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VOL. 133 | NO. 34 | Thursday, February 15, 2018

State Democrats Targeting Domestic Abuse With Bills

By Sam Stockard

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Tennessee House Democrats are sponsoring legislation designed to bolster support for domestic violence victims amid a dismissive attitude toward abuse by President Donald Trump.

Raumesh Akbari

“We’re all familiar with the situation with Rob Porter and his former spouses showing pictures and reports about domestic violence, and the White House response has not been one that condemns the abuser but instead says we have to be careful with how we ruin someone’s reputation,” said state Rep. Raumesh Akbari during a Tuesday, Feb. 13, press conference. “So I think that shows a complete disregard for taking the complaints and the legitimate concerns of these abused women seriously.”

Porter is the former White House aide who resigned recently amid accusations from two former ex-wives that he physically abused them. Trump responded with a tweet saying “lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” according to reports.

With that in mind, Akbari, a Memphis Democrat, is sponsoring House bill 1861, which would protect victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault if they have to take time off from work to meet with law enforcement, find housing or attend counseling.

“I really want to make sure they’re not adversely affected and re-victimized through employment consequences,” Akbari said.

However, the Senate measure sponsored by Nashville Democratic Sen. Jeff Yarbro failed Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is chaired Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican. It would have given up to eight days of leave to women victimized by domestic violence.

“Tennessee is fourth in the nation for women killed by men,” Yarbro said in a statement afterward. “We ought to do everything we can to ensure the safety of women who experience violence at home and unfortunately women can be fired for missing work to seek orders of protection, going to court during work hours and sometimes even for getting medical care.

“This is something we ought to talk about, and it’s sad that seven senators sat in silence instead.”

G.A. Hardaway

Akbari’s bill is still pending in the House.

Akbari contends domestic abuse is nothing to be “trivialized” or “politicized,” though she and Rep. G.A. Hardaway both criticized Trump’s reaction to the most recent domestic assault allegations.

“We’re not gonna get what we need out of the White House,” Hardaway said, calling the president an “abuser” himself with “no character.”

“There’s absolutely no public policy that he has advanced or that we anticipate he will advance that will protect women from both domestic violence and workplace violence. It’s not in him.”

Keeping track of abusers

Hardaway is sponsoring House Bill 849, which would direct money from domestic assault fines to pay for global positioning monitoring for indigent domestic abuse and stalking defendants. The measure also would require bail forms in domestic abuse and stalking cases to indicate whether global position monitoring was considered as a bail condition or was imposed by the court. State Sen. Sara Kyle, a Memphis Democrat, is carrying the Senate version of the bill.

House Bills 2605 and 2606, by Hardaway, also require the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services to set up instruction for child safety training programs for professionals who deal with children who could be at risk of abuse.

For instance, Hardaway said, teachers spend more time with children than parents do and need to know how to recognize the signs of physical abuse. The same is true for social workers, he added.

Hardaway brought legislation last year requiring anyone seeking a barber or cosmetology license to complete a one-hour domestic violence training course. The measure failed in the Senate last year 15-10.

Nevertheless, Hardaway said Tuesday, “As the Clairol commercial goes, only the hairdresser knows for sure.” He pointed out when a hairdresser can move hair out of the way and see wounds and bruising on the head on a customer’s head and scalp as well as fingerprints and signs of strangulation on the neck, they should be able to give the person advice for finding ways to seek protection.

With Democrats holding a 74-25 deficit in the Republican-controlled House, Hardaway said he hopes to find backing on the opposite side of the aisle “to take advantage of this opportunity to lead.”

Children as victims

House Democrats pointed out children are often in the line of fire when it comes to domestic violence in the home.

Calling the matter a “timely issue,” state Rep. Johnnie Turner, a Memphis Democrat, said research shows many children who have problems at school have been “traumatized” by violent incidents between their parents.

Consequently, she is sponsoring House Bill 2632, which would require law enforcement officers responding to alleged domestic violence or domestic abuse calls to inspect children in the home to see if they have been victimized. Kyle is sponsoring the Senate measure.

“We are very adamant … very determined that the Democrats are going to stand up to fight against domestic violence against women and against men,” Turner said.

Seeking a solution

“This whole problem is not a Democratic or Republican problem,” said state Rep. Dwayne Thompson, another Memphis Democrat. “This is something that affects women and sometimes men and children all over this state. It is something we need to attack and take positive action.”

Thompson is sponsoring House Bill 2404 to require judges to make drug or alcohol treatment or counseling part of the sentence for people who commit domestic assault. Kyle is carrying the Senate version.

The first-term representative pointed out judges are given the option of requiring treatment under current law, and he said the statute needs “more teeth” to get at the root of the problem.

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, who sponsored Kimberlee’s Law to force aggravated rape defendants to serve 100 percent of their sentences, said these types of legislation are crucial for protecting women and men. No longer do aggravated rape convicts receive time off for good behavior.

But more needs to be done, said Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat.

“Domestic violence is epidemic in Shelby County,” he said.

Parkinson pointed toward an incident this week in which a woman allegedly shot and killed her boyfriend during an argument in South Memphis. Two children were in the apartment during the incident, according to reports.

Said Akbari, “The bottom line is if you have someone who’s been abused or lives in a situation where they have a potential to be abused we are trying to do whatever we can to make sure they are protected.”

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter covering the Legislature for the Memphis Daily News. He can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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