Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo was widely praised earlier this week for promising to bring before legislators a package of reforms to the state’s domestic abuse laws, and rightly so. The laws are in dire need of an update, as evidenced by any number of tragic stories in the pages of this newspaper.
It is vital, however, for legislators to proceed carefully and thoughtfully. A law passed in a hurry can score immediate points with the public; it can also contain enough loopholes and inconsistencies to render it useless down the line.
A troubling section of DeLeo’s proposal, for example, would hide most reports of domestic abuse complaints and arrests from the public. Shielding public information from the public eye is no way to confront what amounts to a public safety and health crisis. Citizens have a right to know about the number and type of crimes committed in their communities, and how public safety officials responded. Keeping people in the dark about domestic abuse hurts the public and helps batterers, who often rely on anonymity or inattention by those around them to continue to hurt their partners without fear of being held to account.
DeLeo said the stabbing death of Jennifer Martel last summer, allegedly at the hands of Jared Remy, son of the Red Sox broadcaster, spurred his decision to move ahead with reform.
“This bill was born out of a tragedy,” he said at a Statehouse press conference earlier this week. “Following a shocking crime, I didn’t know how I could just sit back as a speaker, a father, a man, and not do everything I could to stop such senseless acts of violence.”
Remy’s arrest last August came a day after he was released from custody on charges of assaulting Martel, the mother of his young daughter. The case raised questions of whether the court system overlooked Remy’s long history of violence.