FRANKFORT — A bill that would extend domestic violence protection to dating partners unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, but its fate is unknown in the Senate, where similar versions have died in the past.
In Kentucky, people can ask judges for a short-term emergency protective order or a longer-term domestic violence order prohibiting contact with their alleged abusers if they are related, were married or living together, or had children.
Under House Bill 8, which proceeds to the full House, someone could ask for a protective order if they were in a "dating relationship" with the alleged abuser. Such a relationship is defined as "a relationship of romantic or intimate nature" within the previous three years.
Current law leaves several categories of people unprotected, including women of college age, roughly one-third of whom will be sexually or physically victimized by the time they graduate, said Carol Jordan, director of the University of Kentucky Center for Research on Violence Against Women.
Meghan Wright told the committee that she was raped by her dating partner on a Kentucky college campus when she was 19. The prosecutor declined to pursue a case against her attacker, Wright said, and when he and his friends harassed her, she was forced to abandon her life and move.
She was not entitled to ask the courts for a protective order, she said.
"I was ignorant," Wright said. "I thought (the law) meant justice, or it at least meant safety. I thought it meant I would be protected. I never imagined I would feel like I was the one to blame."
Backers of the bill — sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville — have lined up support from judges, police and prosecutors who say extending domestic violence protection is necessary.
Christian County Attorney Mike Foster told the committee Wednesday that some abuse victims decline to file criminal charges for various personal reasons, but they want a protective order to prevent future attacks.
"Being able to prosecute criminally is not enough. You need both," Foster said.
The bill's supporters might need the lobbying assistance, because past versions of the bill were easily passed by the Democratic-led House only to stall in the Republican-led Senate. In 2013, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill, but it died for lack of action on the Senate floor.
Some Republican senators say the bill is unnecessary because anyone who commits assault can be arrested, and as a condition of their release from jail, they can be ordered to stay away from their accusers pending trial.
"The question is whether there is protection for individuals who are in dating relationships," said Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester.
"I have two daughters — at UK and U of L," Stivers said. "If somebody does something to my daughter in a dating situation or in any other situation, I know there are protections out there. They are warrants of arrest. And I plan to see those individuals arrested and the sanctions of the law applied to them.
"So is there a need for them to get an EPO or a DVO? No, there's not," Stivers said.