Politics & Government

Domestic violence protections for dating couples approved by House panel

FRANKFORT — A measure to extend domestic violence protections to dating couples passed out of a House committee on Wednesday for the fourth time in four years. All but four states have similar laws, but proposals in Kentucky have died repeatedly in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Tom Jensen, R-London, said Wednesday that he would not call a vote on House Bill 498 or a similar Senate bill, but he would be willing to consider the issue after the legislature adjourns in April.

Currently, civil domestic violence protections apply only if a couple has been married, has lived together or has a child together. Jensen said all domestic violence issues already are covered by the criminal code.

"If someone assaults me, then they will be arrested," he said. "Under the criminal code, the judge can put conditions on their bond."

Jensen also said it's unfair to say the bill provides protections for "dating" couples because some dating couples — those who have lived together or had a child together — already have civil domestic violence protections.

To kick-start the bill, supporters held a news conference in the Capitol Rotunda with the bill's sponsor, Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville. Tilley is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which passed his bill shortly afterward.

Tilley called the measure a "vital piece of legislation" that would "cast a stronger safety net for all Kentuckians."

Dating couples may file criminal charges in cases of domestic violence, but allowing them to work through the civil court system could save the state as much as $85 million a year, Tilley said.

In addition, advocates say that civil protective orders can be issued more quickly than orders from criminal courts. For example, protective orders generally are served immediately, are often taken more seriously by police, and may last for an extended time.

HB 498 would define a dating relationship as one of "romantic or intimate nature" but not "casual acquaintanceship or business fraternization." It was taken from the Texas statute and the federal definition, Tilley said.

The bill does not cover juvenile relationships because those present complicated legal issues, he said. Instead, Tilley said he planned to ask an upcoming task force on the juvenile justice code to study the matter.

Attorney General Jack Conway urged the Senate to support the legislation, which he said could save many lives.

"Let's not have another issue where Kentucky lags behind," he said at the news conference. "This issue is too important to meet that same fate this time."

The other three states that don't offer dating protections are Maryland, Georgia and Utah. Virginia most recently passed such legislation in the wake of the death of Yeardley Love, a University of Virginia student who was killed by her former boyfriend.

Support for HB 498 is being spearheaded by the Mary Byron Project in Louisville, which was formed after Mary Byron was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1993 on her 21st birthday. He had been released from jail without her knowledge.

Byron's mother, Pat Byron, was joined at Wednesday's news conference by Diana Ross, the mother of murder victim Amanda Ross of Lexington. Amanda Ross was killed in 2010 by her former boyfriend, former state legislator Steve Nunn, now serving a life sentence.

Pat Byron urged the General Assembly to act "before we read of another Yeardley Love, another Amanda Ross or another Mary Byron."