There is a new push to help survivors of domestic violence and it can’t come soon enough.
Central Florida has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in Florida and the majority of them include child abuse.
Lawmakers introduced two new bills in the Florida Senate designed to help close legal loopholes.
- SB 1286: Electronic Monitoring Devices
- Prohibiting the removal, destruction, or circumvention of the operation of an electronic monitoring device being used by a person for specified purposes; prohibiting requesting or soliciting a person to perform such an act; providing criminal penalties, etc.
- CS/SB 342: No Contact Orders
- Providing for the effect and enforceability of orders of no contact as a part of pretrial release; specifying acts prohibited by a no contact order, etc.
These changes would increase the penalty for removing electronic monitoring devices and violating no contact orders.
"These are offenders who violate court orders. These are offenders who don't care, and they're the most dangerous," said Carol Wick, CEO of Harbor House of Central Florida, which works to prevent domestic abuse. "They're the people who are often held without bond, which is why they are making those phone calls from jail. This is such critical legislation to close these two loopholes."
It is a crime often suffered in silence. Domestic violence survivors often fear speaking out or fear cooperating with law enforcement.
“Before the perpetrator is released from the jail, he or she can begin to make lots of phone calls to the victim," Alice Blackwell, a ninth judicial circuit judge said. "And to anyone else to try and harass the victim survivor into dropping the charges."
This bill would make that act a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year behind bars for each offense.
“The beauty of this new law is it will enable us to prosecute offenders even without victim cooperation because we don’t necessarily have to have a victim testify to prove that there was a violation of contact," state attorney Jeff Ashton said.
Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, introduced both bills earlier in February. Simmons represents Florida's 10th Senate District, covering southwest Volusia and all of Seminole County.
The new legislation has received enormous support from lawmakers, law enforcement, domestic violence shelters and Orange County leaders.
Officials expect these two bills to pass this year during Florida's legislative session, which starts Monday. If passed, they will go into effect October 1.