By John Toole
---- — CONCORD — The Senate unanimously approved a bill yesterday establishing domestic violence as a crime in New Hampshire.
Gov. Maggie Hassan, in her state of the state speech, had urged the Legislature to approve Senate Bill 318 last week.
It’s called “Joshua’s Law” for 9-year-old Joshua Savyon, a Manchester boy murdered in a domestic violence incident last year.
“Passing ‘Joshua’s Law’ to establish a crime of domestic violence is a common-sense step that will improve the safety of our families by helping law enforcement and prosecutors better identify and stop repeat abusers,” Hassan said in a statement, issued after the Senate vote, that also asked the House to pass the bill. “Nothing can assuage the pain caused by the tragic murder of Joshua Savyon, but passing this bill in his memory will strengthen our communities and help countless families.”
Joshua’s mother, Becky Ranes, attended the governor’s speech last week at the Statehouse.
Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said Ranes asked her to name the bill in his honor.
“Joshua’s mother told me that she never recognized the signs of domestic violence in her own relationship with Joshua’s father, who killed himself after killing their son,” Soucy said.
That happened despite a domestic violence protection order in the matter.
New Hampshire is just one of 15 states where domestic violence isn’t classified as a specific crime.
Soucy, in remarks delivered in the Senate, said when a punch is thrown in the home it is now treated the same as one in a bar.
“Is that really the same crime of assault? No,” Soucy told senators. “We know that these are very different situations.”
Codifying domestic violence under state law will help victims, but also provide greater due process to alleged perpetrators, she said.
It also will assure repeat perpetrators are properly labeled, Soucy said.
“Police officers and prosecutors will still retain discretion in charging someone with a crime,” she said.
“But prosecutors will have more accurately descriptive criminal history information allowing them to make better recommendations for bail conditions,” Soucy told the Senate.
Republican senators said “Joshua’s Law” also will synchronize New Hampshire’s law with federal statutes.
“This legislation is long overdue in New Hampshire,” said Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that recommended passage. “While there is nothing we can do to undue this tragedy, this law will ensure that those we ask to protect victims of domestic violence have the tools they need to prosecute these crimes effectively.”
Co-sponsors in the House include the Republican and Democratic leaders, which bodes well for passage.
Another bill passed yesterday, SB 205, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, aims to address safety shortcomings at state supervised visitation centers.
Joshua’s father was able to bring a gun into a center that lacked metal detectors.
“Under this bill, courts will have the authority to limit supervised visits to those facilities that have detection equipment and trained security personnel — that is an important first step,” Bradley said.