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Constable's Notebook - July 2005

While the 79th Legislative Session was dominated by school finance and property tax reform - which were not resolved, significant progress was made to strengthen the rights and protections for victims of family violence. I have included excerpts from a Texas Council on Family Violence publication that describes recently passed family violence legislation.

Senate Bill 1186 would allow victims of family violence who were living with a batterer but were under a protective order to terminate their lease without penalty if they need to leave their home in order to be safe. Victims of family violence will now be able to leave a rental property without fear of the economic consequences in early termination penalties or bad credit history that could previously have hindered their ability to move on to independence. This legislation exists in only a few other states and would not have been possible without the support of the Texas Apartment Association.

Senate Bill 91 includes “dating violence” in the definition of family violence which means that law enforcement will be able to make warrant-less arrests for dating violence offenses and repeat offenses under this statute will be a felony rather than a misdemeanor even if previous offenses occurred in other states.

SB 56 was inspired by an egregious family violence case in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area a few years ago. This legislation requires that before a judge can reduce the bail charged to a defendant in certain violent crimes, the judge must give notice to the prosecutor who can request a hearing on the bail reduction. This will provide the ability to better protect and inform victims of family violence.

Originally some family violence advocates had drafted legislation that would require judges to make findings on family violence in agreed protective orders in order to provide better protection for victims. Law enforcement in some jurisdictions were reluctant to make arrests for violations of agreed protective orders because those orders did not include a finding that family violence had occurred. However some District Attorneys’ offices expressed concern that if judges were required to make findings in agreed protective orders that some judges would no longer issue such orders or respondents would no longer agree to such orders and force every protective order to a hearing resulting in possibly less protection to victims. HB 1059 (by our own Rep. Naishtat) was a compromise making clear that agreed protective orders are civilly and criminally enforceable.

More information regarding family violence issues can be obtained by contacting the Texas Council on Family Violence at 512 794-1133 or tcfv.org/homepage.htm. The Domestic Violence hotline is 1 800 799-SAFE.



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