Steve Nunn

'Amanda's bill' would use GPS devices

FRANKFORT — In the wake of the Sept. 11 death of Amanda Ross, House Speaker Greg Stumbo pre-filed a bill Thursday that would allow judges to order electronic monitoring devices for the most dangerous domestic violence offenders.

If "Amanda's Bill" becomes law, it would give victims a "fighting chance," Stumbo said at a press conference at the Capitol. Ross, 29, a Department of Insurance employee, was gunned down outside of her Lexington home, allegedly by her former fiancé, Steve Nunn.

Ross had taken out a protection order against Nunn, a former state legislator and son of former governor Louie Nunn, earlier this year and had told friends and co-workers that she feared for her life in the days before her death. Nunn has pleaded not guilty to her murder.

Diana Ross, Amanda Ross's mother, attended Thursday's press conference, saying in a written statement that the family felt that it should use its loss to protect others.

"Today ... we begin our effort to honor her life while working to help others," Ross said, calling the proposal "a good first step. Our prayer is that, once enacted, it will keep other families from losing a loved one."

Stumbo said not all people who have a domestic violence order filed against them would be required to wear a global positioning device, commonly called a GPS. A risk assessment would be conducted by a judge or by the court staff and only those who are considered the most dangerous would be required to wear a GPS bracelet.

Stumbo said "there has never been a death as far as we know" of a victim whose alleged abuser was on the electronic monitoring system.

Diane Rosenfeld, a Harvard Law School lecturer who is helping Stumbo write the proposed legislation, said that, in Kentucky, intimate partner violence is a factor in 45 percent of all homicides of women. She also pointed out that the assessing of which cases pose the highest risk is key and that the courts, advocates and police must work closely in order for the program to work.

"The key is the realization that if you take seriously every single domestic violence case, you can prevent domestic violence homicide," Rosenfeld said.

Stumbo did not address whether more police officers would be needed to carry out the requirements of the bill.

Offenders pay

The legislation allows a court to impose GPS monitoring as a condition of bail for a person charged with a crime of domestic violence or violation of a protective order, Rosenfeld said.

In Massachusetts, one of at least 15 states where an electronic monitoring program is in effect for domestic violence offenders, only 20 percent of offenders were monitored from 2006 to 2008, according to a report from the Greater Newburyport High Risk Response Team.

In Michigan, a law allowing electronic monitoring passed in 2008. Ryan Wenberg, the chief of staff for Republican state Rep. Bill Caul, said that if a judge determines that an offender poses such a high risk that electronic monitoring is needed, the offender must pay for the system. The cost can range from $6 to $12 each day.

Generally, Wenberg said, the offender must remain in jail if he or she is unwilling to pay.

Fayette and some other counties in the state have used a similar system to track those on home incarceration or on probation and parole. In Fayette County, it costs the offender about $7.50 a day to wear the device. If the victim also wants to wear a device that would alert him or her if the perpetrator is near, it would cost approximately an additional $5 a day, Stumbo said. The bill says that an offender could be asked to pay for the alerting device.

There are still numerous details to be worked out in the proposed legislation. Stumbo said it's still not clear whether there will be any start-up costs for counties that don't already have a GPS home detention system in place. But Stumbo said that the system could also be used for other criminal cases, saving the state and counties money by not having to house detainees in jails and prisons.

Constitutional questions

Stumbo said he believed that that the GPS system was constitutional. There have been recent court cases in Massachusetts and New York challenging the use of GPS systems in some criminal cases.

Ordering someone to wear a electronic monitoring device does not determine guilt or innocence, "it just restricts conduct," he said.

Carol Jordan of the University of Kentucky Center for Research on Violence Against Women applauded the legislation, saying that any tool that would help the abused feel secure was a step in the right direction.

"It's targeted to the most dangerous offenders," Jordan said. Statistics show that the most violent offenders are also the most likely to re-offend, Jordan said.

About a dozen House members co-signed the bill on Thursday.

Its fate in the Republican-controlled Senate is unclear. Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, was not available for comment.

Tom Buford, a Republican state senator whose district includes part of Fayette County, said he thinks many lawmakers will favor this bill, regardless of party affiliation or whether they serve in the Senate or House of Representatives.

"I'm all for it," said Buford, R-Nicholasville. "It's going to be almost impossible" for lawmakers not to lend their support, he said, not just because of Amanda Ross but because they have had constituents who are domestic violence victims.

Buford said there might be some constitutionality questions, but he thinks those can be ironed out.

"We need to do something," Buford said. "This is the best thing I've heard of in the last six months."

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