill to O’Malley that targets domestic violence in front of a child

The Maryland House of Delegates sent a bill to the governor Thursday that would allow judges to impose harsher sentences on abusers who commit acts of domestic violence in the presence of a child.

The measure, which passed 136 to 1, is part of a package of bills targeting domestic violence that Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) sponsored this year. The legislation has also been a leading priority for two Democratic rivals trying to succeed him: Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler.

Under the bill, which had previously passed the Senate, someone who commits a crime of violence in the presence of a child at least 2 years old is subject to an additional five years in prison. Advocates for the bill argue that children who witness domestic abuse are often as traumatized as those who are abused.

“Every child deserves to grow up in a safe, stable home,” O’Malley said in a statement Thursday. “Because of this bill, we’ll hold more abusers accountable while ensuring stable healthy homes for Maryland children.”

Gansler had worked in previous years on the legislation, which failed in the waning hours of last year’s 90-day session.

Brown said he took up the cause this session after anti-domestic violence advocates asked for his help.

“By giving judges the ability to add time to the sentences of those who commit acts of violence in front of a child in a home, we’re going to protect our children from the abusers who threaten their lives and their futures,” Brown said in a statement issued by his office minutes after the bill passed Thursday.

The legislation has been a long-term priority for Del. Luis R.S. Simmons (D-Montgomery), who had introduced similar bills in seven previous sessions.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Gansler thanked Simmons “for never giving up.”

“We’re just glad for this victory on behalf of Maryland children and families,” Gansler said.

Earlier this week, the Senate gave final passage to two other O’Malley-backed domestic violence bills, including one that would end Maryland’s distinction as the only state in the country that requires victims to meet a higher standard of “clear and convincing evidence” to obtain a protective order.

The other bill would add second-degree assault to the list of crimes for which a person can obtain a permanent final protective order. Both bills had been previously approved by overwhelming margins in the House.

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

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