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February 13. 2014 9:50PM

Senate passes domestic violence bill

CONCORD — The mother of a 9-year-old boy killed by his father during a supervised visit watched from the gallery as the Senate on Thursday voted 24-0 to pass Joshua's Law, named after her son.

Senate Bill 318, or Joshua's Law, is named after Joshua Savyon, who was killed by his father, Muni Savyon, during a court-ordered supervised visit last August at a Manchester YWCA visitation center.

Muni Savyon, who turned the gun on himself after he killed his son, was under a domestic violence protective order because he had threatened to kill both Joshua and the boy's mother, Becky Ranes.

After the vote, Ranes said, "It is so gratifying to see so many people show so much strength."

She and Gov. Maggie Hassan hugged in the hallway outside the Senate chambers. Hassan told Ranes "Keep at it, you're doing great work."

The governor called on the House to pass the bill, which makes domestic violence a crime, and send it to her desk.

"Joshua's Law takes existing criminal charges commonly charged in domestic violence cases, brings them under the umbrella of one crime, and labels it what it actually is: domestic violence," said the bill's prime sponsor, Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester. "Police and prosecutors believe the paper trail this creates would help to identify and stop repeat abusers."

Speaking on the Senate floor, Soucy said there is a significant difference between a bar fight and violence within a household, yet the perpetrators are charged with the same crime.

"That is why we need to make domestic violence a crime — because we know that these are very different situations," she said.

Supporters say the bill mirrors the federal domestic violence law and requires prosecutors to prove the incident involves family or household members or those in an intimate relationship.

Law enforcement says the bill would clarify what is and what is not domestic violence — critical information for prosecutors and judges during arraignments for setting bail or release conditions.

And they also said that domestic violence is involved in half of the homicides committed in New Hampshire and 92 percent of the murder-suicides.

New Hampshire is one of only 15 states that do not have a crime of domestic violence.

"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. "The measure will also increase understanding of domestic violence and help victims access support and protections as early as possible."

Senators praised the bill and said attitudes about domestic violence have evolved over the years.

"This legislation is long overdue in New Hampshire," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry. "While there is nothing we can do to undo 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, and to track and identify trends that can help law enforcement to better address this problem across the state."

Joshua's Law is supported by chiefs of police, county sheriffs and attorneys, the attorney general and the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

The bill now goes to the House.


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