The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Tougher domestic violence laws sought

State Republican­s call for stronger penalties; Democrats say it won’t help

- By Ken Dixon

HARTFORD — Domestic abusers who murder their spouses or intimate partners would face mandatory life sentences in prison without the possibilit­y of release, under several major changes to state criminal penalties announced Wednesday by minority Republican members of the House and Senate.

But a veteran Democratic cochairman of the law-writing legislativ­e Judiciary Committee said the domestic violence proposals, intended by the GOP to discourage the kinds of crimes that resulted in the recent deaths of women in Milford and Bridgeport, are non-starters in the current legislativ­e session, mostly because tougher penalties have been shown to have no effect on murderers.

The proposals would also toughen the domestic violence laws, including enhanced protection­s for surviving victims and using more GPS monitors of alleged domestic abusers.

An investigat­ion by Hearst Connecticu­t Media in recent years reviewed the deaths of 300 people who have died through intimate partner violence over the last 20 years. The investigat­ion showed protective orders are often put in place for known cases of violence, but charges tied to violation of those orders are often dismissed, often through a diversiona­ry program. Advocates at the time said consequenc­es offenders face for those violations are often too lenient.

Republican­s led by House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora of North Branford and Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly of Stratford, backed by caucus members proposed changes to the way defendants get bailed out of jail; increase penalties for juvenile criminals; rewrite a controvers­ial law on police immunity from civil lawsuit; and change statewide pursuit protocols for cops to engage car chases.

“These proposals will truly help victims who have suffered and unfortunat­ely continue to suffer from these horrific crimes,” said state Sen. Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield. Rep. Craig Fishbein of Wallingfor­d, a top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said that the mandatory life-in-prison proposal

would classify murder of an intimate partner as one of special circumstan­ces, with penalties equal to those convicted of murdering of a law enforcemen­t officer, a kidnap victim ,orso meone under 16.

“Under our Constituti­on, presently, the only crime for which one can be held without bail is murder with special circumstan­ces, so we think that’s really important for domestic violence victims,” Fishbein said.

“Our society — our fear is — is becoming desensitiz­ed to these issues, which aren’t just impacting adults but are certainly i mpacting children,” Candelora said. “And the crime seems to be hitting at a younger and younger and younger age. A lot of reforms we have seen over the last decade we firmly believe have led to this, have encouraged these types of crimes.”

“All people deserve to live in a community that’s safe,” Kelly said. “Where it’s safe to walk down the street, where it’s safe to fill your car with gas, where it’s safe to go to a convenienc­e store to get a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk. Unfortunat­ely for families in Connecticu­t, many don’t have those feelings. Our cities are seeing an uptick in violent crime.”

State Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, cochairman of the Judiciary Committee, rejected the domestic violence initiative, noting that the lifein-prison proposal was initially proposed by a Democratic lawmaker from the Danbury area in reaction to the December 2018 murder in Bridgeport of 25-year-old Emily Todd, a therapist at a Danbury senior center. Last December, Julie Minogue was murdered in her Milford home, allegedly by a former partner against whom she had a restrainin­g order.

Gov. Ned Lamont said at the tim e he is co mmitted to further strengthen­ing state laws on domestic violence. Earlier this year, Lamont unveiled a handful of proposals meant to curb intimate partner violence, largely tied to firearm restrictio­ns.

There are also numerous submitted bills tied to preventati­ve domestic violence measures including providing additional housing protection­s for victim soffa mily violence, better tracking for those charged with domestic violence previously and allocating additional funds for victim services.

“The bottom line is that increasing penalties does not deter crime,” Stafstrom said in an interview. “Someone who is going to murder their spouse or their domestic partner is not going to think that under current law he gets only 40 years, but under this he’ll remain in prison for life, so he will not commit the crime. This will not deter heinous murders. It will only make Connecticu­t less safe.”

Plus life without a chance of release discourage­s the prison behavior of incarcerat­ed people, Stafstrom said.

“When you have someone who is in prison for a lengthy sentence for a murder, you remove any opportunit­y for that person to rehabilita­te themselves and eventually reenter society,” Stafstrom said. “This backwards tough-on-crime mentality doesn’t make our state any more safe.”

Only the bail-reform legislatio­n exists as actual legislatio­n before legislativ­e committees, but Fishbein told reporters that most of the issues would come up in future public hearings and be the focus later of closed-door negotiatio­ns with Democrats, who after the three special House elections on Tuesday, retained their 98-53 majority in the House, with a 24-12 edge in the Senate.

 ?? Brian A. Pounds/Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford.
Brian A. Pounds/Hearst Connecticu­t Media Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford.
 ?? Dan Haar /Hearst Connecticu­t Media/ ?? Rep. Vin Candelora, R-North Branford.
Dan Haar /Hearst Connecticu­t Media/ Rep. Vin Candelora, R-North Branford.

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