Maryland delegate battles to expand domestic violence laws

WASHINGTON — Domestic violence is an issue that hits close to home for Maryland Delegate Angela Angel. As a domestic violence survivor herself, Angel wants to help save lives by expanding the definition of abuse.

After getting out of a violent marriage, Del. Angel says her estranged husband constantly called, emailed and sent her, her friends and co-workers text messages to wreak havoc. When Angel went to court, the judge apologized and said there was nothing he could do despite the mounds of evidence she had against him. The judge couldn’t issue an order because the law does not define what her former husband did as abuse.

Angel, who represents Prince George’s County, is calling to expand the law so that serial harassment and malicious destruction of property are included in the state’s domestic violence laws.

Seven women in Prince George’s County alone, have died in domestic incidents this year.

Under the current Maryland law, victims of domestic abuse cannot get a protective order. The expansion would therefore allow victims to receive a protective order before their abusers become violent or deadly, Angel says.

Angel introduced the bill (HB1396) this year, but it, just like last year, died in committee.

In an unprecedented move on Friday, Angel proposed an amendment to Sen. Victor Ramirez’s SB0924 bill, which passed the House (137-0).  It includes the language to expand serial harassment and malicious destruction of property into the definition of domestic abuse in the Maryland Family Law Code.

Angel says lawmakers have been trying to expand the domestic violence laws in Maryland since 2005.

Although Angel is hopeful, she says the Ramirez bill may never make it to the Senate.  “It’s literally in limbo between the two houses.  And that’s just wrong.”

The last day of the Maryland General Assembly regular session ends on Monday, April 11.  If the Ramirez bill languishes Monday, then it will kill the legislation and prevent the proposed protections from becoming law, Angel explains.

What could also happen is the Senate can bring up the bill on Monday, but at a point in the session where it is too late to vote on it.  Angel says she hopes that is not the case.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Catherine Pugh  supports the bill, according to Angel. “She knows how important this is.  She’s fighting for women of the state and for survivors of domestic violence,” Angel says.

Angel says it’s not right for women who have gotten out of an abusive relationship to still face financial and emotional abuse through harassment and malicious destruction of property.  “It’s another way for the abusers to show that they have control over their victim,” she says.

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